by Suzanne Bair
Trip Planning For a Diverse Needs Family or Group
When I offer accessible travel workshops I’m often asked, “How do you plan a trip for a family or group with a variety of medical conditions and still meet the needs and interests of the ones that don’t?” Here are my top 5 suggestions for planning an accessible family or group vacation:
Have Candid Conversations
It is important to know and understand the medical needs and restrictions of each person in your group in the planning stage. Do you have a person in your group who requires barrier free access, is on a medication schedule, needs to regularly check their glucose levels, gets anxious in crowds, has a restricted diet, or tires easily? Chances are if you are travelling with immediate family members, they are already conscious of the day-to-day routines around the family member with a specific medical condition. However, when you are traveling with extended family or friends… not so much. Now is the time to self-disclose the nuts and bolts of the “important bits” that need to be shared. You don’t need to share everything, but understanding the needs of those in your group can truly make the difference between a “good trip” and a “bad trip.”
Respect the Autonomy to Choose
All too often a bad decision is made with good intentions. It is important to allow the person with the medical condition to decide what they can and cannot do. Don’t assume anything, ask.
On a recent trip to Mont St. Michel in France, the group I was traveling with decided to walk across the beach from the mainland to the island abbey on a three-mile hike while the tide was out. This was something I could not do due to my own mobility limitations. When I explained this candidly to the guide (also explaining safety concerns of rapid tidal changes), I was invited to stay on the bus and wait for the group to return. Just because I could not do the hike did not mean I could not enjoy the trip to the abbey. Instead, I had to firmly assert that I would take the alternate route by road, do my own independent tour, and meet the group at the bus at a designated time. While this was not the ideal decision and resulted in harsh feelings, I still was able to take part in my own way.
Divide and Conquer
If you have a group of people with diverse needs and interests be okay with dividing into groups and meet back for a group activity. For the times you can’t do this, make a list of all the activities everyone can do together (meal times, see a show, go swimming or whale watching, visit the zoo, etc.) and enjoy some quality time together. In our family, after we make our list, each family member picks something that they really want to do and we make sure that it is part of our vacation. This way no one is left out and it becomes a “family vacation.”
Build in Downtime
Vacations are supposed to be a break from the stress of our hectic everyday lives, but we often forget how stressful vacations can be as well. The break from routines can be both a blessing and a curse for some. In our attempt to get as much as we can out of our vacations, we often over-schedule and try to do too much. Build in times where you can rest and relax. In my family, we often schedule a 1:1 routine – one busy day with one relax day, one activity with one break afterwards. This helps not only manage our health needs but also allows us to slow down so we can really take in and reflect on our time together.
Adjust Your Expectations
The reality is that not everyone is going to fully understand the needs of someone with a medical condition, sometimes that includes the person with the medical condition. It is important to stay flexible with yourself and group members. Prioritize things that you want to do and adjust your schedule as needed. It’s okay if you can’t do everything. Try to plan important activities at the best time for each member’s needs. Maybe this means scheduling things earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon because of stamina or medications. Maybe scheduling important activities at the beginning of your trip in case you must cut your trip short is a better option for you. Whatever the case may be for you and your group, flexibility is key.