Holidays, travel and Parkinson's

Planning things before you travel is important if you have Parkinson's.

Brexit and travel

We’ll continue to update this page to include any new information on how Brexit will affect travel.

Please check this page regularly for the latest advice.

What do I need to think about when planning a holiday?

Lots of people with Parkinson’s travel – the condition shouldn’t stop you enjoying trips abroad. You may just need to do some extra planning to make sure your holiday runs smoothly.

Think about what sort of holiday would suit your needs. For example, are you an independent traveller or would you prefer to take an organised tour? What type of accommodation would be best? Perhaps you would rather travel by rail than air?

It’s a good idea to chat to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about your plans. They can check if there’s anything you need to take into consideration, like how much medication you’ll need. Also, if your medication regime has been recently changed, you should wait until it is working well before planning your trip.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website has advice, information and tips about foreign travel. You may find this helpful when you’re researching the country or countries you’ll be visiting.

If you use any apps to help you manage your Parkinson’s, such as helping you monitor your exercise or reminding you to take your medication on time, check the cost and availability of using your phone abroad before you travel.

Find out more about the apps and devices that are helping people with Parkinson’s.

How can I be clear about my needs when I book a trip?

When you travel or book a holiday, explain what you need clearly to the company you’re booking with. Be careful not to assume that people will understand what sort of assistance someone with Parkinson’s may need.

The Association of British Travel Agents has a helpful travel checklist for disabled and less mobile passengers. You or your travel agent can fill it in, and then use it to check if different transport, accommodation and facilities meet your needs.

What will make my stay on holiday more comfortable?

When you’re booking accommodation, think about your needs. For example, can you manage stairs without help? If you can’t, you may want to check the accommodation has a lift, or ask for a ground floor room, making sure that facilities such as toilets are on the same level. Some hotels may also offer rooms that have been specifically adapted for disabled people, which you may find useful.

When you book, ask for written confirmation that you’re going to get the facilities you’ve asked for. Confirm the arrangements again with the hotel before you leave for your trip, to avoid any problems when you arrive.

If you need certain equipment at your accommodation during your stay, like a wheelchair or a raised toilet seat, ask if they can provide this. Where they can’t, you may be able to hire equipment. Mobility Equipment Hire Direct hires out equipment, and can deliver to your hotel, apartment or villa, both in the UK and abroad.

If you’re staying in accommodation where meals are provided, you may want to check how these are served and what’s on offer. This can help you prepare for when you may need some help.

How can I prepare my medication before I travel?

Before you travel, ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse for a medical certificate or letter that explains you have Parkinson’s and lists the medication you’re taking. It should also include any other medical equipment and electronic devices you are using. You might need this for when you go through customs or if you become ill.

Always carry your medication in the original packaging and keep it in your hand luggage, along with the medical certificate or letter from your doctor or nurse. If you’re passing through security at an airport, you may be searched. It’s useful to keep your medication together in a clear, sealable bag. This includes any syringes and needles you may be carrying.

If you’re carrying syringes or needles, make sure your doctor or nurse explains why you need them in the medical certificate or letter. Airports have very strict rules about taking sharp objects on board, so you may be asked why you’re carrying them.

Certain metal detectors or scanners may affect electronic devices such as your pulse generator for deep brain stimulation, so it always advisable to discuss this with your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse before travelling. Also, always check that batteries are charged or new and your devices are working well.

You may need to check with the embassy or High Commission of the country you’re visiting to see if they have any restrictions on taking your medication into the country. Some medication may contain ingredients that are illegal where you’re travelling to.

Also, just in case you lose your medication, check if you can get your specific drugs in the country you’re travelling to. Drugs may have different names in different countries, so it’s good to know what they’re called where you’re going. The drug company should be able to advise you on this.

Remember that some medications are ‘sun sensitive’ and may need special storage facilities. Check with your GP or Parkinson’s nurse about this if you are unsure.

Ask your GP to give you a prescription for extra medication to cover more than the length of your trip. For example, if you’re going away for two weeks, take four weeks’ medication just in case your travel plans are disrupted, for example.

Will I need to have vaccinations?

Depending on where you’re going, you may need vaccinations to protect you against certain diseases. Your GP will be able to advise you which ones you need. Some are available on the NHS, but you may need to pay for others.

Will I need to adjust my medication routine while I’m away?

If you’re going abroad, you may need to change your medication regime – especially if you’re travelling across time zones. This may mean you need to take your medication at different times, but within the same hourly spread, or it may mean taking an extra tablet.

