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Unleash your inner traveller

The word 'HOLIDAY' written in the golden sand of a pristine beach.

Do you want to do something that’s almost guaranteed to improve your mental health?

You don’t need any money right now and you can start immediately… pretty much as soon as you read the next sentence.

It’s planning a holiday!

It doesn’t have to be a big holiday – though, if someone wanted to invite us on an international trip, like the Grand Tours of Europe of old, we’d find it hard to say no – it could literally be a staycation in in an undiscovered area of your home town.

But here’s the magic – it’s the anticipation of planning a trip that gives us such a boost.

Whether it’s thinking about what you’ll do, who’ll you go with, or what you’re going to eat (ahem, surely that’s not just us!)… planning the trip and looking forward to it is one HUGE part of the joy of travel.

So, let’s get those endorphins sparking now as we set off with our ultimate guide to planning your next holiday. And we’re talking everything… the journey AND the destination. So buckle up!

A well-travelled path

This is great to ensure you catch the travel bug – check out what other travellers are recommending!

We love Have Wheelchair Will Travel, founded by former travel consultant Julie, whose son Braeden is a wheelchair user and non-verbal. Julie has a great focus on accessible accommodation, tips and tricks for long haul flights and how to plan your perfect trip (while also being prepared for the mishaps of travel).

Another excellent source of travel inspiration is Flynn Rigby, founder of Everybody deserves a holiday, which focuses on travelling when you have an invisible disability. Flynn, who’s non-verbal and on the autism spectrum, loves planning and taking holidays and sharing his experience of tourism with an invisible disability – but no mobility access needs.

If you’re looking for comprehensive accessible tips for the United States and beyond (like Egypt, India, the Caribbean, Europe and more), you’re going to love the award-winning Curb Free with Cory Lee. Cory, a wheelchair user, has travel tips, inspiring interviews and itineraries galore!

But first, travel insurance

The saying goes, if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Also, some countries – like the United Arab Emirates and Singapore – won’t allow you to enter unless you have travel insurance.

When you’re overseas, the Australian Government won’t pay medical bills or other costs, including medical repatriation flights back to Australia, if things go wrong.

The Government’s Smart Traveller website has general information about travel insurance, while Compare Travel Insurance offers a disabilities guide.

Declaring your disability

You don’t have to declare your disability, but it’s probably a wise choice to be up front about it. This is because of the term ‘pre-existing condition’.

While you may not consider disability to be a condition, in the eyes of insurance it can be considered as such. Some disabilities would be automatically covered with no extra cost, some are conditions to declare that you can have insured for an extra fee, and some will be excluded from travel insurance. In short: it pays to ask.

For more information, read Smart Traveller’s travel insurance buying guide.

Make sure your policy is right for you

There’s no one size, fits all when it comes to insurance. Make sure you check with your travel agent or travel insurer about the items and services you need, like:

  • replacing medical devices, aids or equipment if they’re damaged, lost or stolen
  • seeing a local doctor
  • filling prescriptions or getting new medication
  • medical evacuation

Book an appointment with your GP or a travel doctor

There are places around the world with some viruses which can be life threatening – for example, yellow fever, which is endemic in parts of Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Some countries won’t allow you to enter without evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, or you may have to be vaccinated on arrival.

That’s why it’s best to do your research and meet with your GP or a travel doctor about recommended vaccinations for you. Find out more here.

And, of course, while we take a holiday, our health doesn’t. Talk to your GP about your general health and anything you can do to maintain your health while travelling or prevent any negative changes to a chronic health condition.

Planning yourself or using an expert

Do you have different access needs? Organisations like Accessible Accommodation can connect you with holiday properties around Australia that meet your needs.

Push Adventures, a travel consultancy founded by wheelchair user Scott Crowley and his wife Clair, has partnered with Big Heart Travel Agency for a focus on accessible travel. You can find out more about that here.

And these are just two of many… just Google ‘accessible travel agent’ and you’ll find loads of choices.

Keep your receipts!

No matter where you are in your travel planning journey, make sure you keep all your receipts to make any National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIDS) claims easier! Remember, if you’re plan managed you can claim from both registered and unregistered providers (and plan management doesn’t cost you anything!). If you’re interested in becoming plan managed, you can talk to us to find out more. Just give us a call on 1800 861 272 from 8am-6pm (SA time), Monday to Friday.

Depending on your NDIS plan, your budget, goals and personal circumstances, you may be able to claim some of the costs associated with accessible travel and the supports you need in order to take a break. It’s best to speak with your plan manager, support coordinator or the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to find out more.

You can also check out our article – Get away: using NDIS funding for a holiday.

By road, air or sea

Are you staying local to your town, city, state or territory? Is the open road calling your name? Then a road trip is perfect!

And have you considered camping or staying in a cabin in one of Australia’s National Parks? Don’t be fooled – there are loads of accessible options in our great outdoors.

If you’re travelling further afield or overseas, then of course a flight could be in the mix.

Or does the lure of the high seas appeal? Cruising is perfect for when you want to visit multiple destinations… but unpack only once! Or perhaps you’re planning to live it up on board the ship, with the journey itself being the true holiday appeal.

Where will you stay? Be prepared to book ahead

Things to consider:

  • Book your hotel, cruise ship or camp site spot early – many providers have only a limited numbers of accessible rooms and they may book up early in peak season.
  • Check access around your hotel – use Google Maps to see what the street terrain is like and check if other travellers with disability have shared their experiences. Remember that some locations are famous for cobblestones, stairs and steep hills.
  • Don’t be afraid to email your chosen hotel or tour guide directly to get the lowdown on all you need to know.
  • Are you hoping to disembark from the cruise ship at every port? Bear in mind that sometimes cruise ships have to dock offshore and ferry passengers to shore in tenders (small boats). Sometimes access is determined by the ship’s safety officer.
  • Have a back up plan – yes, in an ideal world this wouldn’t be necessary. But being prepared with a second plan could be the difference between having your hard earned holiday completely derailed and finding a new (and maybe better) alternative.

