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Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but for those suffering from a physical disability or mental illness it can be exponentially more difficult. Many with disabilities or mental disorders rely on the support of an accompanying family member or friend when traveling to ensure they can enjoy their travels and stay safe.

Travel is something that should be enjoyed by everyone and no longer is having a disability or mental illness stopping people from seeing the world.

Having a physical or mental disability may mean you have to do a bit more planning and take extra precautions, but it can be done, especially with the assistance of a family member or friend who travels with you.

If you’re that family member or friend that will be traveling with someone that suffers from a physical or mental disability, there are a number of things to be aware of when booking your travel and to ensure their safety and wellbeing during your trip.

Here is some helpful advice that will allow you both to travel with less stress and anxiety and hopefully enjoy a successful holiday.

Traveling with a Family Member Who Suffers from a Disability or Mental Illness

CDPAP and Travel

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If enrolled in a Medicaid-funded program like New York’s CDPAP (Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program), there are some things to be aware of when it comes to traveling. A program like CDPAP offers many benefits to people requiring a caregiver.

The CDPAP allows you the ability to hire a family member (excluding your spouse) or a friend to be your caregiver and they don’t need to have any special certification or license to do so.

To get started with the CDPAP program, you simply use a Fiscal Intermediary like New York’s FreedomCare. Caregivers will get paid through the program based on the number of allocated hours they are approved for.

That means you will not only get to continue caring for your disabled family member or friend but can also earn many that can be used for things like traveling together.

The best part of the CDPAP program is that those requiring care or assistance are not prohibited from traveling out of New York to enjoy a vacation and are allowed to have their family member or friend who is their registered caregiver travel with them while still continuing to get paid for continued care given during their trip. 

Simply inform the local department of social services and your fiscal intermediary of your travel.

Do Your Research

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By understanding more about your loved one’s mental health issues, you’ll be in a much better position to be able to offer them both physical and emotional assistance.

Learn the different treatment and coping mechanisms you can utilize while travelling, along with being able to recognize the signs someone with a disability you are traveling with is having trouble.

It’s also important to do your research when selecting a traveling destination as some places are far better suited to those with a physical or mental disability. Read reviews on websites like Brettapproved which apply ratings to various businesses and services in terms of how they cater to those with disabilities.

You want to ensure airlines will take good care of things like wheelchairs and want to be aware of what services will be available to you in various destinations. Not all destinations, hotels, and attractions are well suited when it comes to accessibility or you may need to make special arrangements.

Plan Ahead

In addition to doing research, it’s also important to do a bit more planning when traveling with a disabled person. You may need extra time when checking in for flights or using public transport, so plan accordingly and don’t make your itinerary too packed and inflexible.

It’s important to take things more slowly when traveling with someone with a disability. You have to realize they may not have the same energy level as you or in regards to someone with a mental illness, they may become easily overwhelmed by too much stigma in quick succession.

Know what to do if things like physical problems or panic attacks brought on by anxiety occur. Have a plan in place whether it’s knowing what coping mechanisms work, what medication needs to be taken, or what professional treatment may be required and whether it will be available in the place you are traveling to.

Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal or Object

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In addition to relying on an accompanying friend or family member for support, travelers with disabilities often rely on the support of an emotional support animal or object to help them cope with travel stress and anxiety.

Some disabled people of course also have pets that are specially trained to assist them such as dogs that can lead the blind or others that can detect certain medical episodes early.

You’ll want to research whether your chosen airline and hotel will allow your emotional support or service animal and what restrictions if any are in place.

If your disabled family member or friend currently doesn’t have an animal, talk with them and their doctors to see if it may be advantageous for them to get one that can aid in travel.

Some people may also be content with a simple object instead of an animal for emotional support. There are many people with mental illnesses for example that develop a close attachment with a stuffed toy which can calm them and make them feel more secure.

Choosing a Travel Destination

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It’s important to know what destinations are most suitable to those with a mental or physical disability.

Sadly, not all countries are well set up to offer treatment and services, and some may even go a step further and discriminate against people with mental illnesses or show little compassion.

You can ask your travel agent about accessible destinations, as they generally can offer a number of suggestions since they are usually knowledgeable in the area. They may also know what airports are the best to use in terms of accessibility.

