What I realized and experienced over the 16 years of having two special needs children, is that for my family to travel, we needed to be efficient researchers.

I always envisioned traveling to different cities, parts of the country and even international places with my children. Yet, when my sons were born, along with them came an entirely complicated list of prerequisites for traveling. How fast can I make it to the nearest emergency room? Is there a local children’s hospital? Do I have the protocol letters? The medicine box? The refrigerator meds? The charges for pumps. Both wheelchairs? Syringes? The formula cans? The nebulizer breathing treatments? The list is endless.

Where can we go? How far can we travel?
What I realized and experienced over the 16 years of having two special needs children, is that for my family to travel, we needed to be efficient researchers. We needed to take that bold step. We needed to inhale deeply and plan! And then, we did need to venture out for respite. Easier said than done – I know! Here are the top five pieces of info!

1. Call Ahead & Confirm

Thanks to speedy internet searches, finding a location can be done with ease. But is it right for you and your family? You must call ahead and confirm. No matter what the online screen says, call ahead and talk to someone at the resort or hotel or restaurant. It is important to have a contact person and explain to them your situation and necessary accommodations.

2. Make a Checklist

Compile a list of all items that you need to pack and bring. No matter how trivial it seems, put it on that list and check it off before you go. The worst thing is to get somewhere and discover you have forgotten pump chargers, or bandage kits, or med syringes! Make that list! Include: medications, formulas, oils, tape, syringes, gauze, dressings, needles, respiratory needs, chargers, O2 tanks, tubing – whatever you need be sure it is on that list! And, have a back-up plan. Know the locations of your vacation spot networks – the nearest hospital, pharmacy, even local hardware store.

3. Prepare for Emergencies

Prepare before you go. Have ready updated emergency protocol letters. If you have any worries, contact your doctor ahead of time and express that you are going on vacation. (Whisper it, so you do not jinx your trip!) Ask if they have any referrals in or are familiar with the area you will be traveling to. Have a list of your physicians’ phone numbers. (Some are willing to give their cell phone numbers for emergency contact.) If medications can be drawn up ahead of time – do it – and pack them in one spot. Dedicate a specific bag(s) to medical supplies. Know the location and phone numbers of the nearest emergency center in your travel area.

4. Plan Your Itinerary

Don’t overbook yourself. Take time to relax. Enjoy a walk around the block. Smell new flowers, soak up some sun, and just be. Plan something for yourself. A foot massage. A dinner out. An uninterrupted workout. A couple hours on the beach alone. Rock climb, hike, ski, swim or skateboard – whatever it is you love – take a few hours for yourself. Respite means a downtime interval, so if you are overbooked, you will come away from travel unrested. Inhale and breathe and come home refreshed.

5. Take Along Family

If you and your family get along, having a distraction and other hands around can help make the vacation or travel go smoothly. If you can afford extra help, then that is a good option as well. Take the time to prepare and think before you go away. The worst thing is to travel and realize it is too complicated because you did not plan ahead.

So, if you have gotten this far, you are thinking “I can’t possibly go anywhere.” Don’t fret, there are many nearby attractions that can feel like a vacation. Plan ahead. Look at local places! We have found that some of our best
travel adventures were shorter trips close to home. There was less packing anxiety, less travel time and the day or overnight stay panned out beautifully.

Local Parks: Don’t forget your National Parks! Most parks are free and are accessible for people with disabilities. Many feature paddle boating and canoeing. Most staff members are young, strong, and willing to offer assistance and make accommodations.
ASK FOR HELP! Even without the water activity or hiking, lakes are peaceful and fulfilling. Sit back with a picnic under a shady tree and watch the colorful surroundings.
Delaware Water Gap: 2015 marks the Gap’s 50th year in recreational facilitation! The Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Park (Between NJ and Northeastern PA) has many trails in its 70,000 acre area. The one I am partial to is a short distance wooden walkway, completely accessible, through a lush forest to the glorious natural Dingman Falls. This trail allows any nature explorer to romp through, take pictures and enjoy the scenery.
Wildwood Crest, New Jersey: Wide quiet beaches with wooden ramps that stretch halfway down to the ocean with easy street to beach accessibility. Attain a beach wheelchair, if necessary, easily and efficiently – early birds pick them up at the rescue station on the beach for no fee. Spend hours of fun in bug-free surf and sun. Prop an umbrella for shade. Fly a kite. Bring hydration. A wonderful experience. And, Wildwood offers a spectacular fireworks display most Friday evenings throughout the summer!
Open Arena Concerts! – Don’t forget a lawn seat ticket to hear your favorite band! Most venues are accessible for those with handicap or in wheelchairs. Search. Call. Ask. Music is therapy for all ages, even without the cocktails. Search concerts and music venues on the internet. Many are free too!
Baltimore’s Downtown Sailing: This particular venture is on our “to do” list, but it sure looks like a winner. Downtown Sailing in Baltimore, Maryland has an Access-Ability Sailing program. From April through August they work with disabled persons of all kind and ages. Check out their Race Against Limits video at www.downtownsailing.org/accessible and see the fun Ya’Gotta Regatta sail event. My call ahead is already in place. Why not give it a try? (410-727-0722) So, where can you go? Anywhere. Just breathe, plan and call ahead.•

Mary Ann Raccosta is an author and advocate for the special-needs community in the Greater Philadelphia Area. You can follow her on Facebook or Linked in.

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