Saturday, July 21, 2018

Traveler Confessions of an MSer


I’ve been all over the world with multiple sclerosis—to every continent sans Antarctica, to dozens of countries, to thousands of towns and cities. I always wax poetic about my adventurous travels. And yet as a seasoned MS globetrotter, oh so much seasoning, I have a confession. Before every trip, I am nervous as all get out.

One would think after trekking through the Himalayas, scooching on my butt around Machu Picchu, camping in the Sahara, and heli-hiking over New Zealand glaciers, I would be over pre-trip jitters. But no. As the clock ticks down to my departing flight, my stomach is in knots as my brain, despite my best intentions, goes through every SINGLE thing that could possibly go wrong.

Of course that often begins with complications in the bathroom department, then jumps to all sorts of potential calamities and surefire pitfalls that will turn a cheery vacation into a trip of doom. DOOOOM. The all caps (in a bellowing deep voice) is joined by dark clouds, clapping thunder, and a skull-and-crossbones warning beacon shining in the night sky like the Bat-Signal over Gotham.

Here’s the thing. In the 13 years that I’ve had this disease, most of which have required mobility aids including a wheelchair, I’ve somehow managed to survive more than a collective year of intrepid exploration of our grand planet. Hundreds of foreign beds, unfamiliar and inaccessible cities, and countless virtual deathtraps masquerading as bathrooms, and I’m still here, and I’m still having an awesome time.

Now, that’s not to say I haven’t had issues traveling. Oh, I’ve had issues, as Laura would seriously kink her neck nodding in agreement—picture a shelf of bobbleheads going full bore. Traveling with someone who has MS isn’t necessarily a “vacation”. For instance, a wheelchair-accessible water taxi in Venice has to be arranged in advance, isn't cheap (opt for the water buses instead, which are all accessible), and there's that risk of falling into the canal while transferring, getting the chin strap on your dorky hat caught on the propeller, and then drowning while fish finish off your half-eaten gelato. What a waste of good gelato! But the experiences more than make up for the challenges. The memories of fun far outstrip the bumps (but boy do those bumps make for knee-slapping good stories). And every time I get home, I look back and wonder why I was so worried. Pshaw, I think.

There are always hiccups when you leave the relative safety of your home. But even that’s relative. More accidents happen at home than anywhere else, so look at it that way and it makes perfect sense to get out of Dodge. For our next trip, we were almost off to Dubai, Oman, Jordan, and Egypt, but accessibility, 100-degree days, and, well, common sense, dictated the decision to book a more pedestrian cruise to Spain, Portugal, and the surrounds.

I’ll admit the nerves are just starting to percolate, even though I’m months away from our European vacation. Before I embark on any expedition, questions of travel fitness seep into my subconscious, and always will because of this darn disease. And I’ll bet that your brain probably does the same thing. Doubts will abound when you leave your usual habitat, that’s normal. That’s also life—and travel—with a disability.

But I’ll be okay. Just like you’ll be okay. (Quick tip, maybe avoid doing really stupid stuff like running with the bulls.) Keep getting out there, even it's a short road trip on a shoestring budget. If I can do it, I’m confident you can, too. And if you need any extra inspiration, please check out the craziness on ActiveMSers' Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/activemsers/). Happy exploring!