The idea for an overseas holiday with my two kids, Oliver and Bella just grew. The Easter holidays were coming up and I wanted to do something special with them The initial idea was to go to Vanuatu for a package holiday, but I wondered if it was going to be memorable enough for them. Next thought was Hawaii which I had been to previously and loved, but thought that it may not have enough kid’s activities to keep them busy and excited.
The next plan was travel to New York, fly down to Florida, go to Walt Disney World, then fly to LA and back home to Tasmania, Australia.
Then, the original Disneyland in California came into mind. So, it was a matter of deciding between Walt Disney World and Disneyland. What a tough choice! But it came down to cost and less flying time for Oli and Bella which clinched the original Disneyland in Anaheim Los Angeles.
Choosing where to go was the fun part, then the hard organising work began. I started researching airfares and accommodation on the internet and the options were huge! It was hard choosing between hotels I did not know and also airlines, so decided to put my faith with the travel agent, the Flight Centre in Launceston. I confirmed dates that fitted around the Easter break and since this was going to be a trip of a lifetime decided on two weeks away rather than just 7 or 10 days. Oli and Bella were obviously very excited by this stage and spread the word with schoolmates that they were off to Disneyland.
I probably didn’t realise at this stage what I was in for organising a holiday in the U.S for my son Oli who was a Type 1 Diabetic. Oli had been diagnosed with T1 in June 2010 which came as a huge shock to the whole family. Oli showed all the classic T1 symptoms of weight loss, excessive thirst and urinating. I remember feeling his bony spine one day and also looking at his eyes and thinking that there was something not quite right here. But we knew nothing about Type 1 Diabetes and did not put all the symptoms together, until one day when I was at work and received the dreaded phone call. Oli wasn’t feeling well at school and my ex wife, Liza picked him up and took him to our local doctor. The doctor did a finger prick test and immediately said to take Oli into emergency at the hospital. I met Liza and Oli at the Hospital and saw how unwell he was. After varied opinions were shared by the doctors we were told the life changing news, that Oli had Type 1 Diabetes.
The hardest part was when Oli thought that he just had to have the insulin injections while he was in hospital, not knowing that he had to have them for the rest of his life. It was a devastating time and Liza and I took turns looking after Oli in the hospital. The stress of his diagnosis would eventually tear our marriage apart, with the pressure being quite unbearable.
I was very proud of Oli on the third day when he injected himself with insulin. He did it very calmly. As part of the education of Type 1 Liza and I also got a turn injecting Oli, which was one of the hardest things I have ever done. To push a needle into your son is not easy.
Over time Oli got used to injecting himself up to 6 times a day and also numerous finger pricks to check his blood glucose level. After a year he went on to an insulin pump which provides insulin delivery without injections.
So after nearly two years Oli was adapting to his new life as a T1 Diabetic. It did not stop him from playing his favourite sports, cricket, soccer, swimming and running.
We had been on smaller trips around Tasmania and also went up to Brisbane on a short trip as well. I was determined that he was going to live a normal life and not let anything stop him. At this point Liza and I had separated and I bought a house just down the road from hers. One of my goals with Oli and Bella was to take them on an overseas adventure and the opportunity came around sooner than I thought!
From the moment I was asked “Do you know that people with Type 1 have to have special travel insurance”, did I realize that there was more to this trip than I thought. So, the travel insurance was the first puzzle I solved on the journey I would take with my son in having this adventure. Columbus Insurance were very helpful and cost effective in providing insurance cover for myself, Oli and Bella. The premium for the two weeks covered overseas medical expenses of $12.5 million, personal liability and legal advice etc. A clause is written in that states that there will be cover for unexpected claims arising from Oli’s diabetes based on his declaration that he had not been hospitalised for this condition in the past 12 months.
Once the insurance was sorted I started googling on the internet about people travelling with Type 1 Diabetes. It was quite encouraging to find the number of people who did not let their condition stop them from pursuing their dreams.
