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Our home on wheels – family travel in a modified motorhome

The Jones family give us a tour of their wheelchair-accessible modified motorhome, and share their stories from life on the road.

Australia has so much to offer travellers. Believing nothing is impossible, we set about finding a way for our family to explore the country, despite our challenges, which include a son with high medical needs. A modified motorhome is our solution, and we’re now enjoying the freedom it offers. 

Matthew in his wheelchair inside the modified motorhome next to a kitchenette sink
Matthew enjoys watching DVDs and travelling in the modified motorhome while the family is on the road. Credit: Samantha Jones

Our son Matthew was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is a full-time manual wheelchair user. Matthew is non-verbal, requires assistance with all of his daily living needs, is tube-fed with a blended food diet and requires 24-hour care. Matthew has an extensive list of medications daily and a very strict meal routine to accommodate them. He goes to school when he is well and my husband David and I are both now stay-at-home carers. The plus side to this is that we can travel together during the school-holiday breaks.

Matthew loves travelling in our modified motorhome and watching his DVDs while on the road. The modified motorhome has made our travel so much easier, as we can pull up and change or feed him in a comfortable situation. In the past we’ve found road-tripping in our car difficult as there’s nowhere to change a person with a disability in most public toilets. 

A modified motorhome with a chair lift holding a wheelchair off the ground
All aboard to hit the road! Matthew uses the wheelchair lift on the rear left side. Credit: Samantha Jones

The Avida (formerly Winnebago) wheelchair-accessible motorhome was our pick over a caravan as our son’s car is modified with a rear ramp, so it’s not possible to attach a towbar to tow a caravan. Our modified motorhome has a wheelchair lift on the rear left side that allows the wheelchair to enter, and we had wheelchair restraints fitted next to the rear passenger seats so Matthew can always be included and attended to while travelling. We also added a washing machine, as Matthew’s washing is never-ending. The motorhome has an extended bathroom floor to allow the space for a shower chair, and the rear double bed folds down to allow the wheelchair to enter.

Interior view of the space inside the modified motorhome
The extended bathroom floor and fold-up bed in the modified motorhome allow space for Matthew’s wheelchair. Credit: Samantha Jones

We also travel with a Toyota Noah wheelchair-accessible car that we tow behind the motorhome on a trailer. It includes a generator fitted into a box on the trailer, which allows us to stop and heat and blend his food when needed. Ensuring we can meet Matthew’s dietary requirements has always been a struggle for us when staying in hotels. 

The foldout double bed inside the modified motorhome
The rear double bed can be folded up during the day to allow for more wiggle room. Credit: Samantha Jones

We’ve only had the modified motorhome for a year, so we haven’t ventured too far yet. We started with Victoria and western Queensland and learnt a few things along the way. We usually stay at showgrounds because they allow bigger motorhomes – between the motorhome and the car, we’ve got 14m and 7t. We joined the Showgrounds, Sports and Rec Grounds Camping Facebook group, which shares the showgrounds in Australia that allow camping and the facilities available. We really like the free camping spots, as the motorhome has solar panels and our generator is there for the extra power needs. 

When we plan our trips, we search for places that are close to shops and hospitals. Another reason we tow the car is because Matthew loves shopping and it’s a little hard to park an 8m motorhome in the Woolworths carpark! We have met many people with a family member with a disability on our travels – they all have amazing stories to share and are very impressed with the setup we have.

Matthew with his sister enjoying jars of lollies inside the modified motorhome
The whole family enjoys road trips away and has explored much of Victoria and west Queensland. Credit: Samantha Jones

Travelling with a modified motorhome does have some challenges, like fitting into a particular spot or knowing if we can use the generator without upsetting other campers. But we’ve always overcome any of these challenges. We carefully research the facilities available at each stop and spread our time between the free camps and time at powered sites with facilities. That way Matthew can go out for a drive and walk around the town. 

Matthew getting sick while we travel is obviously one of our concerns, but we have insurance that assists with this. Ken Tame Insurance offers a service that allows us to speak with a doctor and have scripts sent to the nearest chemist as needed. 

As Matthew is getting bigger, we will start to have more challenges with lifting and bathing him. The motorhome isn’t fitted with a ceiling hoist or lifter, so we may need to look at a larger modified motorhome, which will have to be custom-made. This will be at a much greater cost, so for now we are enjoying the freedom of travelling and sleeping in the same vehicle with an aim to one day travel across Australia. 

View towards the front seat and steering wheel of the modified motorhome, with all the storage spaces packed away
Set-up and storage for travelling by day. Credit: Samantha Jones

5 tips for motorhome travel

  1. Travel with a variety of board and lawn games for the family to enjoy. 
  2. Watch your weight limits – we only pack enough clothes and food for four days and then wash and restock. 
  3. If a campground has a caretaker’s number available, call ahead to confirm availability.
  4. The WikiCamps app is helpful in finding good camping locations. 
  5. Remember, being self-contained means you can make-do camping on the side of the road if need be. 

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

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