Why vacation home rentals work well for accessible travel needs

A columnist and her family find an ideal location that provides space and privacy

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by Halsey Blocher |

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Maybe you’ve noticed from my past columns that my family enjoys traveling. We’ve been blessed to visit a variety of destinations together, but we’re repeatedly drawn to locations with scenic coastlines and warm climates.

My mom books all of our family trips. With a lifetime of experience caring for a daughter with SMA, she’s developed an expert eye for planning accessible activities and accommodations that everyone will enjoy. For some of our more recent vacations, she’s been able to locate privately owned homes to stay in, which has provided us with several advantages that help manage the demands of SMA while traveling.

In early March, we visited St. Simons Island in Georgia, where Mom found us a wheelchair-friendly cottage near the beach, with the assistance of a tremendously helpful property management representative. We were all quite impressed with how well the property, Blue Crab Cottage, worked for our family and our accessibility needs. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

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Space to spread out

It’s impossible to pack lightly when you’re traveling with SMA. Nothing can be left behind, and it’s better to bring more than you expect to need than to find yourself without backups during a medical emergency far from home.

But all that stuff takes up so much space. Keeping my medical equipment, supplies, and medications simultaneously organized, out of the way, and ready to use — in addition to finding suitable space for everyone’s regular luggage — is a skilled accomplishment in an unfamiliar environment occupied by four people and a rare disease.

Fellow SMA News Today columnist Kevin Schaefer also understands this challenge. While my family explored the Georgia coast for the first time, Kevin and his friends attended a convention in Washington, D.C., to meet one of their favorite actors. In a recent column about the adventure, Kevin writes, “[At home] I have plenty of space, a ceiling lift that my caregivers know how to maneuver, and a hospital bed. When I travel, I use a different lift and separate bathroom seat, and I adapt to however much space the hotel room has.”

Renting a whole cottage on the island provided our family with an ideal solution. The spacious floor plan allowed plenty of room for my wheelchair to move throughout without difficulty, and even the bathroom was large enough to comfortably accommodate both my wheelchair and shower chair at the same time.

A horizontal photo with a wide frame shows a spacious bedroom with a color motif of white, tan, and light blue. In the center bottom of the photo, just in front of a bed, is a young woman in a power wheelchair with a blanket over her legs.

A big, beautiful bedroom on St. Simons Island, Georgia, provides Halsey Blocher plenty of space to enjoy her stay while also storing medical equipment during vacation in March. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

We also had multiple bedrooms and common areas, which granted enough space for everyone to spread out with their belongings. My bedroom was so big that, for once, my equipment didn’t make the room feel cluttered. In the past, sharing pictures of our travel setup — with medical devices crowded around the bed — has caused people to worry that I’d been admitted to the hospital. But at the cottage, these things almost receded into the background as the luxurious room took center stage.

The privileges of privacy

Privacy is another highly desirable benefit of this arrangement. Spending such valuable time with family and discovering new places together is worth the sacrifice of a little privacy, but if we can enjoy those things and have the advantages of private rooms, that’s the preferred option.

Whether we’re getting ready for a new day or preparing to tuck into bed, Mom and I need lots of room so we can move around with my shower chair and wheelchair while she completes all my care, including bathing and dressing me. At hotels, we sometimes require the entire room to accomplish everything, so we send my brother and stepdad to the balcony or breakfast until we’ve finished getting ourselves ready.

At the cottage, this strategy wasn’t necessary. Having separate rooms gave everyone the ability to get ready in private, and no one needed to leave the comfort of the cottage to make that possible.

We also had the privilege of a private pool on this trip. The water is good for my body and soul, but getting to it is a carefully coordinated effort that draws attention. It’s all hands on deck to lower me in safely and keep my neck high enough that my tracheostomy breathing tube doesn’t get wet.

With a pool to ourselves, we didn’t have to wait for times of decreased activity to avoid splashing, there were no distractions while carrying me in and out, and we could simply relax in the warm water without feeling watched.

A mother assists her daughter who has SMA in a swimming pool at a rental home. The daughter lies horizontally on a mat or some type of beach chair, on the first few steps leading into the large, crystal-blue pool. It looks to be a warm, sunny day.

Halsey Blocher and her mom, Heather-Halsey Dye, spend an afternoon relaxing in the private pool at Blue Crab Cottage on St. Simons Island, Georgia, in March. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

Everyone with SMA travels differently, and we all have unique needs to account for. Our community is good at finding creative solutions that allow us and our loved ones to go on these adventures. But regardless of how and where we travel, we all appreciate places that come with inviting benefits like the ones my family found at Blue Crab Cottage in Georgia.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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