Traveling with a Five Year Old {who also has CP}

You may have noticed that we took a vacation to Italy in the beginning of April. It was really amazing. It was our first family vacation that only involved the three of us and our first ‘real’ vacation in about 4 years. So yea–we were pretty pumped while we planned it.

If you search for traveling with children there are definitely endless sources of blog posts and Pinterest boards that help you through every part from packing to the plane ride to the food to the activities. I really enjoyed looking through them as it gave me some ideas for activities to buy for Rishi for the plane and gave us some tips for what sights to see that would be kid friendly. I also found some resources for kids with Autism or sensory issues–but not much on kids with mobility issues. While navigating different stages of life with Rishi, I’ve realized he’s in an interesting slice of life. He’s cognitively developing typically, but needs help with physical things such as stairs, getting in out of chairs, bathrooms. He also uses his walker in addition to his wheelchair, especially for short distances. Besides the plane ride, what about when we actually get to a foreign country? Are there elevators?

While we were traveling, I took note of our experiences and decided to write them up. Of course we’re one family that took one trip, but in my experience, just seeing that someone like you did it can be so helpful.

The Flight

I think this was the part that I was most nervous about. Not that Rishi isn’t good at flying–he’s great–but this was the first time we had flown since getting his wheelchair.

When I booked our tickets {through Air France}, I specified that Rishi was had a disability that affected movement. A couple of days before we were to depart, I called Alitalia {who was actually operating the flight} to discuss with them any arrangements. They asked if we wanted the wheelchair that fits through the aisle, which we declined. They also arranged for someone to meet us off the plane.

Previously we used a stroller and with that we knew that we could gate check it. I had no idea if that applied to wheelchairs. When I searched for wheelchair instructions, people were talking about bags and taking the wheels off and checking the chair in. I started to panic a little because we were 2 days out from leaving and a ‘wheelchair bag’ is not something you can just pick up at a random store. We decided to risk it and just take our chances, which thankfully worked out. We were able to gate check the wheelchair and they put Rishi’s walker in the closet on the plane. For smaller planes, we’ve usually gate checked the walker without issue.

Both in New York and Rome when we were checking in, they brought us to the front of the line. On our flight to Rome, they were very nice and gave us the first row seating, which had more room. We didn’t have that on our way back, which was fine. We were also met at the gate by an airport employee, which was also great because they whisked us through all the back elevators and to the front of immigration. We did not do that on the way back and regretted that.

Getting Around Rome and Florence

So we’re off the plane and now embarking on a 9 day trip in a foreign country! Once the initial anxiety over the wheelchair + plane situation had diminished, I started focusing on getting around a country where I didn’t speak the language. For some reason I wasn’t as nervous about this prospect–maybe because NYC has its moments of being a pain when you rely on accessible options. Most of the subway stations don’t have elevator access and even those that do will be ‘out of service’ without notice. As we’re able to power through those situations, I wasn’t too concerned about lack of accessibility overall.

Both Rome and Florence were predominantly cobblestone, which really sucked. Poor Rishi probably burned all the calories he consumed through eating exclusively pizza and pasta trying to push his walker over cobblestone. He honestly was such a trooper. The wheelchair wasn’t much better, but again, manageable. The sidewalks were usually fine except when there wasn’t a ramp and it was a high sidewalk, which required walking in the street. We also ended up walking in the street when the sidewalk was so narrow that it just wasn’t worth trying. Honestly though a lot of people ended walking in the street.

Florence was small enough that we walked everywhere, but we did end up using the subway in Rome. We were by the Termini station, which is a large central station that had elevators. Some stations had elevators, others didn’t. We usually just had Rishi and his walker, so we would just carry him up the stairs. There were the those lift things that go along the stairs like elderly people have in their home, though I never saw one actually in use.

Sightseeing

I think almost all of the sites are handicapped accessible except for certain parts of the Duomo in Florence {such as climbing the dome or climbing up the bell tower}. The Colosseum has elevators and even the Vatican has a special route that can be used if you’re using a wheelchair.

In addition to being accessible, if you are handicapped, you get in free for all these places, plus a companion if you need one. I think for adults you need documentation, but for kids, it’s probably obvious that they need someone with them, so no one asked me for papers or anything. We booked our tickets ahead of time, so we paid the booking fee, but there were usually less than 5 Euros. This was also great because we didn’t have to do the ‘skip the line’ tours because Rishi was our skip the line. We did this for all the sites we saw except for the Vatican, where we paid for a tour because I kind of wanted all the information. That being said, I would probably look for a wheelchair specific tour next time because there were a lot of stairs.

So that is a brief overview of our trip. I’m not sure I’d do much differently if we did it again. Overall, people were really nice and accommodating. It felt good that we were able to travel just like other families, with maybe a little bit of extra work and research. I’m sure I could have done more research before leaving, but I liked having the flexibility to do what we wanted. We also went on the trip with the attitude of knowing that we probably wouldn’t see everything and that was OK. We wanted to maximize relaxation as much as sightseeing.

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