Travel and holidays can be challenging for those who use a wheelchair, especially if it's a new part of your life. At home you have a familiar routine you’re confident with, but this all changes when you travel. Here are some practical tips to help smooth the journey.
It’s really important to plan your trip, even if you’re not travelling that far. Put together a checklist on your computer that you can add to as required; this is really useful as you’ll need to remember so many more items than a wheelchair non-user.
Small, stackable crates are really useful for transporting bulky medical supplies. Under-bed bins are great for storing stuff that you use specifically when travelling. At the end of your trip, simply put the ready-packed bin somewhere out of the way and it’s there for next year’s vacation.
If you’re flying, it’s helpful to either tape down removable pieces of your chair or just take them off and keep them with you and take wheels on board with you, if possible. To protect the front of the chair from becoming scratched, wrap it with bandages and tape them on.
Pack your essential medical supplies in your hand-luggage; there’s always a chance they could become mislaid if they’re checked-in as hold baggage. Take everything you’ll need in-flight out of your bag before it’s stowed in the overhead lockers.
A collapsible, armless camping chair is really useful as a shower chair; they’re cheap and fit easily into a large suitcase and well-worth taking if you’re not sure what adaptations will be available in your hotel room.
Some airlines offer kerbside check-in which is great if you use a wheelchair so you can check your luggage in too without having to make two trips.
Accessibility and flexibility
Flexibility is key when addressing your accessibility needs when you’re away from home. For example, you might find you need to use an ice bucket in the shower if there isn’t a handheld shower; it might be necessary to get into bed at the foot of the bed rather than at the side if the bed isn’t ideally positioned. Sometimes, sinks aren’t easily accessible so take antibacterial wipes with you and be prepared to brush your teeth into a cup instead of the sink if it’s too high up. Take your own mirror too, just in case the hotel’s are too high.
If you book a car from a rental company, always double check that they can equip the car with hand controls and a spinner knob if you need them. You must specify this when you book and remember to double-check that the car has been prepared prior to your trip.
If you’re going to be sitting on a plane for any length of time, remember to take any special cushion with you; you don’t want skin issues on your holiday. It’s worth asking if you can be seated at the front of the plane too; the carrier agent will usually move you if possible and it’s often free of charge. Bear in mind that you’ll be last off the plane.
If you have any specific concerns regarding accessibility issues when you’re flying, always give the airline a call in advance to clear up any queries and be prepared to get to the airport early.
Security can be a pain for wheelchair users as you obviously can’t go through the usual scanner. Be prepared to be taken somewhere private and body searched. The security people will also search your chair and swab it to make sure there are no dodgy substances on it.
Cruises are great for those using wheelchairs. Accessibility is usually very good and larger, properly equipped cabins are available if you request them. As with any holiday, have a chat with your agent before you book to see what’s offered for your specific needs.
Before you decide to cruise, think carefully about where you will be stopping en route; older cities tend to be less accessible than modern ones so bear this in mind if you like sight-seeing.
There are many travel organisations that cater specifically for people with mobility needs and know exactly how to accommodate them. They organise everything from swimming with dolphins and snorkelling to kayaking and dog sled trips for the more adventurous.
A little planning, forethought and flexibility is all that’s required to make your dream holiday exactly what you want it to be. Bon voyage!