I set up a meeting with the diabetes unit at the hospital to learn about what was required on such a trip. After the first session with the diabetes educator I was quite exhausted with what precautions should be taken. The main one being, what to do if the insulin pump breaks down. There is a choice, arrange a back up pump to be taken on the trip or order a back up in the U.S if the pump breaks down. I chose the latter as I figured that a pump could be delivered quite quickly in the U.S. If I was in a country not quite so developed I would probably take a back up. I did find out later that the exact same pump may not be delivered to you, so we would have had to learn about a new pump. Then there is the question of what to do when you are waiting for the back up, its back to the needles again! So I had to relearn when to deliver insulin and how much to inject. I also had a refresher lesson on how to administer the glucagon syringe.
On my extensive list of “Things to Do” I had to ensure that we had back up supplies of diabetic equipment, including insulin, pens, needles, meter, blood glucose strips, lancets, fingerpricker, ketone strips and batteries. I arranged cool storage of the insulin in Frio travel wallets. These kept the insulin cool whilst on the long flight and whenever there was no refrigeration. If no fridge was available in a hotel room I requested one from reception to be delivered to our room.
Letters were arranged from our Paediatric Consultant to state Oli’s condition, what he required and what supplies he was taking. It actually worked out that I never had to produce these letters at any of the airports but it is an essential item to take. From the insurance to emergency supplies to letters everything is taken “just in case”, an important lesson. If you think it could happen, have a contingency plan!
I packed a bag for Oli carrying his kit and hypo supplies and also packed a back up flight bag with extra supplies of needles, carbs, hypo supplies etc. I even popped a few extra supplies into my suitcase as well. I cut down on what I originally packed which was hard to do as I questioned, “what if we run out?”, but in the end I was quite confident as to how much supplies we had.
So, everything was looking well organised and then the unexpected!! Oli got sick! He picked up a viral infection at school and I had to rush out to pick him up. He didn’t look well at all, so I took him straight to the doctor. This was only three days before our flight! The doctor prescribed panadol and rest and said Oli should be OK to go the holiday. His condition did not improve greatly and his blood glucose levels were quite high, so I took him to our Paediatrician who went over his levels for the past few days. At this stage I was very worried that he would say that Oli was not well enough to go on the trip. But fortunately he said that Oli was well enough to travel which came as a great relief. Mind you the concern about looking after my Type 1 son by myself, thousands of miles away from home was starting to concern me a little, so there was a part of me that wanted the doctor to say no he cannot travel!
We were off then, on the big adventure. Oli, Bella and myself left home very early to catch the flight from Launceston to Melbourne. Then it was onto Virgin Airlines 14 hour flight from Melbourne to LA. We did not feel tired at all and watched numerous movies on the way over. Oli had one hypo (hypoglycaemia-low sugar level) on the way over which to happen on a plane is quite an unusual feeling! No ambulances up there!
It was a long flight but a good one and the time went relatively quickly.
We got through US Customs reasonably quickly and caught a shuttle to the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near the airport, I figured that after such a long flight that the last thing we would want to do was more long travel. Checked into room and was dismayed to find no fridge to keep Oli’s insulin in, I did not think at this hotel to order one for the room. So I left his back up insulin in the Frio wallets which kept them cool. We were fairly shattered at this time and immediately got into bed and slept to about 2-00pm. The kids were very excited to be able to see the Hollywood sign from our hotel window.
We could have stayed in the hotel but decided to head out to Manhattan Beach on the trolley bus. We walked on the Pier, checked out the aquarium and then had dinner at RocknFish. Our first sighting of the large American meals we had heard about. Burgers and fries! A nice bar though and great service which was a feature of our trip. Although tipping took a while to get used to! We ventured onto the beach where Bella had a paddle in the surf and Oli and I had a shot put competition with rocks. Went shopping and Bella bought a very sparkly pair of shoes from Skechers, which she is still very excited to wear now. Back at the hotel Bella and Oli had a swim in the hotel pool and I had a relaxing glass of red wine.
