10 things you need to know about traveling with a brain injury


My first big trip after my TBI was three years post accident, and I was terrified. Traveling is exhausting for a person without a brain injury, so it’s ten times more exhausting for someone with one. Dealing with symptoms of a brain injury is all about finding what strategies work for you.

Last spring, I traveled to Portugal and Spain for a total of 14 days and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was my first time in Europe and I learned a lot traveling to there with a brain injury. Here are the ten biggest things I learned from this trip.

Author looking at ocean view on rocks

1. Plan

Planning your itinerary before the trip is the number one advice I have. Spacing out activities is helpful so you have time to rest. Maybe plan nothing for the day you get in and something easy for the next day. Take it easy at the start so you can adjust to jet lag. No matter where you are, your vacation does not need to be fast paced.

2. Spend on comfort – you’re worth it:

  • Buy the extra legroom on the plane. Long flights suck for anyone, the extra few bucks for that comfort for seven, eight or even 12 hours is the one thing I wouldn’t go without.
  • Stay in a hotel. Having a quiet room is a must have for rests when traveling.
  • Buy first class train tickets. Trains in Europe are extremely bumpy and horrible for someone with motion sickness. Spend the extra 20 euros and get a seat in a first class car. Your ride will be so smooth you won’t even know you’re on a train.
  • Public transportation drains a lot of energy for me. Cabs in Europe are inexpensive, easily accessible and they’re everywhere on city streets. So avoid the mental drain of subways, streetcars and busses by opting for a cab instead.

3. Tours:

Private tours are a good option for someone traveling with a brain injury. It’s more intimate and the less people around the better. Half-day tours are also an option.

4. Flying:

My best advice is a good pair of noise canceling headphones and an eye mask. Also avoid alcohol on the plane.

5. Breaks:

Jet lag is the worst! Having never traveled to a time difference of longer than two hours, the six-hour difference will affect anyone. As mentioned in tip #1, plan breaks into your trip. Every day I had two or three breaks and some included a nap.

6. Alcohol:

Depending on where you travel, alcohol will be different than what you’re used to, if you drink. For example, wine is a lot stronger in Europe. In Portugal, the minimum alcohol percentage in wine is 23 per cent. I’m not a big drinker, but on vacation it’s hard to say no to Portuguese or Spanish wine. For some reason I was never hungover after a glass of wine with dinner. If I have a glass of 12 per cent wine in North America, I’m hungover for a few days. In Europe, I woke up feeling fine. But everyone is different, so if you choose to drink, pace yourself and know your limits!

7. Coffee:

The coffee is Europe is also a lot stronger than North America. Instead of a mug of coffee, they’ll give you an espresso shot by default, which packs a massive punch. My first cup had me shaking for half a day. Start slow with it if you’re not used to espresso.

8. Walking:

Having never been to Europe, the last thing I was thinking about was the cobble stone sidewalks. I didn’t realized how slippery they would be, and as a result, I was constantly looking down and focusing on not slipping. What helped was a good pair of running shoes and not rushing around. You can’t change the way the sidewalks are built, so just take your time.

9. Communicate with your travel companion:

Make sure to travel with someone you trust and who knows your situation. You need to communicate with them when you need a rest.

10. Water, water & lots of water!

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough: drink lots of water.

Traveling with a brain injury doesn’t need to be a scary thing. If you plan for it, take your time and rest you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the full experience. I never thought I’d be able to travel and now I’m already planning my next vacation!

The Blue Helmet Girl is a woman in her mid-twenties who acquired a TBI three years ago, and after three open head surgeries, has recovered remarkably. With a high level of organization skills and self-awareness, she hopes to help others by sharing her unique story and strategies. In her spare time, you can find her hanging out with her dog, taking pictures or writing in her journal.
Follow her on Twitter @theBHjourney, on Instagram @bluehelmetjourney or www.thebluehelmetjourney.com



How we celebrate Christmas after my husband’s brain injury


My husband, Norm, has lived in a long term care home since acquiring his brain injury six years ago. Each holiday, be it Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween or Christmas, the facility decorates the common areas, in attempt to give residents and their families a more festive experience.

To be honest, since Norm’s accident, I really haven’t felt like celebrating the holidays. Norm and I don’t have kids so why bother? It seems as though I am just going through the motions.

Thankfully, Norm and I have good people around us. We get a crew together to decorate Norm’s room each year. His brother, sister-in-law and friends come to help. They help bring out the holiday spirit – which is hard, as Norm doesn’t show many emotions.

Remember to take time for yourself. Even a walk around the block to clear your head, or sitting down to breathe can work wonders. If you don't look after yourself who will?

