Winding roads weave through red sandstone under a clear blue sky in Valley of Fire, Nevada 

Traveling with a disability: Stories and tips from KAYAK employees

We love to travel – it’s a part of our everyday experience working at KAYAK. And now, especially with our ability to work from (almost) anywhere, we can do it even more often. But travel can certainly present its challenges, and for those of us with disabilities, it can take more time and effort to achieve the experience we’re looking for. That’s why we’ve gathered thoughts and helpful tips from our KAYAK team on navigating the journey. Here is what some of our travelers had to say:

 

Chynna W. – CXR, London

I took my ability to travel freely for granted until the pandemic. I finally understand how important it is to just get away. You know? Just take PTO and set off on an adventure. I have always been an avid traveller ever since I was young and it wasn’t until the pandemic and the restrictions on travel that I realised how much it helped my mental health.

I’ve always had anxiety but have only been properly diagnosed by a doctor and put on medication recently. The crying and feelings of complete loss that I thought were normal were panic attacks – it is only now that I’m starting to realise that. It is only when I am away from my normal environment that I truly feel at peace. Whether that is a city break in Europe, a beach destination or visiting family in the Philippines – I would always come back completely refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

I realise how easy it is for me to sit here and tell you all to just go and travel, but honestly, if it’s something you can do then do it. I never expected my mental health to deteriorate at such a rapid pace in 2020 – while I was still in London and not able to go anywhere. It wasn’t until I took a weekend trip away to Dorset (which is only in the South of England) that I realised how much I needed to get away. Not having to think about work for a few days, using social media to a bare minimum and truly focusing on the trip at hand reduced a lot of my stress, anxiety and depression.

My recent travel story:

I took my first ever solo trip to Barcelona back in 2019, which is not actually that far but is still far enough that I knew I had to do my research and make sure I was safe. Especially being a woman travelling by myself. I remember feeling slightly sick in the days leading up to my trip and was on the verge of bailing because I was scared. I had never travelled by myself to another country before. However, I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to take control of my life and be comfortable with the idea of being alone, something I used to struggle with a lot. Not any more, you’ll find. I love my own space and can spend days on end in my bedroom without seeing anyone, which, admittedly, is not that healthy.

Helpful tips:

Preparation really helps. I used my journal to plot all of the landmarks and tourist attractions I wanted to see. I budgeted for my trip. I checked the best places to visit, the secret places to visit and the best places to dine at. All of the preparation paid off because I had one of the best trips I’ve ever had and my mental health was the best it had ever been. Some people like to wing it, which is completely fine, but for peace of mind and to give yourself control, I think it’s always best to do your research, prepare and have contingency plans.

These past two years have been hell on all of us. If anything, the whole world needs a break.

 

Lara Z. – Learning and Development Specialist, Omaha

Hello! My name is Lara. I am a Learning & Development Specialist for KAYAK and, outside of work, a college student learning Emergency & Disaster Management. At the age of 16 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder AND in a car accident that damaged the lower portion of my spine. With half my life spent managing my disabilities, I have learned some great tips for travel and with a big trip to Walt Disney World next year I will definitely use them. Here are a few of my must-dos.

Helpful tips:

Be Prepared
Reach out to your medical professionals before leaving to discuss things like backups for medications/prescriptions, what your physical and mental limitations are, and how to handle time changes with medication. Worry less by knowing exactly what to do beforehand.

Champion Your Needs
Need special sleeping accommodations? Ask for them! A seat belt extender on the plane? Just ask! A table away from loud groups? Definitely ask! Medication needs to be kept refrigerated? What’s a three-letter word starting with A and ending with sk? This can feel like something easier said than done but, most places are happy to help, despite the horror stories that make the news. This also means learning to say “No” to requests and scenarios that will affect your disability and you.

Enjoy!
This is my most important tip. Don’t forget to take a moment and enjoy yourself, wherever you go. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in nitty-gritty details and the stress of traveling. Many of us take time away for self-care and to decompress from our disabilities, don’t let them ruin the time you have given yourself.