After such an exhausting day it wasn’t a surprise when Oli had a hypo back in the room. But it was all dealt with from our collection of hypo remedies including juices, jelly beans, snack bars, dried fruit etc. We didn’t get to sleep until about 3-00am and then woke at 9-30am to have a great breakfast in the hotel.
The three of us caught a shuttle to Union Station where we caught a train to Santa Barbara which was a little further away than I thought. The train ride was interesting through the suburbs of LA then the closeness to the ocean as we got closer to Santa Barbara. It probably took me a few days to start feeling comfortable looking after Oli so far away from home. Once we settled into a rhythm everything worked well. Although overall his numbers for the trip were high overall which may have been a reaction by me to avoid any life threatening lows.
In Santa Barbara we stayed at the wonderful Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. I had decided that we would only stay in the most comfortable hotels. We walked into town and had dinner at the Fish House Restaurant, heard later that walking in the dark was probably not such a great idea, so caught a taxi home. In the morning we hired pedal vehicles, one for Oli and the other for Bella and I. The scenery in Santa Barbara is stunning with a great mountain backdrop and sandy beaches. It was great to get some exercise then back to hotel where we had a relaxing swim in the pool. There did not seem to be a lot of kids activities in Santa Barbara so our one night there was a short stay but we were keen to get down to LA and go to Disneyland. We packed up and caught the train down to Anaheim Station.
We caught a cab from the station to the Anaheim Fairfield Inn, which is only a few hundred metres from Disneyland Resort. Prior to leaving Australia I had purchased the Southern California City Pass which included: 3 day park hopper for the Disneyland Parks, 1 day at Universal Studios and 1 day at Sea World in San Diego.
Oli, Bella and I spent 3 full days at Disneyland, between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. It was just as exciting for me to be there at Disneyland, as it was for the kids. They had the most amazing time. Oli had his backpack with his kit and hypo supplies and all went well. We had been told that the excitement and exhaustion could play havoc with his numbers but he coped really well. We usually ate 3 big meals per day, rather than continual snacking.
Disneyland Park felt more traditional with all the different “Worlds” there. Bella got a “Princess” makeover at Bibbidy Bop and she looked absolutely stunning. I had been warned about the long queues for rides which could exhaust Oli but we were fortunate that in April the lines were not too bad. We got used to using the “Fast Pass” which allowed us to return to a ride at a designated time, allowing us less time to queue. We went on numerous rides and I was surprised at the absolute fearlessness of the kids.
In California Adventure Park the main rollercoaster ride was California Screamin’ which looked terrifying! I thought that we haven’t come all this way not to go on these rides, so I went on it and it was fantastic! Oli was very reluctant to go on it, but the more I enthused about it the braver he got. And he did it! I was very proud of him for being so brave. Bella missed out because of the height restriction but she went on others that she took very calmly in her stride.
The days were full and very exciting at Disneyland; we would arrive early and spend the whole day there, returning back to our nearby hotel at close to 11-00pm. It was as good as I had imagined it to be. I was checking Oli’s blood glucose levels at night, concerned that all the activity would bring his levels down, but we had no problems.
After Disneyland we had a free day in LA which I decided we would spend on a bus tour exploring the best of LA with Starline Tours. It was a late decision and we had to hurriedly get dressed and catch a bus into Hollywood. I was surprised at the huge distances in LA between places. We firstly did the Movie Stars Homes tour where we had a very entertaining guide. The homes we saw included Michael Jacksons, Tom Cruise and Elvis. The kids took lots of photos and we also got a closer view of the Hollywood sign. We also saw Sunset Strip, Walk of Fame, Chinese Theatre and Rodeo Drive. After that we jumped on the Hop On Hop Off Double Decker bus and toured around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The only celebrity we saw the whole time was Jay Leno at Universal Studios where we caught our bus back to Hotel. A great day.
The weather had been warm and sunny in LA the whole time, until our next stop in San Diego, where we had our only rain. We caught the Amtrak train down to San Diego; train travel is very easy, although the kids could get a little bored. The rail staff and passengers were always very friendly towards us. I like Americans; they are very positive and outgoing and seem to have good manners, the ones we met anyway!
