Holidays and travel

This information looks at how to plan holidays and travel, including preparing your medication, transport accessibility and getting medical treatment abroad.

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

Lots of people with Parkinson's travel – there should be no reason for the condition to stop you from enjoying trips abroad.

If you're planning a break for yourself or someone else with Parkinson's, you may just need to do some extra planning to make sure the holiday meets your needs.

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, such as how much medication you'll need.

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

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

When you book a holiday or travel, explain what you need clearly to your travel or booking agent.

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 checklist on its website for disabled and less mobile passengers.

It can be completed by you or your travel agent.

The information you provide can be used to check whether the transport, accommodation and facilities at your destination meet your needs.

What will make my stay on holiday more comfortable?

When you're booking accommodation, consider what your needs are.

For example, can you manage stairs unaided? If you can't, you may want to check the accommodation has a lift, or ask for a ground floor room.

Some hotels may also be able to offer rooms that have been specifically adapted for disabled people, which you may find useful.

You should ask for written confirmation that what you have asked for is available when you book. Confirm the arrangements again with the hotel before you leave for your trip.

If you need certain equipment at the hotel during your stay, such as a wheelchair or a raised toilet seat, ask the place where you are staying if they can provide this. Where they can't, you may be able to hire equipment for the duration of your stay.

Mobility Equipment Hire Direct provides equipment for hire, and can deliver to your hotel, apartment or villa on holiday, 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. 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.

You might need this for when you go through customs or if you are taken ill.

If you're carrying syringes or needles, make sure your doctor explains why you need them in the medical certificate or letter they provide.

Airports have very strict rules about taking sharp objects on board, so you may be asked why you are carrying them.

Ask your GP to provide you with a prescription for extra medication to cover the length of your trip. For example, if you are going on holiday for 2 weeks, take 4 weeks' medication just in case.

Also, check if you're able to get specific drugs in the country you're travelling to – the drug company should be able to advise you about this.

You may need to check with the embassy or High Commission of the country you are 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 are going.

Always carry your medication in the original packaging and keep it in your hand luggage.

If you are passing through security at an airport, it's useful to keep your medication together in a clear, sealable bag.

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 may need. Some are available on the NHS, but you may need to pay for others.

If you have any concerns about how vaccinations may affect your Parkinson's, you should talk to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse.

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

If you're going abroad, you may need to alter your medication regimen – especially if you're travelling across time zones.

Sometimes 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.

As everybody's medication regime is different, it's very important you speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse.

They will 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, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The card replaced the E111 certificate.

You can get the EHIC if you are normally resident in the UK and are British. You are also eligible if you are of EU/EAA or Swiss nationality. The card is valid for up to 5 years.

You can apply for an EHIC for free online or by calling the automated service.

The EHIC covers medical treatment you may need while you are 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 receives in the country you are visiting.

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.

The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It does not cover private medical healthcare or the cost of being flown back to the UK, for example.

So it is important to have both a valid EHIC and a travel insurance policy when you travel.

Medical treatment outside Europe

The UK does have agreements with some countries outside Europe that may mean you are still able to receive healthcare in an emergency.

This treatment may be free of charge or you may have to pay a reduced rate. If you are charged for treatment, you will not be able to apply for a refund from the UK Government when you return home.

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

Read the NHS guidance on getting medical treatment outside Europe.

Should I get travel insurance?

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

It will cover any medical costs that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) doesn't, such as private healthcare. It usually also covers non-medical emergencies, such as 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 will 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 are unwell and can't go, for example.

Finding insurance

Most insurers provide cover for people with medical conditions and for disabled people, so ask for quotes from a range of high-street insurers.

If you're finding it difficult to get the right sort of insurance, you can get details of brokers that specialise in finding appropriate cover for older people or those with medical conditions from the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA). You can call them on 0370 950 1790.

Questions you may want to ask insurance companies and brokers

When you talk to a broker or insurance company you may want to check:

  • Is your destination covered?
  • Are all pre-declared medical conditions covered?
  • What is the upper age limit?
  • How does the medical screening process work?
  • Does using a wheelchair make a difference?
  • Does it make a difference if you were diagnosed recently or a while ago?
  • Is annual cover less or more expensive than for a single trip?

Checking your insurance policy

If you already have an insurance policy, check it thoroughly to make sure it suits your needs.

As well as standard cover for travel delays and theft of belongings, check that your policy covers medical costs related to your condition.

You should also make sure that you are covered if an airline is unable to carry you for any reason.