As much as possible, we try to keep things the same as before the accident. Christmas Eve we go to our parish church for mass. On Christmas Day we go to Norm’s brother’s to open presents and see the rest of the family. In the afternoon, Norm and I head over to our friends to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Despite this, our trips are more complicated now and planning is essential. When Norm and I go anywhere, I have to book the mobility van that is at his long term care facility. If the van is booked, I have to phone the taxi company. I have to strap Norm in with seat belts for safety. When we go out for Christmas dinner, to a restaurant or to friends, I have to make sure that Norm has a pureed meal to eat.

Remember to take time for yourself. Even a walk around the block to clear your head, or sitting down to breathe can work wonders. If you don't look after yourself who will?


At the end of the day, I think having family and friends around is all Norms needs as when they are around, he just beams.

After her husband’s injury, Theresa went back to school to become a Personal Support Worker. She has taken courses in brain injury, and is now a full time caregiver. You can follow her on Instagram, HERE

The top 5 ways summer is out to get you


Hot fun in the summertime!

Those words are just as true today as they were when recorded by Sly and the Family Stone back in 1969. Summer is about having fun in warmer temperatures, especially after another brutal winter and a cool spring, we certainly deserve it. Just a few short months ago we were protecting ourselves from the -30 wind chill, right?.


But warmer temperatures can also be too much of a good thing if the thermometer climbs above a certain level. Our body deals with the heat in different ways, by increasing the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands as perspiration and when coupled with strenuous activity, causing us to pant when the blood is heated above 37 degrees (98.6.) Under conditions of high temperature (above 32 degrees) and high humidity, the body does everything it can to maintain its regular normal temperature.

Spending too much time outside on a hot day can affect the body in a number of different ways, some of them debilitating. Little wonder that the dangers associated with high seasonal temperatures are sometimes referred to as silent killers.

Here are a few of them that we have to watch out for as we enjoy this all-too-brief season:

1. Dehydration

photo credit: Cold drinks via photopin (license)
photo credit: Cold drinks via photopin (license)

When the body becomes overheated, the blood is circulated closer to the skin’s surface and excess heat drains off into the cooler atmosphere. You body is always trying to maintain an even body temperature. Sweating reduces body heat through a process known as evaporative cooling. When we perspire, our bodies are cooled through evaporation from the skin, but if there is high humidity, the sweat stays on our skin and we feel little relief from the heat.

Hence, sweating by itself does nothing to cool the body, unless the water is removed by evaporation. Dehydration occurs when more than two per cent of normal water volume is lost. Symptoms may include thirst, headache, general discomfort, loss of appetite and dry skin. Severe dehydration can lead to dizziness or fainting, decreased blood pressure and listlessness. Whether it means carrying a water bottle or making frequent stops at a public fountain, keeping hydrated on a hot day is a given.

2. Heat Cramps

Source: http://media.mnn.com/assets/images/2009/04/main_egg_0407.jpg
Source: http://media.mnn.com/assets/images/2009/04/main_egg_0407.jpg

Anyone who has ever done heavy physical labour on a hot day may well have experienced muscle sprains or spasms known as heat cramps. They may occur in the abdominal area or the legs and can be very painful. Anyone suffering from heat cramps should immediately stop the activity and rest, while drinking sips of water or a sports drink. Try to gently stretch the cramped muscle, holding it for about 20 seconds before massaging it. If the sufferer ceases to have any symptoms of heat cramps he or she may resume some activity, but should refrain from any strenuous exercise for at least 24 hours.

3. Heat Exhaustion

photo credit: IMG_20150705_143248 via photopin (license)
photo credit: IMG_20150705_143248 via photopin (license)

Heat exhaustion is closely tied in with dehydration – it results from the loss of large quantities of water and salt. When these are not replaced, blood circulation diminishes, affecting not only the heart, but also the lungs and the brain. When heat exhaustion occurs, high humidity may cause perspiration not to evaporate so the body doesn’t cool properly. Symptoms may include skin which is moist, cool, pale – or sometimes red – heavy sweating headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and general inertia. Body temperature is usually normal. Heat exhaustion is best treated when the person afflicted rests in a cool place and consumes small amounts of water every 15 minutes. Clothing should either loosened or removed altogether and cool wet cloths applied to different parts of the body. If left untreated, the condition could potentially lead to heat stroke.

4. Heat Stroke

photo credit: Suck It Heat Wave! via photopin (license)
photo credit: Suck It Heat Wave! via photopin (license)

Heat stroke occurs when a person’s temperature control system – which produces perspiration to cool the body – stops functioning. This creates an increase in body temperature so high that either brain damage or death can result if steps are not taken immediately. Symptoms may include hot, red and dry skin, a rapid but weak pulse shallow breathing, high body temperature, dilated pupils, dizziness and weakness, vomiting and mental confusion. If you suspect a person is affected by heat stroke, it is imperative he or she be moved to a cool place and be wrapped in wet sheets. Ice packs should be placed on the victim’s wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck in order to cool large blood vessels. Call 9-1-1 if the treatment is not producing the desired results.

