Avoid Disability Travel Stress
With last minute rushing, essential items are left behind and you’ll get less than pleasant facilities, experiencing long lines. Stress can flare up symptoms of your disability or illness. Planning ahead is key to making your trip an enjoyable, painless experience. And regardless of ADA or other disability access policies, do ask what accommodations are available.
First, where to? What’s going on when you get there? Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Be honest with yourself, your body and your travel companions. Choose a destination that you or your special needs children will be physically comfortable with. If anyone is sensitive to cold weather, for goodness sakes, why plan a trip to Alaska in the middle of winter? If you don’t do well climbing stairs, please don’t plan a long walking tour of historic homes featuring high porches and multiple floors – unless they have a video at the visitor center or alternate tour to meet your needs. Keep it real and fun.
Discuss possible scenarios together. Knowing you are free to say, “I’m really tired. I think I’ll skip the Waterfall Canyon tour this afternoon” or “Would you help Molly in the bathroom while I get a snack?” allows you to relax, enjoy yourself and alleviates any confusion.
While most large hotel/motel chains have 800 numbers, it is worth it to call the hotel directly to make reservations. Ask very specific questions about the facility where you’ll stay. Ask for a room that is on the main floor or near the elevator to minimize the distance you have to drag yourself and your luggage. Some economy hotels don’t offer general bellman services, but if you need the accommodation, they’re happy to help if you ask them. Be sure to specify the accommodations you need -- whether its wheelchair accessibility, shower grab bars or if you need a non-smoking room for your toxin sensitivities or oxygen use.
If you find the hotel bed uncomfortable, ask for more pillows. Can’t figure out the thermostat and need more blankets? Ask! You are the guest. You deserve what you need. If you like, you could go to a nearby discount store and buy a foam “egg crate” mattress pad to make the firm mattress a little less hard on your back. The added comfort is worth it. Because it’s cheap, you can leave it behind or roll it up and take it with you. They are easy and light for packing.
Worried the 17”-19” toilet height won’t accommodate you? Get measurements. Ask if they have a raised commode seat if it’s too low for you. Many older hotels have tried, to no avail, to retrofit themselves to be accessible, but make sure they’ve done it the way you need. It might even be good to bring a portable, raised commode lid (use double sided Velcro or tape to secure to toilet) that’s easy to clean and store in your suitcase or car trunk. It might be good to have one anyway for those yucky gas station bathrooms.
Some hotels have photos on their websites of their room amenities. If not, ask if they will measure some doorways for you or take digital photos and email to you. Find out if the list of amenities includes assistance animals as well, even if they don’t allow pets. Explain to them your situation. Find out about their services if you are Deaf or hard of hearing as well, in terms of phone call alerts and wake-up alarms.
How much activity can you or your loved one take? It’s natural to want to see and do it all in the time you have, but that’s no reason to cram a lifetime into one trip. Schedule rest periods that allow brief relaxation, even a nap. Take time to shake it out if sitting in your wheelchair or scooter too long makes you antsy. Short attention spans deserve a breather as well. Plan short, quality-rich activities to meet the needs you have, time with headphones or a book for sensory sensitive kids. If you realize it’s impossible to return to your hotel at regular intervals, at least allow time to sit down in a quiet café. Enjoy a local beverage and snack that revs up your energy. Make your first day a short one, too. Falling out of the car or off the plane and bounding into vacation activities is never a good idea for anybody. Intentionally go to your room and nap for a bit, read or watch TV. Get a bath or shower and freshened up for a meal or show later on in the day that’s low-key.
Have you decided to fly to your destination? Call the airline directly and tell the customer service representative you have a disability and need certain considerations. Ask a lot of questions about where you’ll be seated, their transition assistance from the waiting area to boarding the plane and more. You may want to request one of the first seats in coach, or a bulkhead aisle seat. This is the easiest seat to get in and out of and has the most leg room, particularly if you can’t stand well or use bulky leg braces and crutches. What about your oxygen or medications for your carry-on bags? Since 9/11, rules are different, so explain in detail what you will need and make sure that’s all taken care of. Keep your medications in their prescription bottles and whether in carry-on or checked bags, ask your doctor if you need spare prescriptions to keep with you in the event your luggage is lost with that essential medication.
Allow extra layover time when changing planes, too, so if the flight is running a little late, you will still make your connecting flight without being rushed. You’ll have plenty of time to disembark, stretch, and make your way to the next flight. Ask the airline for what arrangements or assistance you need to make to minimize walking in the airports. Even if you don’t normally use a wheelchair, consider that a wheelchair be waiting curbside and at the gate of each stop so you are made more comfortable. Save your energy for sightseeing and other fun activities. As for your ticket and boarding pass, get them ahead of time to minimize your wait in line.
Considering a road trip instead? Stop for a few minutes every hour or two to stretch out, whether you are in a wheelchair, braces or need a breather to take medications or go to the restroom. Get out of the car, stretch and wiggle around a little. Staying in any one position too long will cause you or your loved one to become stiff, increasing pain or aggravating any spastic conditions. Plan your seating strategy. If there is room in the car, make a bed in the backseat to lie down when necessary, or give you the opportunity to take shifts driving. You can lie down while your companion drives. Try out a variety of sitting positions. Does your child need an extra cushion? Does your grandma need a neck cushion, lumbar pillow or does your husband need blankets to stay comfortable? Did you pack a water bottle or juice if you get thirsty?
Keep snacks handy in the car that don’t go bad like dried fruit, raisins, nuts, pretzels, beef jerky, whatever you can eat on your eating plan and keeps you energized. Make sure you’ve got an extra pair of shoes and socks to either keep your feet clean and either warm or cool, depending on the weather. An extra shirt or pair of pants to stay fresh on a long, hot road trip is important, too. Make sure your adaptive equipment, like your hand controls, the wheelchair lift, all the lock downs and straps work before the road trip. The worst thing to happen is a bolt or mechanism comes loose and you are far from home. So, make sure everything is tuned up and ready to go.
Are the kids ready for the theme parks? Large tourist attractions are usually able to accommodate various disability needs. Even if you never use a wheelchair in your daily life, consider renting a wheelchair or scooter at theme parks, unless you can handle walking for miles and standing for hours without pain. Think long and hard about it before you compromise your body and everyone else’s fun time. At most parks, if you are in a wheelchair or on a walker, you and those accompanying you can go right in without waiting in line. A wheelchair or scooter -- and some zoos have wheelchairs and scooters to rent for the day (call first), will allow you to do a lot more for longer and expend less energy.
Plan at least one day of rest after returning home from vacation, too. Sometimes, you don’t know how tired you are until you plop yourself down at home and then you get up the next day for work or school so tired you wish you had stayed home to begin with. That’s no way to remember vacation.
Plan ahead, talk openly and make a list of all the scenarios and to-do lists. Your vacation will be the experience of a lifetime as a result.
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