Disability Travel: 16 tips to help make your holiday trip a success

For many, disability travel can be a challenge at any time of the year. This may be especially true during the holidays, when so many are hitting the proverbial road in one way or another to see family and friends.

For those living with some type of disability—as well as their caregivers—embarking on such a trip can present some unique challenges.

Fortunately, there are certain tips you can follow to help make your holiday trip a success.

Disability travel example. Woman standing beside individual in a wheelchair

Types of disabilities

According to 2015 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 22 percent of adults in the U.S. live with some type of disability. Common functional disability types include:

  • Mobility—defined as “serious difficult walking or climbing stairs.”
  • Cognition—defined as “serious difficult concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.”
  • Independent living—defined as “difficulty doing errands alone, such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping.”
  • Vision—defined as “blind or serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses.”
  • Self-care—defined as difficulty dressing or bathing.

Image Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0730-us-disability.html

Functional disabilities such as these are usually related to one or more health conditions that may include things like:

  • Neurological diseases—including conditions involving the brain and nervous system.
  • Cardiovascular diseases—including congestive heart failure and stroke.
  • Lung diseases—including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory conditions.
  • Digestive diseases—including those which require special feeding accommodations or supplies, such as those for an ostomy.
  • Genitourinary diseases—which may require special treatments and supplies, such as catheters.
  • Endocrine diseases—including diabetes, which require special supplies for monitoring and treatment.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders—including arthritis or other problems with the joints and spine that may affect mobility and function.
  • Cancer—of any body system that may create an array of needs.
  • Various types of injuries—that may impact mobility, function, and require special care.

The need for planning

Having one or more conditions such as these means trying to travel can become a complicated matter. Consider just a few of the issues that may arise:

  • Those who are on oxygen may be limited by the type of system they are using, and the necessary supply of tanks that will be needed to see them through a trip.
  • Those who have mobility issues and rely on assistive devices, such as walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized scooters, may have difficulty transporting their equipment or determining whether they’ll be able to access the experiences they’d like to enjoy during the trip ahead.
  • Those who have ostomies, wounds, feeding tubes, peritoneal dialysis, or other conditions for which supplies may be needed must ensure that they’ll have everything they’ll need along the way.
  • Those who are on hemodialysis are limited by the need for regular treatments every week, and must have the ability to access care when away from home.
  • Those who are enrolled in hospice must make special arrangements to access care if the need arises.

However, with the right type of planning and support, you can still enjoy traveling during the holidays.

Yellow Volkswagon van on road through desert hills

16 tips for better disability travel

Although everyone’s needs are different, keeping the following general tips and recommendations in mind will give you a better chance of enjoying your trip—and remaining safe and healthy as you do.

Before you go

1. Talk to your doctor and healthcare team. Make sure everyone knows of your plans to make sure you’re physically able to make the trip, and to get their help in coordinating specific needs.

2. Start planning well in advance to give yourself the time you need to cover all the details. Add some flexibility into your travel plans in case you need extra time to rest.

3. Research your stops along the way and your destination. Understand what type of healthcare will be available and how to access it if you need it. Find out about accessibility and whether the equipment you need will work in terms of doorways, floorplans, storage, and power supply.

4. Research your mode of travel and understand policies that may affect you.

5. Gather essential health information and organize it into a system that’s easy to access, such as a health information notebook. Make sure you have the essentials, such as health history; medication lists; advance directives; and emergency contact information for your healthcare surrogate, physician(s), and other members of your healthcare team.

6. Ensure that you have all of your medications in ample supply and leave them in their original bottles with the labels intact. This applies to both over-the-counter medications and prescriptions.

7. Ensure that you have all medical supplies that you’ll need while away.

8. Pack extras of essentials, in case of unplanned situations.

9. Understand your insurance coverage and how care will be paid for if you require it while traveling.

10. Ensure that your traveling companion(s) have all the information they need to support you during the trip.

While enroute and at your destination

11. Be aware of being out of your routine. This is especially true for medications, treatments, diet, and exercise. It’s easy to get off schedule with medications and treatments when you’re distracted by all the fun you’re having. If you have dietary restrictions, such as salt and fluids, be careful what you eat and drink so you don’t overdo. If you have a regular exercise routine that helps keep you mobile, try to stick to it as much as possible.

12. Be aware of specific issues that may impact your specific condition—such as avoiding car exhaust if you have lung disease.

13. Rest as needed. Remember that you’ll likely be doing much more than your body is accustomed to, so take frequent breaks and make use of that extra time you allotted. Don’t push yourself into getting sick just to maintain your schedule or fulfill the expectations of others. 

When you return home

14. Check in with your doctor and healthcare team to let them know you’re back. If anything changed regarding your health while you were gone, provide them with an update to receive guidance about further care.

15. Check your medications and supplies and order anything that may be running low.

16. Rest, and let someone else do the unpacking for you.

Want a downloadable copy of these tips?

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Sue Montgomery is a Christian writer/content creator who's also been a hospice nurse, family caregiver, health coach, and professional organizer. Now she's helping Baby Boomers like herself embrace the Boomer Continuum™ of agile caregiving, graceful aging, and peaceful dying—with Christian faith and simplicity to focus on what matters most.
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