Caregivers take on many responsibilities and I know first-hand how much work is involved when it comes to taking a truly wheelchair accessible holiday. Whether it be an overnighter or an extended family vacation, there is definitely more involved than for an able-bodied holiday.
For example, on weekend getaways I used to be able to manage without bringing help but the older I get the less physically able I am to handle Shawn’s care entirely myself. The last time we went away alone for the night, we took the train into Toronto. All I can say is that trying to toilet an adult in an “accessible” train bathroom while it is moving is not something that I ever want to do again. Being able to get away for a weekend has limited us a bit because it is not always feasible to find someone to go away with us for a night or 2 to help with care.
Fortunately, we have been able to take several vacations but it does not come without extensive amount of time doing research to find the best vacation that will work for our family. In the past, I have tried to go away without bringing additional help but then it turns into complete exhaustion for me and not a vacation at all. Part of looking after yourself as a caregiver is knowing when it is time to take a break for yourself too, at least from the physical part.
Accessible travel has come a long way from the days of 11 years ago when I was trying to figure out where and how to get away with Shawn and the kids. I had no idea what to expect from plane travel to hotels to transportation. I remember being at the airport with my children and they were flying out to see their grandparents. I had asked the check-in airline counter personnel out of curiosity how does someone who can’t walk get on a plane. The procedure seemed easily enough when it is explained but still to this day it is always an ordeal. Not only am I helping get Shawn on the plane, I am weighed down with his carry-on bag, joystick and seat cushion. Never send those items with the wheelchair down to cargo because there is no guarantee they will be returned undamaged.
It has really been a hit and miss with planning at first but I have learned that Plan A can easily fall through so best to have back up plans. No matter how hard you try and confirm a million times with the hotels, air carriers, cruise lines etc. the risk of something not meeting the needs can really make or break your vacation. I soon came to realize as well that hotels don’t seem to think that wheelchair users have a family. It is an anomaly to find an accessible hotel room with 2 queen beds. We have checked into hotels that I was guaranteed a roll-in shower and it was a tub with grab bars. We had an accessible van booked for a week-long trip to Hawaii and got a call at the airport that the van was broken. No alternative was provided from the company. I have shed many a tear over my hard work falling apart so that is why I always have Plan B and sometimes C. I make sure I know if accessible taxis, subways, buses etc. are available in case of a situation like that.
When we first started travelling, we stuck with the obvious choices like Disney World and cruises because we knew they were pretty much sure things for accessibility. However, over the years we have started to get more experimental with our choices. Whether it be finding our own accessible shore excursion on cruises or most recently touring Italy via train, which I am proud to say that all my research paid off because it went off incredibly well. Well almost since we did have a wheel fall off Shawn’s wheelchair but that is one of those things we handled well because we knew what we needed to do. I can’t stress enough how you should always be aware of local medical equipment locations (if any) wherever you are visiting in case of emergencies like this. Another consideration that no one else really has to think about is medical equipment and medical supplies. We used to have to source out companies to find shower commode rentals. We now travel with our own commode that we easily can take apart and set up at our destination. I started a blog to not only share our experiences and help others with accessible travel but share some the accessible travel hacks I have learned on the way. Travelling when you have special needs can be so overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, it takes a lot more planning but there are so many accessible travel blogs and websites now that it is opening the world up for wheelchair users. I would like to say that the “role” of a caregiver gets to go on holidays, with or without additional support workers, but they don’t. You don’t get to take off the caregiver hat because you are always thinking one step ahead, will our shuttle show up, will it have a wheelchair lift, will the hotel have a roll in shower like I booked, will I run out of supplies, and the list goes on and on. I have learned to accept that this is how it works and that is why I travel with an information binder full of information because we can’t just jump in another cab or take another room. Many destinations in the world will always be out of the question but with lots of research many are not. Sure, many countries are more of a challenge but not a deterrent. The more we travel the more confident we become!
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