Holidays, travel and Parkinson's

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

Planning your holiday

  • It’s a good idea to chat to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about your plans before you go. They can check if there’s anything you need to take into consideration – like how much medication you'll need.
  • If your medication regime has been recently changed, you should wait until it is working well before planning your trip.
  • Whether you plan on travelling by air, rail, sea or car, explain what you need clearly to the company you're booking with. It's best not to assume that people will understand what sort of assistance someone with Parkinson’s may need.
  • 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.
  • 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.

You should talk to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about:

  • getting 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, such as needles and syringes, and electronic devices you're using.

  • how much medication you’ll need for your trip - and bringing extra away with you, just in case 
  • whether airport scanners could affect things like your pulse generator for deep brain stimulation
  • whether any travel vaccinations you need could affect your medication
  • whether your medications are heat or sun sensitive and may need special storage facilities

Or you can speak to one of our helpline advisers for advice about these things. 

It's important to have a valid travel insurance policy before you go on holiday. 

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.

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. 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 rights

Under the Equality Act 2010, companies and service providers, including insurance and travel companies, 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 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.

Parkinson's UK has partnered with some specialist insurance brokers who may be able to help people with long-term health conditions, like Parkinson's, get travel insurance. 

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.

The Money and Pensions Service offers a travel insurance directory for people with a serious medical condition. The directory also features an FAQ section on finding and arranging a suitable travel insurance policy. 

Help getting around

Travelling by air

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. It's compulsory for all large European airports to offer free assistance to older or disabled passengers.

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. 

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.

If you prefer to walk to your gate you might find that using a backpack keeps your hands free to help you do this.

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

Travelling by train

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.

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

You can use your UK Blue Badge if you’re travelling in some European Union (EU) countries, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Since Brexit, you should check with the embassy of the country you are travelling to for the latest rules. In some cases, you’ll need to ask for further information locally.

The Department of Transport has produced information called Using a Blue Badge in the EU.

Medication and treatment

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.

If you use rotigotine skin patches, the area of skin where you place them should not be exposed to any heat. So, if you're travelling to somewhere hot and you’re wearing clothing with short sleeves, you could place the patch on your stomach or thigh instead.

As everyone'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.

Travelling by air

If you are flying, 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.

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. 

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.

Restrictions and contingency planning

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.

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.

Deep brain stimulation

Certain metal detectors or scanners may affect electronic devices such as your pulse generator for deep brain stimulation, so it's always advisable to discuss this with your specialist or Parkinson's nurse before travelling. 

If you have had deep brain stimulation and have a rechargeable unit implanted, make sure it is fully charged and working well. You should take your recharging unit with you if you are going away for more than a few days.

UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC)

The UK European Health Insurance Card (UK EHIC) and UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC) allow you to receive free or subsidised medical treatment in an EU country. 

The UK GHIC is replacing the UK EHIC. If you still have a UK EHIC, it is valid until the expiration date on the card. 

Find out more about the UK EHIC AND UK GHIC, including how to apply.

Not everything that would be free on the NHS is covered by these cards. 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. 

It’s important to have both a valid UK EHIC/ UK GHIC and a travel insurance policy when you travel. The cards don't act as an alternative to travel insurance – they don’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.

Your holiday checklist

There can be a lot of think about when you are planning a holiday with Parkinson's. Our holiday checklist can help you to prepare for your trip.

Last updated November 2022. 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]