Thirty-one people, two weeks, three cities, new friends and countless memories! We have just completed our first Interchange Outer East supported holiday for the year; an NBA focused trip to California, USA. We had entire families or five and six, independent travellers and parents traveling with an adult child. Eight IOE staff were along for the ride to help make sure everyone could enjoy the holiday that they each had imagined. Whether that be jumping at the opportunity to go on every outing, sticking together as a family and squeezing as much in as possible, or taking a bit more of a relaxed approach and maybe even sneaking in a sleep-in here and there.

‘We can now confidently travel with our son on a plane, through airports and into a new country – all thanks to this trip and the people around us.’

We flew into Los Angeles, arriving bright and early on a Saturday morning and headed downtown to store our bags at our hotel. It was already time for a small group to head to their first NBA match; a rare daytime game. While they enjoyed the game, it was not without a few sneaky ZZZs thanks to the jetlag already creeping in! The rest of the group made the most of the sunshine with a walk around downtown LA.

For the remainder of our time in LA we enjoyed our hotel buffet breakfast (sadly at this point we didn’t know it would be the peak of our breakfast offerings!), hiked an 11km round trip to get close to the famous Hollywood sign (some opted out of the walk and watched *napped in* the Griffith Observatory planetarium), and went to a couple more basketball games. We checked out Hollywood and the Walk of Fame and went to Universal Studios. A small group braved the rain and got soaked on a trip to Santa Monica pier only to be rewarded for their efforts with sunshine and blue skies to finish off the outing. Others headed to outlet malls and contributed to the US economy.

‘Thank you for letting me come on this amazing trip. I had the best two weeks of my life hanging out with every one of you and getting to know you all.’

We then headed to Anaheim for two days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Our group was made up of I-will-go-on-every-single-ride-and-I-will-love-every-second types, as well as I-will-hold-the-bags-and-watch-you-go-on-rides types. Sadly, I am the latter thanks to some major motion sickness! Highlights for others were the Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredibles, Star Wars and Cars rides. I took the opportunity to wander the parks chatting with my new mate while the rest of his family beelined from ride to ride and line to line. We returned to Disneyland that night to watch the light show and it was fantastic; a real highlight of the trip! A few of us ducked away early from Disneyland the following night to watch some ice hockey – Anaheim Ducks v Jets NHL which was a lot of fun.

‘Thank you to everyone for making this trip one of the most unforgettable experiences ever! It truly shows what a loving, supported community can do.’

After two days at the most magical place on Earth we headed up to San Francisco where we braved the cold (very Melbourne!) weather. San Francisco brought us more NBA, cable car rides, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It also brought us what many travelers say was the highlight of their trip; an overnight to Yosemite National Park. The sun was shining, the air was still & crisp and there was not a cloud in the sky. The ground and mountains covered with snow. It was absolutely stunning. The scenery at Yosemite takes your breath away. We all commented that it simply didn’t even look real; that the photos didn’t do it justice. The weather gods gave us a clear, cold day to enjoy it and it really recharged the batteries and fed our souls.

‘We appreciate your company and support on such an amazing trip. Our family is truly grateful to you all for making it so special!’

Sadly, our last two days in San Francisco were rainy and cold. They made way for a couple of slow mornings, late breakfasts and even more basketball. Special mention to the small group of MVPs who took on the weather for the last time, for a very wet 12km bike ride to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time we boarded our flight home at 11.20pm on a chilly Wednesday night, I think I speak for everyone when I say we were exhausted but our hearts were full!

‘Thank you for all the support and hard work that went into this trip. What an incredible experience!’

The group itself was an absolute highlight for me. Thirty-one very different personalities all bringing something different to the dynamic. It was so heartening to see the ‘boys club’ form; a handful of young men who became the best of mates in what may well have been the most warm, welcoming and respectful boys club I’ve ever encountered. I loved being part of a group where everyone could truly be themselves and where everyone looked out for each other; such is the IOE way! While us staff were there to provide support and supervision where needed, the group looked after itself in a uniquely organic way as we navigated public transport, ran through the rain, got swallowed up in crowds and stood in line after line. Somehow it just worked!

IOE supported holidays were developed and have evolved over the years to respond to the needs of families and individuals. They provide an opportunity for individuals with disability, independently or with members of their family, to experience interstate and overseas travel. There can be hiccups and challenges along the way; every trip offers a chance to learn new things, but they are always an experience to remember with new friends and cherished memories.

A pre-COVID conversation between two people planted the seed for this unforgettable trip. It went something like, ‘We should go and see some NBA games!’ … and the rest is history. If you have a travel dream that we may be able to help turn into reality, get in touch and plant the seed!

Our considerable thanks to Michelle from Travel Managers for putting in lots of work to help us plan our latest adventure and being our travel agent in shining armour for the last few months!