Travel: A Nightmare or Sweet Dream

It’s time to start planning our travels to Kyoto, Japan for the 5th World Parkinson Congress. Come with me on a semi-fictional trip and see if we can learn to make traveling a little less stressful and much more enjoyable. Let’s follow some random guy (we’ll call him Bob) on a simple one-way trip from New York to Spokane, Washington. The first problem Bob encountered is there are no direct flights between those locations. Bob, a retired teacher, needs to watch his wallet and was faced with several choices. The cheapest flight made three stops before his final destination: Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, and, finally to Spokane. Although the least expensive, it also was the longest flight. Counting delays, time to the airport, layovers and driving home, this trip would take almost 14 hours! The shortest trip (time wise) would only take 8 hours with one layover. Bob chose to save over $100 and chose the cheaper, but longer, flight. Like a smart traveler, Bob got to the airport (in this case, LaGuardia) two hours early just in case there were issues with luggage, security or weather. Did I mention weather? New York was fine, but there was a major storm across the entire mid-west and Minneapolis (MSP) ordered a ground stop—no planes in or out.

Bob watched the departure time slip from 11:22 AM to noon, then 2:00 PM, then 5:00 PM and finally 8:00 PM before MSP closed for good. The airline brought out snacks in the early afternoon and sandwiches about 6:00 pm—for those intrepid travelers still waiting and hoping. The good news was Bob had packed an extra day of meds in his carryon and had extras in his checked baggage. Once it became apparent, he was going nowhere that day (or night), Bob had his flight re-booked by a helpful gate agent. Knowing the weather was not the gate agent’s fault, Bob (although tired and frustrated) remained pleasant. Unfortunately, that involved a shuttle to another NY airport, namely JFK. Bob took the shuttle (there goes $20 of his savings from taking the cheaper flight) to JFK and arrived about 9:00 PM. Bob considered a hotel and looked it up on his dying phone (charging cable was in checked luggage). The cheapest one was almost $200 and would also involve UBER or a taxi. Bob decided to hunker down in the airport and met some other passengers who also decided to rough it. Fortunately, the airline help desk provided a pillow and a blanket. All the seats in the airport included arm rests—deliberately designed to keep over-nighters from using them as a bed. With lights blazing and announcements blaring, Bob got almost four hours of fitful sleep on the floor. Up early, stiff, sore and muddle-headed, Bob cleaned up the best he could in the bathroom—wishing he had kept his toiletry bag in his carryon. Bob then walked (it seemed like miles) from the “night-night” gate to the actual departure gate. That’s when things started to look up. The plane was on time and Bob got his new ticket. Lo and behold, it was for a first-class seat: hot breakfast, reclining seat and special lavatory. Arriving in Spokane, Bob got his luggage just in time for his next scheduled meds.

It is somewhat embarrassing to admit that most of what happened to Bob happened to me. So, let’s review what went well—and what didn’t. The savvy traveler:

  • considers the weather not only at starting and stopping points, but also the weather in between.
  • ensures s/he has plenty of meds (triple the anticipated need)
  • keeps a multiple day supply in a carry-on, checked bags (luggage gets lost) and, to be overly (?) cautious, another back-up supply!
  • understands, if you want economy, sometimes you have to pay for it. Carefully consider costs and benefits
  • drinks plenty of water; stays hydrated
  • doesn’t hesitate to use early boarding or a wheelchair; check with your airline in advance for special needs; consider asking for an aisle seat
  • if appropriate, talks about travel plans with your doctor
  • maintains a positive attitude and a sense of humor
  • each layover increases the chance for the unexpected
  • expects the unexpected
  • allows plenty of time to/from the airport and navigating inside the airport
  • utilizes the internet (and AARP) for additional advice and suggestions

Long distance travel can be difficult. The best way to make it better is to have a plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Sounds like something Mother Goose would say. And, she’s right!


A.C. Woolnough is an Ambassador for the 5th World Parkinson Congress. He just wrapped up his position as Vice-Chair of the People with Parkinson's Advisory Committee at Parkinson’s Foundation where he is also a trained Parkinson's Advocate in Research (PAIR). He writes a monthly column for an Idaho magazine, The Reader.

Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the author(s) solely. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the World Parkinson Coalition®