San Diego looked like another large city, with the exception being the airport being very close to the city centre. A shuttle took us to the Dana Inn on Mission Bay which was a beautiful spot. We spent 3 nights there with the highlights being Sea World and the Safari Park. It was a toss up between the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, but thought Oli and Bella would enjoy seeing the animals out in the open. Sea World was fantastic with the highlights being the Killer Whale show and the Journey to Atlantis ride which is a thrilling water ride and coaster and finishes with a 60 foot drop! The kids loved it! They kept on wanting to go back for more and we probably had 6 rides. We also went on other rides and saw different shows, including the dolphins which the kids got to touch. What a wondeful day!
I had to decide where we would spend the rest of our time in LA and tossed up between Santa Monica and Universal Studios. Then I remembered Oli talking about Knotts Berry Farm which was rumoured to have some very exciting rides. The rides were becoming the highlight of the trip for the kids and myself so we caught the train from San Diego to Fullerton Station. A cab transported us to the Knotts Berry Farm Resort Hotel which is very comfortable with helpful staff. Bella loved Snoopy who was a regular visitor in the hotel. Knotts Berry Farm proved to be a great idea, and was a great base for our last 4 nights.
Rides, rides and more rides was the order of the day at Knotts Berry. From Camp Snoopy to the Xcelerator there was something for everyone. Windseeker was closed unfortunately/fortunately as it looked terrifying. I went on the Xcelerator which is a totally insane rush! But the hardest part was leaving the kids while I went on the ride, but Oli looked after his little sister well.
Universal Studios was next on the agenda, we caught a shuttle there and immediately went on the recommended Studio Tour which featured the breathtaking King Kong 360 3-D experience. It was really interesting to see movie and TV sets including Desperate Housewives. The kids were a little alarmed when we went through the Psycho set and a knife wielding actor came out and chased our bus!
But one of the most memorable features of our trip was when we went to Universal City Walk and Oli and Bella did the i Fly indoor skydiving. They had the most amazing time and the looks of pure joy on their faces was something to behold. The shopping there was also amazing and lunch was had at the Hard Rock Café. Our bus was late but eventually took us back to Knotts Berry Farm.
Back in Australia it had been an idea of mine to hire a Mustang Convertible and so, on our second to last day I surprised the kids by having one arranged. We were picked up by the rental company and taken back to their office where we were shown a beautiful blue Mustang! Oli couldn’t believe it! We did the paperwork, hopped in and drove off to Wal Mart. I immediately discovered that it wasn’t that easy to drive a left hand drive vehicle on the right hand side of the road! But it did feel fantastic. We went to another shopping centre then headed to Santa Monica on the freeway which was exciting and stressful. We visited the Pier, walked on the beach then decided to head to Malibu. No celebrities were sighted. After getting lost in the Sunset Strip area and Oli and I disputing where to go we decided to make our way back to the hotel. A great experience, both good and bad in the Mustang.
On our last day we had time to kill until our plane left at 11-00pm so decided to go back to Disneyland and shop at Downtown Disney District. We had a nice lunch at the Rainforest Café too. I had bought another suitcase at Wal-Mart to carry back all the extra clothes and souvenirs we had purchased. From the hotel it was a shuttle to LAX and the long flight back to Australia. Oli and Bella were very sad at this point and did not want the holiday to end. They have many exciting memories of their trip to Southern California
. Doing the trip with them and especially with my Type 1 son it proved to me that I could look after them a long way from home. Although Oli’s blood glucose numbers were high for the trip there were no major emergencies. I would highly recommend doing a holiday like this with children with T1 as it proves they can lead a perfectly normal life and not let anything hold them back.
The main lesson for me in ensuring all contingencies were covered was prepare, prepare and prepare! Think of anything that could go wrong with your children and prepare for it.
It was the trip of a lifetime and we are already thinking of our next adventure! Maybe crossing the States in a camper van?
If you would like to contact me about how to prepare for a similar trip with your Type 1 child/children, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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