I am by no means an expert packer but over several trips we have learnt what we can’t do without when we travel. We notoriously have loads of luggage and my shopping habits once at our destination do not help this situation. You only have to look at the photo above of us leaving Los Angeles airport earlier this year to understand what I mean.
There are a few items we never leave home without so I’ve collated them into this blog in the hope it might help others.
PACKING PODS/CELLS AND SPACE SAVING BAGS
On our last trip to America we tried using these packing cells/pods from Kathmandu. With lots of hotel changes involved in our holiday we needed to be able to find things in our suitcases. You can obviously use them for whatever you like but we packed underwear and socks in them and we liked them so much we use them even when travelling locally. They come in a variety of sizes and for our overseas friends, similar packing cells can be purchased online.
On our last trip we needed to pack for two seasons so we found the travel space saving bags came in very handy for storing our winter clothes once we had finished with them at the beginning of our trip. They don’t take up much room in the luggage and make room for more shopping!
WHEELCHAIR REPAIR KIT
We always travel with a basic repair kit for BJ’s manual wheelchair. We get this from our wheelchair supplier. We make sure we have spare bearings, any of the bolts and fittings that are unique to the chair. We also travel with spanners and screw drivers that suit the fittings in order to be able to make repairs on the move.
I understand it is a bit odd to travel with a dish brush but the tyres on BJ’s wheelchair collect dirt, sand and sometimes mud. The dish brush is the best way of getting the wheels clean before putting it back in the car. It saves the carpet in our own car and keeps any hire vehicle cleaner when we travel.
WHEELCHAIR BACK PACK
It took us a while to find the ideal back pack for travel. We usually have food, drinks and jackets to carry throughout the day so we need a bag with plenty of storage and preferably lots of separate compartments to make finding everything easier. We bought this Nike backpack from Rebel Sport and it even has a cooler section in one of the front zipper compartments. The only draw back with this particular backpack is that even when it is empty it isn’t lightweight but it has travelled with us to the US and we find it one of the best we have had.
PORTABLE DVD PLAYER
We always travel with a portable dvd player. Although BJ has an iPad it is heavy (with the guard it has around it) and not that comfortable for watching dvds. The portable dvd player is much lighter and can be placed on a bedside table for him to watch dvds when we travel if he is up in the middle of the night!
Travelling is now more complicated with the amount of technology we carry with us, especially with international travel due to different countries having different outlets. Mobile phones, iPad’s, iPod’s and cameras all need recharging at the end of the day. We have found taking a power board is the easiest way to do this efficiently, with only one international adaptor plug required.
BJ loves having the current photos of our trip on his iPad so we use an iPad camera connection kit which allows us to plug in the memory card from our camera into the iPad to download the photos.
When travelling to and from the US it is better to have a TSA padlock on your suitcase. US customs reserves the right to open and check your luggage and will break a lock if you do not have a TSA lock on your luggage and it is selected. These are available at Target, Big W and luggage stores in Australia. We had many of our bags searched on our recent trip. Our padlocks were intact because they were TSA locks that they could open without breaking and a note was inside saying our luggage had been inspected. These locks are much cheaper to buy in the US so buy what you need for your trip over and buy more if needed at a Target or CVS Pharmacy in the US.
If, like us, you have boring black bags, add something to the handle which clearly identifies your luggage. We use a bright tag and some distinctive material around the handle. If anyone else goes to pick up the bag it should be obvious immediately that they have the wrong bag.
For a shopper like myself the weight of my luggage is always a concern. A few trips ago we invested in a set of hand scales and it has been great. Even with the tightening up of the hand luggage limits on domestic flights these are handy.
BJ finds long-haul flights incredibly difficult. Although he can sit well on a regular seat he is much more comfortable on his wheelchair cushion. It is moulded to his seating needs and gives him support in all the right places. His wheelchair cushion isn’t suitable for the plane because BJ would sit too tall on it. So before we did our last long-haul flight we made a cushion which helped him greatly on the flight. It took quite a bit of effort getting the shape right, contacting the airline for seat dimensions and then having them clear it for use but it was worth it. BJ still found the flight difficult but he was seated more comfortably.
I use this non-slip matting (available at dollar stores or supermarkets) for the portable dvd player in the car when we travel, I use it when I’m typing on the iPad in the car and it can come in handy in other situations. When BJ was younger we would use non-slip matting on chairs to stop BJ slipping forward and under plates and bowls in restaurants. We only carried a small square with us and it proved useful in many situations.
BJ can only drink from a pop top drink bottle so I always travel with a supply of these if we are travelling outside of Australia. When we were in the US I spied this Smart Funnel and it is great to pour other drinks ordered at cafes or restaurants into his drink bottle. Sometimes it is messy or even impossible to pour a drink from a glass into a pop top and this funnel solves that problem.
The Smart Funnel clips on to the bottle and with a wider space to pour the drink it is much easier. The funnel is small enough to carry with us and is a great solution to using BJ’s own drink container when ordering regular drinks. These are available online and in store at Walmart in the US.
AJ suffers from motion sickness and we always travel with travel bands which she can wear in the car or on boats.
I find it hard to get AJ to keep a diary when we travel. She is usually tired and not motivated at the end of the day. Instead she carrys this personal recorder and tapes snippets about her day as we go. She also will tape the sound of things like the seals at San Francisco Wharf, the cable car bells etc. The sounds and her excitement make the travel memories very vivid. This may be useful for children with special needs who have difficulty with writing but have good verbal skills.
PARKING PERMITS/HANDICAPPED PLACARDS (AS THEY ARE KNOWN IN THE US)
We always travel with our parking permit. We found out prior to our trip to the USA that there are reciprocal agreements in place that allow parking permits to be used between certain countries. We were able to use our Australian permit in the US as long as we printed out and displayed on our dashboard the agreement appropriate to where we were travelling. We used this system while we travelled throughout California and had no problem with it. We checked with a parking ranger in Santa Monica and he was familiar with it so we felt confident using it. The parking permit really benefited us while we were travelling.
The FIA guide for the disabled traveller
THE OTHER ODDS AND ENDS
– AJ gets cold on planes so she always takes a little nanna blanket (a small blanket about the size of a baby blanket) which is warmer than the airline issued blankets.
– We all take jackets for night time on the plane.
– BJ uses a teaspoon rather than a dessert spoon for his food so we always travel with a few of these.
– Noise cancelling headphones are a fantastic help with getting sleep on a plane. It definitely dulls the noise of the plane and those around you.
– Neck pillows. If I fall asleep without a neck pillow on a plane I usually end up with a dreadful kink in my neck and that isn’t a good way to start any trip.
The odds and ends are really the bits that make a trip or travel more comfortable for you or your child.
As you travel you will work out what your ‘must have’ items are to ensure a happy and comfortable trip for you or your whole family.
We would love to hear what you never leave home without. Feel free to share in the commets below.
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Great tips! Do you have any tips for medications? We are planning a Caribbean cruise with my 9 year old, who has cp and a seizure disorder. He is on a lot of liquid medications. We have never flown before, but might this time. (We live in the United States.)
Hi Karen, I’m sorry I appear to have missed your message due to being overwhelmed with spam mail at the time. Liquids are now a problem for flying if you want to take them on board the aircraft. I would suggest contacting the airline with specific information regarding how much liquid you will be carrying. Special needs handling is usually the department you need and contacting them well in advance is advisable. They will tell you if you can apply for special clearance and what is required to do this. We have travelled with our son’s yoghurt and dry ice for his medication but we have had to advise the airline of the amount of dry ice and the reason for it. I hope that helps a little. Have a wonderful cruise. Julie
Hi. Just wondering how you go about getting the cushion approved by the airline?
Hi Mel, You need to contact special handling within the airline and they will tell you to send an email to them. I have heard of people using their wheelchair cushion on the flight but I guess the general rule is that the airlines do not like any change to the seating as it is not crash tested for additional cushions etc. Engineering approved ours. Julie.