1. How did your passion for traveling begin?
My passion started when I was 9 years old and my parents took me to Europe, Egypt and Scandinavia for a six month holiday. My father giving up his job and taking a child out of school wasn’t the “done” thing back then. It was seen to be quite radical and some felt unwise. We were like the three musketeers traveling and it bonded us in a unique way. I learnt so much and in a more interactive way than a book in a classroom.
2. On your website, it looks as though your family is always having a great time traveling. Can you describe your family a bit?
We are a family of four, Mom, Dad, a son, BJ (18) and daughter, AJ (11). We would be what is considered “typical” except for the fact our son BJ has Cerebral Palsy, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal. If I had to pick a trait that I like most it is that we have a positive attitude and try to work around any tricky situations to ensure we live a full and varied life.
3. How do you guys choose your destinations?
We choose our destinations according to our interests and what there is for each family member when we get there. We tend to find a way for it to work. For something like a beach vacation we would definitely look for a destination with good beach access and beach wheelchairs.
4. Has having a child with a disability changed the way that you travel? If so, how?
Yes, it has changed the way we travel. We research and plan to a degree I have never done before. Travelling light does not seem possible with a portable commode and other equipment. Due to our son disturbing most nights and waking in the early hours each day, we also have to look for spacious accommodation that has two rooms which makes travel more expensive for us now. We have learnt that comfort equals success.
5. What is the most wheelchair friendly place that you have been to?
That is a really difficult question. We research and find some fantastic places in our travels. California as a whole is great for accessibility, but we also found great access in New York.
In Australia we travel to a vacation area in our home state called Port Macquarie and their beach wheelchair program sees us returning annually for a holiday by the sea.
We were surprised last year to find a small state in Australia called Tasmania had wonderful wheelchair friendly walks, we all did cable hang-gliding and even getting up close to penguins was possible.
6. What’s the least accessible place that you have been to?
We are fortunate that we can often make do or adapt to situations as our son can transfer out of his chair and take steps with assistance. As we travel together as a family and because of his ability, we are less tied to strict limitations of accessibility. My background as an ex-travel agent means that I research and plan so there are as few surprises as possible. I can’t think of one place I would single out as not accessible as we would avoid anything that wouldn’t make for a good vacation.
7. What kind of problems have you came across while traveling with a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
Our biggest obstacle living in Australia is the long flights to get to countries like the US. Traveling with the wheelchair isn’t the issue. It is more the fact that our son finds the long haul flights in such confined space difficult to say the least. We can get a bulk-head seat that assists with this, but it is still difficult.
On our recent trip to New York we had a fantastic holiday, but when an elevator was out of order that would cause problems particularly on the subway. We had one occasion where the elevator was out of order and we were pointed to another way to get to the platform only to find stairs. We stood for a moment and before we had time to turn around two lovely guys offered a hand and between my husband and their assistance we made it down to the platform we needed.
We are fairly determined to experience everything, particularly if it is an integral part of a city. There is usually a way to experience it even if it is a little more limited. I think you have to be realistic and expect that a historic building will not have ramps, wide doorways, etc. It just wasn’t a consideration of that time.
I think the biggest obstacles would be stairs, hills and elevators out of order.
8. What are some of the top things on your bucket list?
We’ve just ticked off a huge bucket list item which was New York. It is an amazing feeling to be in a city you have seen in movies and on tv so often and then to be experiencing all it has to offer.
Hawaii, Canada and Central Australia are all on our list. We traveled to Central Australia when BJ was younger and we’d like to go back.
9. Do you have any tips for other families with disabled children that might not think traveling is possible?
Starting local helps you work out what you need equipment wise and what are the key elements to make a vacation successful. Once you have done that then start with destinations that you know will cater well to your child’s needs. Research, plan and ask lots of questions. Be very specific with your questions and don’t assume that a booking agent knows your needs. For example when we book a hotel we ask for the square footage of the room, whether there are any stairs at all (it is amazing how some places will say “there is just one step up into the room”).
Travel with a positive attitude. Be prepared that there will be challenges and this will require you to adapt.
Lastly, plan and research (I am repeating myself for good reason) – I cannot stress this enough. Before our trip to the US I phoned each hotel directly to ensure it would meet our needs.
10. Most importantly, where to next?
Hawaii is on the top of our list at the moment. From what I have read it sounds like a very accessible destination. My husband and I visited before our children were born and just as Hurricane Iniki was hitting the islands. We would like a less dramatic vacation there this time.
Julie is a former travel agent and mom of two. She is also the creator of HaveWheelchairWillTravel.net, a blog that shares her family’s travels throughout Australia and the United States. If you would like to follow their adventures, like their Facebook page or follow them on Instagram.
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