Government websites can also offer helpful information for travelers with disabilities or you may be inclined to contact the embassy/consulate in the destinations you are planning on traveling to in order to get an idea of how accessible it may be or what services will be available to you.

You want your travel destination to offer highly accessible public transport systems or wheelchair accessible taxis like London has, business and attractions that provide things like disabled toilets and ramps, and possibly even offer free and reduced admission to various attractions for disabled persons.

It’s also worth pointing out that things like weather, altitude, and population density can also factor into what makes an ideal travel destination for someone with a disability.

Things like extreme temperatures, high altitudes, and overcrowding can all be triggers for someone suffering from severe anxiety or a mental illness, and can also make certain physical ailments worse.

Medications and Traveling

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First things first, you should make sure the family or friend you are traveling with gets a check-up with their doctor before traveling to make sure they are fit to travel and get helpful advice.

Discussing your travel plans with their doctor will allow them to offer advice and suggestions that relate to their specific condition. They will also be able to tell you if any medication they are taking is prohibited in certain countries.

If so, the doctor may be able to prescribe a safe and effective alternative which is allowed. They should write a letter which describes in detail their condition and what medications they have been prescribed, along with the necessary dosage and that it is for their personal use only.

Medications should remain in their original packaging and be kept in carry-on luggage to avoid them getting lost or delayed with checked-baggage. You’ll also want to carry a generous extra supply of medications in case of unforeseen travel delays.

You should pack a small first aid kit to attend to minor injuries or ailments, along with a repair kit or any necessary tools to be able to fix things like a wheelchair or crutches while traveling.

You may also want to check if there are any harmful side effects associated with taking your prescribed medication in combination with travel drugs such as motion-sickness pills or sleep aids.

Get Proper Travel Insurance

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There are a number of physical and mental illnesses that travel insurers consider pre-existing medical conditions. Some insurers’ policies may not cover certain conditions while others may include coverage or charge an extra premium for coverage relating to those conditions.

Whatever the case, you will always need to fully declare all disabilities and pre-existing conditions to your insurer as failing to do so could void your policy.

Read your policy PDS to see how your coverage may be affected by your disability. I should note that mental health issues or physical ailments are likely to be covered if they begin after you purchased your policy.

You never know how travel insurers will define pre-existing conditions, so you need to be clear with disclosing any recent visits to doctors or medications you are currently taking to ensure you get an effective valid policy that will cover your for overseas medical treatment and possibly emergency repatriation if necessary.

Keep in Contact with your Regular Doctor/Therapist or Get an Online Counselor

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While you can’t take your doctor or therapist with you on your travels, you can ask if they are available for phone or online check-ups if needed while you’re traveling.

You can also seek the help of an online counselor apart from your regular doctor, as these are often available 24/7. When getting help from an online councilor, just be sure to select a reputable counseling website that only provided licensed therapists.

This route is especially great for instances where you are traveling with someone that experiences a mental illness or disorder for the very first time while traveling, possibly being triggered by their first time traveling abroad or from being in very unfamiliar surroundings.

Routines Can Help

Travel is often anything but routine and it can severely disrupt the normal routines you have in place at home. While healthy people may find it rather easy to adapt to new routines, those suffering from certain mental health disorders can see their condition get worse while traveling.

People with certain mental health disorders often rely on routine and certain behaviors to cope with their condition and when travel disrupts this process, they can be left feeling like they can no longer control their condition.

By sticking to as normal a routine as possible, you will hopefully lessen the impacts of travel and won’t forget to take medication or deliver other necessary treatment in a timely scheduled manner.

Even for someone with a physical disability, sticking with normal eating and sleeping times can be beneficial. You may also want to stay on top of healthy eating habits, exercise, and daily stress-relieving techniques or therapeutic treatments that often aid those with both physical and mental disabilities.

As you can see, traveling with a disability is very much achievable and made much less daunting when you have a close, trusted traveling companion alongside you that is well-informed of your disability or condition and knows how to offer assistance if needed.

With more and more cities around the world becoming accessible, traveling the world has never been easier for those with impaired mobility. Hopefully, more and more destinations will begin to take mental illness more serious and offer services and support to help travelers with such disorders travel more freely and with less stress and anxiety.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.


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