Travel Tips: Making Fun Memories
Making Fun Memories
Booking a vacation should be an exciting time for families, filled with anticipation of the fun times and memories that will be created. Often, when a family travels with a child with special needs, the excitement is replaced with trepidation and anxiety. When traveling with my son BJ who has cerebral palsy, I have experienced both feelings. But, I have learned that with planning and research, wonderful family memories can be made.
We have gained travel confidence over the years after traveling to destinations within an easy drive of home. This allowed us to work out what equipment was essential without worrying about airline baggage limits.
After we had done local holidays for some time we started flying domestically and finally took the plunge and flew internationally. We have had the most amazing experiences (both locally and overseas) and vacations have been an important part of our family bond. Day-to-day we are busy with work, therapy, school and appointments. Vacations are a time of coming together and just being a family without distractions. Having a child with special needs is demanding on the family dynamics and it is important to take time out and have fun.
Last year we undertook our third vacation as a family to the U.S. It was three weeks of travel which started with a 15 hour flight. BJ has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal. He also likes to be on-the-go constantly so sitting for that length of time on a plane is probably one of the biggest challenges we face traveling. Once we arrive at our destination he is a pleasure to travel with because he enjoys meeting people and the stimulation of new experiences.
WANT SMOOTH TRAVEL? COMMUNICATE WELL TO EVERYONE!
Traveling with a son with special needs has emphasized to me the importance of good communication with all service providers. This makes for much smoother travels. I spoke at length with the airline’s special handling department regarding our requirements. Airlines need specific information when booking with a wheelchair and it saves time and multiple phone calls if you can have it at the ready. They usually need to know dimensions of the wheelchair; whether it is manual or electric; the battery type for electric chairs and whether it is a foldable manual chair. I requested that BJ use his wheelchair right up until the aircraft door, when it was then taken and put in the cargo hold. Since this was a long-haul flight to the U.S. from Australia, we researched and booked an airline that had a disabled restroom on board. These restrooms are significantly larger than a regular airline restroom and allow enough room (just) for a parent or carer to assist.
In the past we have always used a “hire car” from arrival but our confidence grows the more we travel and on our last trip we used regular shuttle services. I found that Super Shuttle has a wheelchair accessible service in both Los Angeles and New York. Once again, I encourage clear communication as to your requirements. BJ’s wheelchair does not fold and this is important information to provide to ensure a suitable vehicle arrives for pick up. After a long flight we found it more convenient to use the shuttle service.
As a child, I traveled extensively with my family (and again later as a travel consultant), but a visit to New York had eluded me until last year. To say I was thrilled to visit New York is an understatement.
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