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  • Heather Shorten

Traveling With my Family

In June of 2019 my family and I embarked on a two-week vacation to Europe. There were 13 of us on this trip, but my immediate family consists of myself, my husband and my two sons ages 10 and 12 at the time. During this trip we literally traveled by plane, train and automobile. We drove from our home in Northeast Ohio to Toronto, Canada where we flew to London, Gatwick Airport.


I have a rare disease called Pompe Disease which comes with chronic pain and joint and muscle weakness, so I always request wheelchair assistance when I travel. The airport in Toronto was accommodating and had a security check point line specifically for disabled travelers and travelers with children. It was much easier moving through the security screening in this area, because everyone was disabled or had children, so I didn’t feel rushed or as if I was slowing someone else down.


Our flight from Toronto to London was about 6 hours and 30 minutes, and it was over night which allowed my boys to sleep for part of the flight. We flew Westjet from Toronto to London, and because we had a large group our meal was included in the price of our ticket, otherwise passengers were charged a fee for meals. My immediate family and I have done a lot of traveling by plane, including flights to Oregon, Florida, Australia and New Zealand, so I think my boys are veteran travelers and can sleep anywhere. They also have their own packing routine and have a list of what they are going to pack in their carry-on, including their tablets with chargers, headphones, cell phones with chargers, blankets, airplane pillows, a few small stuffed animals, a book, a portable charger and snacks. I also pack my own carry-on bag that includes my own items such as my IPod, headphones, portable charger, blanket and additional snacks for the boys. Snacks on the airplane are often expensive and limited so I ask the kids ahead of time what they want.


Our trip included two days in London, two days in Paris, from Paris we traveled to Marseille where we boarded a cruise which was 7 days around the Mediterranean. The cruise stopped in Genoa, Rome, Palermo, Sardinia, Palma and Valencia. We traveled by train from London to Paris and from Paris to Marseille, which the kids really enjoyed. I didn’t like that there was not much organization when boarding the train. The gate was opened and everyone with a ticket rushed up the ramps to the boarding platform with luggage in tow. There didn’t appear to be an option to check your baggage, so everyone was pushing so they could get their luggage into limited space while keeping up with their children and families, and there didn’t appear to be a preboard option for people with disabilities like there is when boarding a plane. The train was comfortable and there was hot food, snacks and drinks available for purchase.


When we began planning this trip, we knew that we wanted to try to see as much as we could in 2 weeks which meant we would be travelling from place to place every few days. Remember that trip to New Zealand that I mentioned? We spent a week and a half traveling around the North Island of New Zealand and it was extremely difficult on my youngest son and a valuable lesson for my husband and me. My youngest some isn’t on the Autism spectrum but has characteristics of a spectrum disorder. He functions best when there is a routine and knows what to expect. He experiences anxiety when the routine is changed or if he isn’t sure if the adults around him know what the routine is. This is what happened on our New Zealand trip (That’s a story for another time). For this trip we decided that a cruise would be the best way to combat that anxiety. A cruise was the best way for us to see a lot of sights without having to change hotels every few nights and we weren’t spending time traveling in the car. In fact, most of our travel on the cruise was done while we were sleeping. We still had to do some advanced preparation with my son. He was anxious about being on a boat, he was also anxious about getting lost or left behind. In the end, he had a really good time and enjoyed the entire trip. The ship that we were on didn’t have a lot of activities for children, but the kids enjoyed their time at the pool, and we travelled with my sister and her family, so they had their cousins to spend time with as well.


At several stops on the cruise we took tours arranged by the cruise line, however at other stops, my sister had arranged private transportation for us. This was much more enjoyable for me, because with my disability I liked that we were on our own time and not trying to keep up with a tour. Our private tours also took us to the places we wanted to see and not what a tour thought we would want to see. During our stop in Sardinia we had a private tour that took part of my family to the beach while the rest of us went shopping. The kids really enjoyed time at the beach. Also keep in mind that many of these cities are old to say the least and are not really wheelchair friendly. In many places the sidewalks are narrow and made of cobblestone which makes the use of a wheelchair difficult and uncomfortable, but I must say that in most locations people were sensitive to my disability as were our tour guides. We visited the Coliseum, Vatican City, the ancient city of Nora, The Eiffel and The Louver to name a few places and I was able to maneuver through all those places sometimes in my wheelchair and other times using my cane.


At the end of our cruise we flew from Marseille to London where we spent one night before flying from Gatwick back to Toronto. Gatwick Airport also has a security checkpoint for disabled people and families. At Gatwick Airport they would not allow someone in my family to push me in a wheelchair through security to our gate, and we were directed to a waiting area for someone to assist me. There was no explanation from the airport staff, so we just took a seat. After waiting for about 15 minutes of waiting with no assistance I decided to walk through security using my cane. Upon returning to Toronto we spent the night and drove home the next day. This was a wonderful trip that my family and I enjoyed immensely.


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