Travel and Disability: Tips, Tricks, for Roadtrips, Planes, and Family Reunions When You Have A Chronic Illness
Before you travel
Make sure you have more than enough meds to get you through the trip. (My rule of thumb is to always make sure I have enough for 3-5 extra days in case I get stuck somewhere due to weather or other problems)
If you use a daily pill sorter,
Take it empty along with your bottles of pills
Fill it but take pictures of each pill next to its bottle in case you need to show someone what the pills are for. (I have traveled all over the world and never had a problem taking my pills in a pill sorter.
Always keep your pills on your person, never put them in checked luggage!
Make sure that you inform your travel provider of any accommodations you need WHEN you purchase your tickets
Assistance needed with transport
Transportation of assistive devices (Wheelchairs, etc)
You will probably be sitting still for a long time, make sure you plan accordingly
Wear comfortable clothes
Find out about resources near where you are staying for things like dialysis, oxygen rental, wheelchair rental, etc.
If you have a condition that could impact your ability to travel, getting travel insurance might be a good idea.
If you have a layover, there is an app, Gate Guru, that can show you the layout of various airports so you can plan food/resting if you have the time.
Don’t be afraid to schedule in days to rest and recover. I know you want to see everything, but you’ll enjoy your trip more if you give yourself a break every so often. *Knowing I have a day to recover allows me to occasionally push myself to do something I otherwise would be too nervous to attempt.*
Investigate physician availability where you will be traveling. Your doctor, health care provider, insurance company or local embassy can provide the names and contact numbers of physicians at your destination. For more information, see Health Care Abroad.
Bring spare parts and tools. Wheelchairs can take tremendous abuse while traveling; assemble a small kit of spare parts and tools for emergency repairs. You may also be required to dismantle a wheelchair for certain flights or activities; make sure you and your traveling companions know how to do this.
Research, Research, Research (your destination, the airline, etc)
Getting there (Airplanes / Trains / Cars) and home
All means of transport
Noise canceling headphones
Shoes that are easy to take off / put back on
Back up batteries and power cables for electronics
Pillows - so you can sleep/get comfortable
Earplugs (Trains can be very noisy)
A light jacket as the temperature can vary greatly.
Snacks / Bottled water
Travel neck pillow
Arriving at your destination
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance getting from wherever you are dropped (airline gate, train platform) to the exit. The worst they can do is say no, and it might just save you a lot of pain.
Most airports have people whose only job is to push people around in wheelchairs (even people who can walk, but can’t walk long distances). Request them if you even think you’ll need it.
*I didn’t think I would and almost turned it down once. I underestimated how far the walk was and if I had turned them down, would not have been able to get through security*
If you have any kind of food allergies, plan ahead to have your own food until you reach your final destination as you cannot guarantee that there will be something safe along the way.
I knew a particular airport had a place that was safe for me, and when I arrived, it was closed and under construction. I was very hungry by the time I got where I was going.
Dealing with Friends and Family -
Friends and family are complicated. They have known you a long time and may not realize all the things you have to deal with and may be clueless about things you need for accomodation.
Make sure if you are staying with friends or family that they know ahead of time any issues you might have. (They may expect to put you up on an air mattress, but you can’t get up from that close to the floor. Or they might not have any food that is safe for you.)
Plan ahead in case they forget something that is going to affect you adversely
Try to head off any potential problems by mentioning specific things you are worried about.
If possible, plan alternatives in case they are unable to accomodate you. (For example, having already researched nearby hotels or places to get food)
You may be the only person with a disability that they know, so be mentally prepared to play the role of educator.
If friends and family are too complicated be up front or hell lie. Get a hotel room. A place to hide and runaway can save you jail time later.
Traveling to another country
If you are travelling to a country with a different language than your own and need accommodations of any type, use Google Translate to compose phrases that you will most need to say.
This might not be perfect, but it will at least allow you to get your point across in a pinch.
I use this for my dairy allergy. I made up little cards with an explanation that I cannot have dairy (including examples) in the native language. I carry them with me everywhere. If I am going out to eat, I show the card to the server so they can help guide me to food that is safe for me.
The EU mandates that restaurants carry “food allergen” menus for all their items so that people can make informed decisions.
There are several good resources for disabled travel in other countries. Look up the country you plan to visit and see what other people found easy or difficult. I’ve found quite a few things that I would have rejected outright, but reading other people’s stories made me realize that it wasn’t as bad as I imagined.