5. Sun burn

photo credit: Bruceys Neck via photopin (license)
photo credit: Bruceys Neck via photopin (license)

Are you old enough to remember the days of, “I’m just going to lie out in the sun for a couple of hours and try to get a nice healthy tan?” The world has moved on since then, and most of us realize a tan is not healthy! Yes, the sun is life-giving and contributes to the production of vitamin D in the body, but over-exposure to ultraviolet rays over time have negative effects on the skin including sunburn, premature aging or an increased risk of skin cancer. After the winter, some people may wish to acquire the healthy glow a tan gives by starting out with a base tan using the facilities of an indoor tanning bed. But Dr. Anne Marie McNeill, a dermatologist with Newport Beach Dermatology and Plastic Surgery in California states on skincancer.org:

The problem is that ultraviolet (UV) tanning, whether from indoor tanning beds or from the sun, is harmful to the skin. Therefore, I don’t recommend tanning at all, during the summer or any other season. A tan is a sign of sun damage to your skin’s DNA. Skin cells respond to damage from UV rays by producing more of the pigment melanin to protect themselves from further injury.

Over-exposure to the sun results in a burn. Symptoms may include redness and pain, swelling of the skin blisters and in some cases, headaches and fever. It is best treated with ointments or in the case of broken blisters, dry sterile dressings. During the past twenty years, doctors have seen an alarming rate of increase in skin cancer of a type referred to as nonmylenoma – as much as 300 per cent and more than all other cancers combined . If detected early enough it can be treated successfully. If you must take some sun, do so for small intervals of time and always wear a lotion for protection.

Don’t let the heat get you

photo credit: 12/365: Beat red after spinning via photopin (license)
photo credit: 12/365: Beat red after spinning via photopin (license)

Enjoy the season! It’s a time for patios, cool drinks and taking life a little easier than at other times of the year – but never forget to take those precautions that come with the increase in warmer weather.

Dress for it! An all-black ensemble may be trendy, but leave it in the closet until September. Light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures. Wear a hat to protect your face and head.

Even if you aren’t thirsty, be sure to drink plenty of liquids, and cut back on those iced lattes and cool pints of beer. Caffeine increases water loss through urination, and alcoholic drinks can also cause dehydration. Soft drinks and fruit juices usually contain high amounts of sugar, which means they aren’t absorbed as easily as water or a commercial sports drink.

It’s impossible to avoid the sun altogether during the summer, but don’t bask in it. Wear a protective sunscreen if you plan to be outside for any length of time-and go indoors to a cool environment if you feel any of the effect of too many ultraviolet rays.

But we’re not total downers – summer lasts only a few months, so make the most of it. Walk, hike, swim, bike, go for a leisurely stroll in a park or along the waterfront, or enjoy drinks (in moderation if they’re alcholholic!) on a patio. Because we all know how quickly -30 is going to come back..

How we went on a real family vacation after my son’s brain injury


This is us last summer, when our family decided to drive to Canada’s East Coast provinces and take a real family vacation.

Our vacation began when headed out late one afternoon in our rented, and very comfortable, RV. Leaving late was our first mistake. Our plan was to get to the Maritimes fast (we wanted to get through Quebec before stopping for the night). That was our second mistake. Then we realized we had forgotten the sleeping pills and other brain injury-related medicine for my son at home. That was our third mistake – a big one.

We learned that to survive on our vacation, we must be better organized. We had to call ahead for hotels, and eat before hitting the road. We needed to get into the habit of allowing for extra time, for everything and anything that could come up. Getting up in the mornings takes longer for the person with the ABI, and changes in environment and routine are harder for them to deal with. Once we slowed down and got organized, the trip went much better.

As soon as we reached the East Coast, it was smooth sailing. The slower, calmer pace was perfect for our family. The landscape is beautiful, and our family relaxed and began to have a great time together.

We went whale watching, swimming, walked on the ocean floor, did Peggy’s Cove and visited Anne of Green Gables. We took lots of pictures, and it was amazing to see our son take everything in. It was wonderful to see all of us, my husband and two daugthers, relax.

I totally recommend vacation for families who are living with brain injury – especially ones where you’re trapped together in a comfortable RV. The bonding and closeness are moments that will last a lifetime. There were periods of chaos, do not get me wrong, but even those add to the story of us. (And, after the fact, they are funny to remember – like when my husband didn’t take the time to learn where the gas tank was, and had to figure it out when the RV was almost running on empty. After about an hour, the gas tank was found by a carload of young men who Googled it, and it turns out it was inside the driver’s door. My prayers were answered once again!)

Did the brain injury change our vacation? Absolutely. However, the rewards were greater than the challenges. Thank God we still have our son and brother. Who could ask for more than that?

Barb Kustec is the mother of three – Christopher, age 23; Cassandra, age 15 and Samantha, age 12. She is married to her husband, Danny. This is her second article for Brain Injury Blog TO.