In particular, be careful if you use rotigotine skin patches. This is because the area of skin where you place them should not be exposed to any heat. So, if you are travelling to somewhere hot and you are wearing clothing with short sleeves, you could place the patch on your stomach or thigh instead.

As everybody’s medication regime is different, it’s very important you speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse before you go. They’ll be able to help you work out the best way to take your medication while you’re travelling and after you reach your destination.

What happens if I need medical treatment on holiday?

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to receive free or subsidised medical treatment in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries. This includes countries in the European Union (EU) as well as Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

You can get an EHIC if you’re normally resident in the UK and are British. You’re also eligible if you’re of EU/EAA or Swiss nationality. You can apply for an EHIC for free or by calling 0300 3301350 which is an automated service. When the UK leaves the European Union in 2019, the EHIC may no longer be available to British people, but plans are still unclear.

The EHIC covers medical treatment you may need while you’re on your trip. This includes any treatment that may be necessary for a chronic or pre-existing medical condition.

Not everything that would be free on the NHS is covered by the EHIC. But you should be able to get the same treatment as a resident of the country you’re visiting receives. If you do have to pay anything towards your care, it may be possible to get a refund when you return to the UK. If you need to make a claim once you return to the UK, you should call the EHIC Overseas Healthcare Team.

It’s important to have both a valid EHIC and a travel insurance policy when you travel. The EHIC isn’t an alternative to travel insurance – it doesn’t cover the cost of being flown back to the UK or private medical healthcare, for example.

Medical treatment outside Europe

The UK has agreements with some countries that may mean you’re able to receive free or reduced rate healthcare outside Europe in an emergency.

If you’re charged for treatment, you won’t be able to apply for a refund from the UK Government when you return home.

To get treatment, you’ll usually need to show your British passport and proof of residence, such as a driving licence.

Should I get travel insurance?

It’s important to have a valid travel insurance policy before you go on holiday. This should cover any medical costs that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) doesn’t, such as private healthcare and medical transport home. For countries the EHIC doesn’t cover, it should pay for all healthcare you might need. It usually also covers non-medical emergencies, like travel delays or the cost of replacing lost or stolen luggage.

Always check the level of cover a policy offers. If you have Parkinson’s, make sure the policy covers pre-existing medical conditions. If you don’t declare a medical condition and need to make a claim, your policy may be invalid.

When you buy your travel insurance policy, it’s a good idea to shop around. Depending on how many trips you’re planning to make in a year, a multi-trip policy may be cheaper than buying a single-trip one each time you travel.

Think about buying travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your holiday. You’ll then be covered between booking and the date you travel in case anything happens. Good travel insurance policies will cover the cost of cancelling your trip if you’re unwell and can’t go, for example.

If you’re planning on taking any equipment or mobility aids with you, make sure they’re insured for loss or damage. Standard travel insurance policies don’t always cover these items. Your household insurance may cover them, or you may have to pay an extra premium.

Your rights

Under the Equality Act 2010, companies and service providers, including insurance and travel companies, have a duty to ensure that they don’t treat you any differently than other customers because of a medical condition or disability.

They must not, without reason, refuse to provide a service to a disabled person that they offer other members of the public.

However, the law allows insurers to apply special conditions or premiums to disabled people in a particular set of circumstances.

They can charge a disabled person a higher premium, if they can show there’s a greater risk in insuring them. People with Parkinson’s have told us that they have found the price of these premiums reasonable in many cases.

The Association of British Insurers has consumer information relating to all types of insurance – including travel insurance – and what to do if things go wrong.

I’m travelling by air. What do I need to consider before I fly?

By law it’s illegal for an airline to refuse a booking on the grounds of disability. Airlines aren’t allowed to refuse to let a disabled person board an aircraft when they have a valid ticket and reservation either. This applies to any flight leaving an airport in the EU and to flights on European airlines arriving in the EU.

Plan and allow plenty of time for travel. Airlines will offer assistance if you need it, as long as they know in advance – normally 48 hours before your flight. They can arrange a wheelchair and escort to meet you from the car park, train station or taxi and take you through check-in. They can also arrange for you to be taken to your departure gate and boarded first. At your destination, you can be escorted off the plane and taken through passport control and customs.

Even if you don’t normally use a wheelchair, you may want to consider arranging an escort at the airport. It can be particularly helpful for long flights or flights involving transfers. For long overhaul journeys, consider whether you need a break in the middle or would rather get the journey over with in one direct flight.

If you prefer to walk to your gate you might find that using backpacks keep your hands free to help you do this.