It's a good idea to check whether other members of your party are covered on your policy, so that your own costs to travel home are covered if someone else falls ill.

If you're travelling in the UK, travel insurance may still be advisable if you're taking special equipment, or in case your holiday is cut short because you need medical attention.

Cover for medication, equipment and aids

Make sure that your Parkinson's medication and any equipment or mobility aids are insured for loss or damage. Standard travel insurance policies do not always cover these items.

Sometimes your household insurance may provide cover for these items, 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 do not treat you less favourably 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 are able to charge a disabled person a higher premium, if they can show that there is a greater risk in insuring a disabled person.

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 is illegal for an airline to refuse a booking on the grounds of disability.

Airlines are also not allowed to refuse to allow a disabled person to board an aircraft when they have a valid ticket and reservation.

This applies to any flight leaving an airport in the EU and to flights on European airlines arriving in the EU.

Most airlines can offer help if you need assistance, as long as they know in advance – normally 48 hours before your flight.

Airlines can arrange a wheelchair 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 usually use a wheelchair, you may want to consider arranging an escort at the airport. It can be particularly helpful on long flights or flights involving transfers.

You may want to call several airlines and compare the different levels of service offered before booking your trip.

Ask what sort of assistance they can offer and if there are any added fees. They may also have some information on their website.

EU regulations have made it compulsory for all large European airports to offer free assistance to older or disabled passengers.

If you are travelling with your own wheelchair or other aids, most airlines will carry 2 pieces of mobility equipment for free. Wheelchairs will need checking in, but the airline will provide an airport wheelchair to use until you are on the plane.

Many airlines will let you pre-book a seat on the plane, so you can choose one that is best for you.

You may wish to book an aisle seat, or be close to the toilets. Some airlines will charge for pre-booking seats, so check their policy when you book your trip.

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 is useful for people who travel with the same airline regularly and is accepted as proof of medical clearance to fly.

This means you do not have to get a healthcare professional to fill in a Medical Information Form (read on for more details) for each journey you make, providing there is 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 will 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 arrangements can be put in place for the date of travel.

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

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

Before you fly, an airline may ask you to complete an Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD) 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 you may need during your flight. They can also help the airline assess if you are fit to fly.

People with stable, long-term conditions do not usually need to complete an INCAD or MEDIF. But you should contact the airline you are flying with as different airlines have different policies about who they carry.

If you are asked to complete an INCAD or MEDIF and are medically cleared to fly, the clearance will only be valid for 1 journey.

Fluid intake during flights

It is important to drink plenty of fluids during your flight, so you do not become dehydrated.

This is particularly important if you have low blood pressure (postural hypotension).

If the cabin crew are aware you have Parkinson's, they can make sure you are offered drinks throughout the flight.

Airport transfers

Once you have reached your destination, you will 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 it will involve – a coach, train or taxi, for example.

If you need a taxi, try to book one in advance and be clear about your needs.

But it's worth remembering that in many areas, accessible taxis may not be available.

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

Eurostar provides free assistance for passengers who need it at any Eurostar terminal.

You can arrange this when you book your trip, or 48 hours in advance of your journey.

If you are travelling to an airport or ferry terminal by train, National Rail provide 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.

A Blue Badge can sometimes be used to park nearer to a destination than parking rules would normally allow, and may give the user additional rights.

It can be used in all European countries, but ask your motoring organisation about the rules in advance of travel, as the rules vary from country to country.

The Department of Transport has produced a leaflet 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 the 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 cruise company about any special requirements you have at the time of booking.

You should also tell them about any medical equipment or aids you will be bringing with you.

If they know in advance, they can make suitable arrangements so your needs are met.

For example, you may be given a specific type of cabin on the upper deck that is more accessible than one on the lower decks.

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 are visiting, in case of emergency.

The European Parkinson's Disease Association has an online tool that 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 are away. 

Wearing a MedicAlert bracelet or pendant can be very helpful if you are not able to communicate in an emergency.

It is a piece of jewellery that provides contact details and medical information, including what medications you are taking.

You may also want to order a Parkinson’s UK alert card from us, that tells people you have Parkinson's.

It is a plastic card that you can keep in your purse or wallet in case of emergencies or when having difficulties with movement or communication.

Download this information

International travel and Parkinson's (PDF, 170KB)

We know lots of people would rather have something in their hands to read rather than look at a screen, so you can order printed copies of our information by post, phone or email.

Last updated March 2014. 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].