Planning a trip for vacation or business? Most people look forward to vacations and other traveling that takes them away from home. For those with disabilities, food sensitivities, allergies and other special needs, traveling can be exhausting, disappointing and very frustrating.
But traveling, even with disabilities, food sensitivities, allergies and other special needs, can be made easier with lots of pre-planning, a willingness to ask the hard questions and to persevere until you receive the answers needed for your situation. How to start?
Make a list. What are your particular needs and requirements for environment, food, accessibility, etc. to address your special needs? What are your limits? How far can you travel comfortably? What accessories-wheelchair, crutches, toilet riser, etc.-do you require? What are your needs regarding vitamins, special foods and medications?
Decide upon a destination within your parameters of health and comfort. Some environments may not work for someone with allergies. Other destinations might be frustrating for someone with certain physical limitations and disabilities. Of course, if the destination is not your choice because it is business, family or friend related, you have fewer options. Still, even those with disabilities, food sensitivities, allergies and other special needs can mitigate a great deal of discomfort with a little detective work.
Check out your destination online. Sometimes you can even check out rooms and virtually “see” where you’ll be staying. Follow this up with phone calls. Ask questions regarding your particular situation regarding disabilities, food sensitivities, allergies or other special needs.
Don’t take the statement “we’re handicap accessible” at face value. There are many levels of accessibility and what some without limitations consider “accessible” isn’t very accessible at all. Sure, you may be able to get into your room, but are there stairs to the dining room? You may be told the restaurant can handle your gluten-free diet, but do they truly understand what this means? Do they understand the problem of cross contamination? Many restaurants don’t. Make sure to talk to those who can give you the information required about your situation.
At a hotel or motel, talk to the janitor or housekeepers. They are the ones who clean the rooms and can tell you much more about lay out than the clerk at the front desk. At a restaurant, talk to the manager or chef. Keep asking until you receive the answers needed to make a decision regarding your particular disabilities, food sensitivities, allergies and/or other special needs,.
Flying has its own set of problems. Be sure to know what is required long before you leave on your trip. You don’t want to be stuck in an airport someplace without your required medicines, crutches, wheelchair or other devices. When flying, always keep your medicines with you at all times and in their original prescription containers. Of course, be early-just in case. And pare down what you need to the necessities.
Traveling in a car means packing things in the trunk. If you use a wheelchair or other appliance, be sure not to have it packed on the bottom of all the luggage. As with air travel, keep your medicines close.
Many franchise eating establishments offer both gluten-free menus and allergy-related information online. Print these out to take with you and try to eat at restaurants that already have a clue about your allergies or food sensitivities. If that isn’t always possible, talk to your waitress, ask for the manager or chef and be very specific about your needs. If done firmly, but politely, most eating establishments will comply-especially if they know it could be a matter of life or death.
When service is good or above the call, please reward accordingly. It might mean that the next person with special needs will be treated with even more dignity and respect.
Bathroom facilities range from totally unusable to great for those with disabilities. Even those who maintain a clean bathroom facility may not consider how accessible their handicap stall really is for those with special needs. Doors may not be wide enough, most have a purse/clothing hook high on the door where many with disabilities and/or physical limitations cannot reach. The stall door lock is often too hard to grasp or slide. Placement of toilet tissue may be difficult for someone who cannot bend and reach well. For places you decide to lodge, be sure to call ahead for very specific information on bathroom fixtures, placement, etc. (It doesn’t hurt to carry a toilet riser along-just in case.)
For those bathroom stops along the way, if possible, have someone go with you in case things don’t go as planned. An extra body can help should you fall or if you get locked in. Another person can even stand in front of the door if it will not close. At times, practicality needs to supersede pride.
As for packing, less is more. Those with disabilities, allergies, food sensitivities and/or other special needs have enough “stuff” to take along without adding unnecessary clothing, jewelry, etc. Take clothes appropriate for the vacation or destination and clothes for the journey. Try for mix and match combinations that go from casual to dress up. Pare down as much as possible. Think comfort and practicality.
When packing for traveling, pack destination luggage on the bottom and things needed for the journey on top so you don’t find yourself digging through mounds of luggage just to reach some simple needed item.
If medical care is critical, choose your destination with that in mind. If an emergency should arise, how far would you be from critical care? Also, carry a card listing your particular medical needs, allergies and/or sensitivities in case of emergency. For food allergies and/or sensitivities, it doesn’t hurt to carry cards of explanation to hand to your waitress before you order.
If things are not as promised at your destination that claimed “accessibility” or “gluten-free,” etc. take the matter as high up the chain as possible for satisfaction. Always be specific, be firm and be polite. There may even be times you might need to switch eating establishments or lodging in order to get satisfaction.
Traveling with a disability, with allergies, other sensitivities or with other special needs can be a hassle, but foresight, planning and the determination to get answers before you leave often alleviates the worst problems, leaving you with a positive traveling experience.