You may want to call several airlines and compare the different levels of service they offer before booking your trip. Ask what sort of assistance they offer and if there are any added fees. They may also have information on their website. It’s compulsory for all large European airports to offer free assistance to older or disabled passengers.

If you’re travelling with your own wheelchair or other aids, most airlines will carry two pieces of mobility equipment for free. Wheelchairs need to be checked in, but the airline will provide an airport wheelchair to use until you’re on the plane.

Many airlines will let you pre-book a seat on the plane, so you can choose one that suits you. Some airlines charge for pre-booking seats, so check their policy when you book your trip.

An aisle seat may be helpful for getting up more easily or if you wish to use the toilets.

Frequent traveller’s medical card

A frequent traveller’s medical card is a free identification card, which airlines offer to passengers who have a long-term, but stable medical condition. It’s useful for people who travel with the same airline regularly and is accepted as proof of medical clearance to fly. This means you don’t have to get a healthcare professional to fill in a Medical Information Form (see the next section for more details) for each journey you make, providing there’s no change in your condition or need for assistance.

You should contact the airline you normally fly with or check their website to see how to apply for a card. You’ll be asked to fill in a form about your specific needs. This will give the airline a permanent record of your requirements. When you book future flights, you can give the airline your card number and they can put arrangements in place for your trip.

If you travel with a different airline to the one that issued your frequent traveller’s medical card, you’ll need to check with the new airline if they’ll accept the card.

Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD) and Medical Information Form (MEDIF)

Before you fly, an airline may ask you to fill in an Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD) form or a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). You can fill in the INCAD form yourself, but a doctor has to fill in the MEDIF.

These forms can help airlines arrange the right assistance or equipment for you during your flight. They can also help the airline assess if you’re fit to fly.

People with stable, long-term conditions don’t usually need to complete an INCAD or MEDIF. But you should contact the airline you’re flying with as different airlines have different policies.

If you’re asked to fill in an INCAD or MEDIF and are medically cleared to fly, the clearance will only be valid for one journey.

Drinking enough fluids

It’s important to drink plenty of fluids during your flight, so you don’t become dehydrated. This is particularly important if you have low blood pressure (postural hypotension). If the cabin crew know you have Parkinson’s, they can make sure to offer you drinks throughout the flight.

Airport transfers

Once you’ve reached your destination, you’ll need to arrange to get from the airport to your accommodation. It may be useful to find out how long this transfer will be and what type of transport is available – a coach, train or taxi, for example. If you need a taxi, try to book one in advance and be clear about your needs. Accessible taxis may not be available in some locations.

I’m travelling by train. Is help available if I need it?

Eurostar provides free assistance for Eurostar passengers who need it at any terminal. You can arrange this when you book your trip, or 48 hours in advance of your journey.

If you’re travelling by train within the UK, the National Rail website has information about accessibility at stations and how to arrange journey assistance.

I’m travelling by car. Is my Blue Badge valid in Europe?

The Blue Badge scheme helps some people with Parkinson’s if they have problems walking.

Sometimes you can use a Blue Badge to park nearer to your destination than normal.

It can be used in all European countries, but exact parking rules vary from country to country. Try to find out about them before you go. The Department of Transport has produced information called Using a Blue Badge in the EU.

If you’re hiring a car abroad, make sure the rental company is fully aware of your needs and check the level of the standard insurance they offer. You may decide to extend this level of insurance.

I’m travelling by sea. How accessible are ships?

Ships that sail more than 12 miles from the UK coastline are not covered by the Equal Opportunities Act. But many ships are accessible to passengers with limited or reduced mobility.

If you’re planning to travel by sea – taking a cruise, for example – it’s important to tell the company about any special requirements you have when you book. If they know in advance, they can make arrangements to meet your needs. This might be helping you get on board or giving you a more accessible cabin.  

How do I tell people I have Parkinson’s while I’m away, if I need to?

You may find it helpful to find out how to say you have Parkinson’s in the language of the country you’re visiting, in case of emergency.

The European Parkinson’s Disease Association online translation tool allows you to translate the phrase “I have Parkinson’s. Please allow me time. In case of emergency contact…” into 25 different languages. You can then print it out and keep it in your wallet or purse while you’re away. 

Wearing a MedicAlert bracelet or pendant can be very helpful if you’re not able to communicate in an emergency. It is a piece of jewellery that provides contact details and medical information, including what medications you’re taking.

You may also want to order and carry a Parkinson’s UK alert card, which tells people you have Parkinson’s. It’s a plastic card you can keep in your purse or wallet in case of emergencies or when having difficulties with movement or communication. 

Last updated March 2019. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected].