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Chasing the luxury of travel
By Jennifer Allen

A group of five people posing happily for a photograph with a scenic backdrop of majestic mountains and a serene river. Two adults are crouched down with three children, each person is smiling broadly and some of the children have their arms raised in excitement. They're enjoying a sunny day outdoors in a picturesque valley, likely a national park, surrounded by the natural beauty of towering cliffs and lush greenery reflected on the calm water surface.
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I’ve been dreaming of planning a family trip with Wheel the World, where other families just like mine can explore together through completely accessible destinations, staying in easy to navigate locations, using wheelchair friendly transportation, and cruising through new places at a flexible pace that meets each family’s needs. Everything would be perfectly mapped out for us so that we could focus on our family, our needs and enjoying the world together.

Every time I ask another family if they would be up for trying it, the response is along the lines of, “Absolutely – if it’s free!”

The fact is, even if someone takes on all the work of planning for our exact needs, our resources are stretched thin. While time may be the hardest resource to come by, money is usually a close second. Many disability moms aren’t able to work outside the home because of the heaps of appointments and medical routines taking place on a daily basis. Even if you’re fortunate enough to maintain two incomes, therapies, specialists and home equipment take priority over vacation. 

Redefining luxury

In situations like ours, travel itself is often seen as a luxury. I’ll concur, but it’s also an achievable luxury. 

A getaway as a family is a priceless reset, a chance to connect and an opportunity to experience new things that will grow you as individuals and as a family. Travel may be the luxury you can’t afford to miss.

Realizing dreams on a budget

We began travelling with our family of five on a single, non-profit worker income. This wasn’t irresponsible: we were very resourceful. 

The first step is typically budgeting with purpose. People will tell you to explore ways to cut costs in various areas of your life, such as entertainment, dining out and Starbucks. Redirect the saved funds into a dedicated travel fund, creating a financial cushion that can be used to cover additional medical expenses during the trip.

This advice is well-intentioned, but when you’re trying to find a way to cover a recurring $8,000 therapy treatment for your child, you’ve probably already cut out any excess. You can’t make money out of nothing. Here’s what we do instead.

Travel for less

Instead of paying for hotels, we use HomeExchange. For a nominal annual membership fee, we can exchange homes as many times as we like. They have over 13,000 accessible homes available, and many of those are quite luxurious.

We’ve dabbled in credit card hacking – utilizing credit card sign on bonuses for travel rewards. This has completely covered our airfare on most trips for the past three years.

The National Park ACCESS Pass grants free admission to any National Park in the U.S. for people with permanent disabilities. It also gives discounts on lodges and camping.

We look for free and discounted activities everywhere we go. San Diego, California is a great place to visit in October, when kids go free to hundreds of locations.

Re-purpose medical trips

Medical tourism is popular for a reason. Not only could it save you on medical care, while finding better treatment, it can also serve as a built-in vacation.

When we travel for treatment, we make a trip of it. We’re often staying in free or discounted housing through the hospital, and there are several grants available to help with travel costs for medical needs. These trips are medically necessary for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of it while we’re travelling. 

Travel for free

As a family with disabilities, there are opportunities for completely free vacations

Cherry Blossom Vacations gifts vacation home stays to families of children with a disability.

Make-A-Wish is often limited to children with terminal illnesses, but not always. The requirements vary by state, so it’s worth looking into your local chapter to see if your disability qualifies you for a free trip.

Many other wish-granting agencies are open to families with life-altering disabilities, not just life-threatening. Sunshine Foundation is often a good option for families who don’t qualify for Make-A-Wish. Each program will only allow you to participate once, but if there’s something big your child wants to do – this could be a great opportunity! 

Make a plan and go

According to the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97% of people say that having a trip planned makes them feel happier. It’s time to get started! If true luxury is your style, check out my article for great wheelchair accessible luxury destinations for families. If travel itself is luxury enough, or you’re lacking the financial foundation to plan a getaway, review the resources above and find something that works for your family.

Happy travels!

Read Jennifer’s blog: Wonders Within Reach
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