 

Sarah R. – Marketing, Stamford

Hi, I’m Sarah and I work on the Marketing team at KAYAK. I’ve been clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which means that I experience panic attacks pretty commonly. While I’ve received help from both my doctor and a licensed therapist for this, I’ve also figured out a few things on my own — especially when it comes to travel.

My recent travel story:

In June 2021, I drove across the country by myself to hike 5 of Utah’s National Parks — the “Mighty 5.” I had started planning this trip during the height of the pandemic, but nearly talked myself out of it.
Just a few months prior I had dealt with my latest stretch of anxiety and depression. Mainly caused by extreme isolation and fear of getting sick, I was not in a good place. Adding to that, I had never driven that far in my life, had only traveled solo one other time — and hiking National Parks alone is very different from walking the streets of Rome solo.
But I realized there was power in research and preparation. You can’t be caught off guard if you’re prepared for anything. And it certainly helps to know that you have a support team in your corner encouraging you along the way.
So I drove out to Utah, I hiked Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion National Parks. Oh and Grand Escalante National Monument too. My feet hurt like crazy, but once I got out there I was almost in a zen-like state because I knew I was prepared for anything that could happen.

Helpful tips:

Do your research! One of my main causes of anxiety is not knowing the future (sounds existential, but it’s true). I am a planner by nature and having things planned out always quells my anxiety. Since travel is a pretty wide-open topic, I’ll give you a few key topics that helped me: research what you want to see, research the weather patterns, research the surrounding area you’ll be staying in — are crime rates high? Where is the closest hospital? Know how to get in touch with your loved ones. Know where the closest consulate is if you’re traveling abroad. Get that international data plan just in case.

And last but not least, prepare yourself for the unexpected. Sounds cliche, but give yourself the mental preparation that not everything will go exactly the way you planned. It’ll take some of the pressure off yourself to make everything perfect and help you truly enjoy the travel experience.

 

Valentina P. – CSR, Denver

I’ve loved to travel since I was a teenager, saving up my pennies to go on a destination adventure to somewhere my heart was calling. The challenge for me as a vulnerable, neurodivergent person with autoimmune disorders and severe PTSD, was learning how to stay safe, while also being able to have healthy experiences and connections. Here are a few things that have worked pretty well for me for the last 23 years travelling solo as a single woman.

Helpful tips:

Have a plan
I cannot stress this enough! I always make sure I have detailed and documented plans including all of my transport, lodging and meals. By relying on detailed research and planning before the fact, I have a solid framework so once I am actually THERE..I can just relax! Plus, it’s SO fun to brainstorm the planning beforehand and get excited about the trip!

Be your OWN best advocate
Always be generous with accommodating your unique needs. You deserve to feel safe, heard and prepared. Whatever you need to do or have with you to maintain safe personal boundaries, reduce triggers and lean into resources. If you need extra help with something, practise asking beforehand so that you can reduce your nervousness. It is hard to ask for what we need and it’s important to always lead with an attitude of clarity and firmness in order to have those needs honored and respected. If you are traveling with others, you can also choose someone that you trust to advocate for you.

Embodiment
Feel your feelings and get to know your instincts. yourself to have a positive visceral experience-knowing what to expect and how to identify red flags like potential scams or dangerous people. Learn what hazards and pitfalls to avoid BEFORE the trip, that way you know what to expect and can sharpen your spidey-senses, which can be an essential tool for travelling internationally.

Trusting your own capability
You deserve to travel if you want to! You deserve to explore the world and feel safe while doing it, so don’t let your fear or unique needs hold you back from experiencing the adventures, vacations, short excursions or family trips that your heart and spirit desire!

 

We believe that travel is for everyone – and hope that by sharing these tips and experiences, we can help travelers who may relate enjoy a safe and fulfilling trip.

 

This blog was published on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. If you’d like to find out more about what IDPD events are held throughout the world, visit the UN’s Disability page here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of KAYAK Software Corporation, its subsidiaries, and their respective parent companies or affiliate companies.

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