The great outdoors

If you’re a wheelchair user or you use mobility aids, you could be forgiven for thinking that National Parks aren’t for you. Well, they can be – if you want them to!

Check out the National Parks website for each state and territory to explore parks with wheelchair accessibility.

Some sites also offer information about wheelchair accessible accommodation, wheelchair accessible fishing spots, and accessible canoe launch sites. You can also research social media for information on park visits, find virtual reality park tours, discover the go-to spots for wheelchair accessible cave visits, or find out where to grab an all-terrain mobility wheelchair.

Below are some websites and pages to get you started:

Be prepared for your travel experience

Along with the anticipation, being as prepared as possible means you’ll be able to be more confident.

The Australian Government has information about security screening at airports for people with specific needs, including people who use mobility aids or prosthetics, people who are vision or hearing impaired, and people who need to travel with medical equipment or medication.
At the airport

Not every disability is visible and, sometimes, it can be helpful if people know and understand you have a disability and might need more time, patience and support. This is especially true when you’re at the airport!

You might want to consider using a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower. Recognised at airports in Australia and around the world the Hidden Disabilities Sunflowers makes sure those in the know are aware that you might need some extra support.

Also, keep an eye out (or search before your trip) as some airports have special features. We love Adelaide Airport’s official Facility Dog, Elmo, a very good boy who’s there to provide support and receive pats from nervous travellers, and the world’s first Recombobulation Area in Milwaukee in the United States, where people can put themselves back together after passing through airport security.

Taking to the skies

Do you need assistance throughout a flight? That could be with mealtime management, taking medication, using the aircraft toilet, orientation, communicating with flight crew – the list goes on. If so, you can apply for a Qantas Carer Concession card through People with Disability Australia.
The card offers discounts on your ticket and discounts for your carer. There’s a fee to apply and it lasts for three years.

If you’re blind or vision impaired and you have a current Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card with blind entitlement, or a current travel pass for Person with Vision Impairment issued by a state or territory authority, then you don’t need to apply for a separate Qantas Carer Concession Card.

Virgin Australia also has a range of services to support people with disability, including a Disability Concession Fare. Find more information in their Guest Accessibility Plan or their website.

Support at your destination

What if you need a support worker while on holiday?

While you’re travelling, you may need to bring along a support worker to provide you with assistance, and their invoices for direct support time might be able to be claimed from your NDIS budget.

If you need intermittent direct support during travel time, you should negotiate this with your provider (especially in the event of long haul travel, as this could add up to a very large invoice).

You may wish to explore hiring a local support worker who lives in your holiday destination, which may be more economical than paying for a one to travel with you.

You might be able to use your NDIS plan outside of Australia for up to six weeks, and the NDIA may extend this (find information here), but it’s best to speak with your plan manager, support coordinator or the NDIA before making any plans or incurring any expenses.

Getting around in your Australian destination

What about when you’re on the ground? Public transport is one of the cheapest, most interesting, and greenest ways to see a place – with the added bonus of feeling like a local!

This is a great guide to accessible public transport in Australia.

Remember to pack your National Companion Card

Your National Companion Card is an invaluable resource! Using it means you pay for your own entry or ticket, and your support worker or carer can attend with you for free.

Your state or territory-issued Companion Card is valid around Australia at venues and with tourism operators that recognise it.

You can find more information, including how to apply, here.

Going it alone or choosing a tour guide

If you opt for a tour, a company that specialises in accessibility will lead you on the flattest, smoothest, shortest tour routes.

Before you take a tour or hire a guide, ask these questions:

  • Is the tour guide a licensed professional? How much training has the guide received, and what tests have they passed?
  • How inclusive are they?
  • What route will the guide use? Does it involve curbs, steps, steep hills, or cobblestones? Where are the accessible bathrooms located? Will the guide physically assist you if needed?
  • Is this a private tour, or will you be with other travellers? Are you expected to keep up with tour members who don’t have a disability?
  • How many people with disabilities have they guided in the past year? If it’s been a long time, the guide may not be aware of the latest regulations or updates regarding accessibility.

Keep medication safe

Anyone travelling needs to take as much care with their medications as they do with their money and passports. Don’t pack them in checked luggage, and don’t leave them lying in the open in your hotel room. And always make sure you’ve got enough medicine to last you an extra day or two, just in case your travel home is delayed.

It’s recommended that you keep a list with the names of any essential medicines you take, and their dosages, so you can try to replace them if needed. If you take a brand name medication, write down the generic name too. Even better: try to find out the name of the medicine in the language of the destination you’re travelling to.

Keep your medications in their original packaging where possible and consider travelling with a hard copy, printed letter from your doctor or specialist (on their treating rooms’ letterhead) explaining what your medications are and what they are for.

Keep others in the loop

If you’re going to be travelling solo, you should let others know your daily itinerary. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back, then stick to your schedule. Keep a mobile phone on you at all times and ensure you have roaming activated.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a list of ‘Before You Go’ recommendations.

Remember to enjoy!

This doesn’t mean exhausting yourself during every moment of your holiday – even the trip of a lifetime will have some down days or times when things don’t go to plan. And sometimes, it’s the moments where things go wrong that turn into memorable, happy accidents where we do something we weren’t planning to do!

So, make the most of your time away, enjoy some rest days, see new things and… have a happy holiday!

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My Plan Manager acknowledges the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My Plan Manager acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to Elders both past and present.
© My Plan Manager 2020
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