When traveling with Parkinson’s disease, pack less and laugh more

Navigating the airport can be especially stressful with a disability

Jamie Askari avatar

by Jamie Askari |

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Traveling can be so stressful that it often feels like we need a vacation after the vacation. For my husband, Arman, who has early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and me, all of the relaxation we enjoy during much-needed trips melts away as soon as we return to the airport. A cloud of darkness seems to hang over the terminal, and once we’re in, we can’t get out.

When departing for a trip, we try to use the airport’s valet parking service if it’s available. Even though it’s expensive, we’ve found it’s convenient and accessible. I just wish they offered discounts to people with disability placards. Maybe I will suggest that next time.

Unfortunately, on several occasions we’ve arrived at the airport only to find that the valet parking was full and unable to take more cars. We had to circle the airport in hopes of locating an accessible parking spot. Cue the tight jaw and anxious belly.

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Once we figure out the parking situation, we head to the baggage counter. When we arrive to check our bags, one of them is likely to be overweight. I’m somewhat of a minimalist in my daily life, but not so much when it comes to packing for a trip. I always realize I have overpacked during vacation, but I seem to block that out when packing for the next trip.

The representative at the counter lets me know that all I need to do is move some of my items to one of our lighter suitcases and all will be well. But instead of opening all our suitcases on the terminal floor, I just pay the hefty fee and promise to remember next time. (Will I, though?) My main concern is that Arman will fall or trip over the open suitcases, so the fee feels like a small price to pay for his safety.

Because Parkinson’s disease is unpredictable, I always select “wheelchair assistance” when booking Arman’s plane ticket. This gives us the option to use the airport’s disability services in case Arman has trouble walking on that particular day. The problem is that it takes time for an attendant to arrive to push the chair. We have been close to missing flights because we were waiting. Recently, I have started to push him myself, which is key to getting to our gate on time. I just need to be careful going down ramps so that Arman doesn’t go flying ahead of me!

As we approach the security checkpoint line, my stress level increases, and deep breathing becomes essential. Arman had deep brain stimulation surgery in 2017 and, as a result, is unable to go through most metal detectors. He needs help communicating this to the security officers, but it can be tough to do so amid the chaos. All of the passengers are in a rush; children and parents are screaming; people are taking their belts, shoes, and jackets off; phones and computers are being removed from bags — need I say more? We always make it through, but I probably sprout about a dozen gray hairs each time.

We typically arrive at our gate with plenty of time to spare and breathe a massive sigh of relief. I always grab us some overpriced water to maintain our hydration and sanity. Preboarding is necessary so we don’t have to deal with the crowd while getting Arman seated and buckled up safely. Then, it’s finally time to recline our seats and enjoy a few hours in the air.

Our return trip involves a similar process, almost like the movie “Groundhog Day.” I always look forward to returning home, where Arman will have the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings. For me, there’s nothing better.

Travel can be complicated and stressful for anyone, but adding Parkinson’s disease or another chronic illness to the mix can make the process even more complex. With proper planning and a sense of humor, you may be able to find a laugh amid the stress. And take it from me: Less is more when it comes to packing!

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Mike O'Connor avatar

Mike O'Connor

As "bucket list adventurers" and passionate photographers, my wife and I love to travel much of the year to far-away places where the food, language and culture are different from Canada (see www.mikesmeanderings.com). Of course it's a little stressful sometimes, but that is all part of the adventure.

We try to make it easier on ourselves by using a limo service to go to/from the airport. The driver always arrives on time, picks up our bags from inside our house, and loads our bags on the trolley at the airport. The extra expense is less than the parking fees if we're going to be away for a week or more.

At the check-in counter we have no problems because we've printed out our boarding passes at home and pre-weighed all our luggage to ensure we comply with the airline's regulations.

These simple tricks help us to start our journey in a relaxed mood.

Jamie Askari avatar

Jamie Askari

Hi Mike, thank you for sharing! Your photo's are amazing, I can wait to read about your adventures! Those are some tips that are very helpful, and I hope that others can benefit from as well. I appreciate you reading! Enjoy your next adventure ;)

Hughina Parmiter avatar

Hughina Parmiter

I’m an 87 old with Parkingsons diagnosed 4 year’s ago. I would like to travel to some place that has a clinic or place where I could also receive treatment. Do you have any suggestions?

Jamie Askari avatar

Jamie Askari

Hi Hughina! It's fantastic that you want to travel! You might want to check with your physician on that as I am not sure how to answer that question. Thank you for reading!!


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