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Travel Tips for Brain Injury Survivors

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The thought of traveling after a brain injury can feel daunting for many… is it going to trigger my symptoms? Will it increase my fatigue levels? How am I going to cope with being out of routine? And so many more questions can cross our minds. They are all legitimate questions and in my eyes questions worth giving some time to as they may help you prepare for that first trip after brain injury. In this story, I’ll share a bit about my recent travels and also provide a few tips for you to look into in case you are planning on traveling yourself.

Traveling can bring so many benefits, I think that the key when preparing for your first trip is to give yourself permission to step out of your comfort zone. By allowing yourself to experience something different from the usual routine, you may surprise yourself and explore less conventional ways to support your recovery. Is it scary? Of course. The unknown always is, but the reality is that you will never know until you dare to try.

My oldest son and I have recently been back to my hometown of Quebec City. It had been almost three years since our last visit. Given that the borders had re-opened in New Zealand, that international travels felt less risky post-pandemic and that we had recently had COVID ourselves, I felt that a trip to see my aging parents could not be put off any longer. I have done the long journey over from NZ to Quebec several times in the past, but this was to be my first attempt without another grown up by my side since brain injury. Although I have made great progress in terms of recovery in the past year or so, the unknown regarding how my weird, wonderful brain may cope did feel daunting for me too.

However, I didn’t and wasn’t about to let my fears rob me from spending valuable and precious time with family and friends. So as Emma Carey would say: If you can, you must!

It was very much of a last minute decision and we had only a short window of time where we could make this trip back home work for our family household. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have such a supportive husband? Greg is literally the greatest. He helped make this opportunity come through in more ways than one and he also helped me manage my nerves while I was trying to cramp two months’ work into one so I could leave New Zealand without worrying about work commitments. I hadn’t even left New Zealand and even though a few unknowns were still floating in the back of my mind, the month leading up to us leaving proved me that we, human beings, are always more capable than we think we are. Call it determination or stubbornness, I was going to find a way to make the journey over relatively unharmed and make the most of my 15 days with family and friends…and we did just that!

The journey over wasn’t nearly as scary as some of the scenarios that had lurked in the back of my mind. Brain injury may have changed quite a few things, but I am still a very resourceful individual. Not to forget that over the last few years, I have learned and worked on many tools to manage stress and anxiety and this meant that I was able to keep calm when a few things didn’t fully go according to plan. We had a 16 hour stop over in San Francisco which I was quite nervous about, but the time spent exploring the city with my son was absolutely fantastic. We had not arrived to our destination yet and I had that feeling that things were going to be just fine.

Then, we arrived to our destination. I had prepared myself for many things, but I had not prepared myself for how good it would feel to be surrounded by family, friends and by some of my favorite places in the whole, wild world. It felt like I was wrapped in the most luxurious blanket you can think of and that warm feeling simply made me radiate love and happiness. I am yet to fully understand the mechanism behind it all, but I think that filling my emotional cup went a long way in constantly refilling my brain energy, as I honestly pinched myself on several occasions thinking “I should be crashing hard in this environment, but somehow, this brain of mine is holding up.” There were obviously the occasional short circuits, but I knew I had the tools to manage them and bounce back. Family and friends were also really supportive when those moments occurred. It is what it is and I saw this as an opportunity to share awareness around the ups and downs of life after brain injury.

I do realize that I am privileged to have had this opportunity, but ill health has also taught me lots about priorities and living life to the fullest…you only live once, right! I’ll grant you that visiting my hometown is a long trip over and down memory lane, but the reality is that we don’t always have to go far to reap the benefits from traveling. Exploring nature, meeting people (new and old), getting acquainted with a piece of history, taking the time to observe how things are done in different places, submerging ourselves in different cultures has a way to anchor us in the present like no other. We give our brain the opportunity to slow down and fully absorb all the beauty that surrounds us, to create new pathways and perhaps teach us a little more about priorities, time management, values, and ourselves for that matter.

Life isn’t always easy but life is also what we decide to make it to be. The decision to feed ourselves good food, good thoughts, to keep as active as we can be, to allow for meaningful connections to take place, to do more of the things that make us feel good, to gently push ourselves out of our comfort zone by challenging status quo and to give ourselves permission to rest when we need to is entirely ours. People can guide us and support us along the way, but no one can do these things for us.

This recent trip really shown me that we are often the ones putting limitations on ourselves in regards to what we can and cannot do. So before I share a few travel tips, I’ll tell you dare to try, dare to give things a go. You will never know unless you try and if things don’t work out as well as you anticipated, then find the lessons in it so you can re-adjust next time around. Don’t see the negative as a failure but as an opportunity for learning, and then you cannot lose whatever happens.

Travel Tips for Brain Injury Survivors

  • Establish the aim of your trip and its associated priorities. Come back to those when making decisions.
  • Plan the key aspects of your trip, give some thoughts to a plan B and allow for periods of rest.
  • Have you got your PPE? Ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, hat or any other gear that is typically helpful in managing your symptoms.
  • Keep hydrated and consider bringing electrolytes. I personally loved having them on my recent trip.
  • Make sure to bring medications, supplements and perhaps a letter from your doctor or a brain injury card. E.g.: With aphasia, I always fear that people may think that I’m drunk so having a letter up my sleeve felt reassuring.
  • Bring a few healthy snacks… I’m sorry to say that the food served during flights hasn’t improved.
  • I personally prefer to keep my carry on items light and to restrict them to the essential items. It avoids clutter and makes it easier to find the things I really need.
  • If you feel you need assistance, let your airline know so they allow for this.
  • Navigating airports can feel daunting for some. Ask for help or direction to avoid wasting brain energy figuring things out by yourself.
  • Have your travel information in a safe but easy to access place and share it with a few key people so they can track your progress and identify if you’ve encountered delays.
  • If you can, get up, stretch your legs, your back and your neck.
  • Feeling nervous? Do some deep breathing and look up a few exercises that can help activate your vagal nerve.
  • Once you’ve reached your destination, let people know what works and doesn’t work for you so they can support you during your stay.
  • Most importantly… enjoy the ride!

Originally published on the contributor’s blog.

Originally published: February 2, 2023
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