For those of us living with disabilities we know that traveling can be a tricky thing to navigate. Traveling gets a lot of people into a heightened state of stress and anxiety and when you are dealing with disability that can be magnified. The joy of a good vacation, visiting loved ones, exploring a new place, or pursuing business ventures keeps us on the go and making the hassle of travel all worth it. It is a necessary part of life for most people and those with disabilities are no exception. Here are some of my tips as a wheelchair user of 13 years to best prepare to make your trip as smooth as it can be.
Take a friend
There is no shame in the friend game. I will admit it, I have never traveled alone in my 13 years post injury. It is a goal of mine to go on 1 full trip alone but let's face it, the world is not a fully accessible space. There are so many unknowns and obstacles to overcome that are so much easier to tackle with a trusted friend or family member. Plus loved ones make everything better.
Get TSA Pre-Checked
Game changer! Chris and I just got pre-checked earlier this year and it has been a much nicer experience getting through security. It is an abbreviated security search for those using wheelchairs meaning much less invasive and you can keep your shoes on. Typically it is a really quick pat down (not getting in there too much) and a swab of your hands and assistive device. Much less hassle! Of course this is only good for domestic flights and it is a little bit of a process to get pre-checked but so worth the effort. If I start doing more international travel I would consider the Global Entry process as well.
For more information on TSA Pre-Check CLICK HERE!
Check with all counters at the airport
In the day of digital boarding passes this can be an annoying step, but I do suggest it. It is best to get your chair tag at the ticket counter before going through security. Airlines have a detailed process on how to handle medical devices and wheelchairs and it starts at the ticket counter - even if you are not checking a bag. This is also a good time to make sure you have the assistance you need lined up at the gate.
When you get to the gate counter, check in again. Make sure they know you are there, make sure they know you need to be pre-boarded and make sure they give you another round of tags for your personal assistive devices. Pre-board usually starts 5-15 minutes before general boarding so make sure you are at the gate ready to go at that time.
Personal recommendation: Southwest Airlines has been the best to fly. Their plane design allows you to wheel onto the plane and transfer to the first row with most manual chairs. This means no aisle chairs! Everyone has been very friendly and it is the easiest plane process I have ever had.
Take before photos of your assistive devices
We have all heard and seen the horror stories of chairs getting damaged and even forgotten when flying. The gate tags will inspect for damage but it is best to take photos of the condition your chair is in before you release it in case you need to file any claims. It is a worry we all have when flying, and honestly something that needs to change in the airline business.
Have a plan for when you get there
I am a planner by nature but I think this is even more important when you have a disability. I want to know what my ground transportation plan is, where I am staying, and a general timeline of my trip. That is just me, but I think the more you know the better you can prepare and the better your trip is. Call ahead to excursions you want to do, places your want to go and even restaurants you want to try. It can bee annoying to constantly explain your situation but it is more annoying to show up somewhere that isn't accommodating.
Get your feet up
So important to get your feet up, take breaks, and listen to your body. Traveling can be a stress on our bodies and in order to enjoy as much as we can we need to take care of ourselves the best we can. I like to take every opportunity to elevate my legs and feet to increase my blood flow, stretch my muscles and relive pressure. I haven't actually tried compression stockings yet, but it is on my list to try for my next trip. Traveling around disrupts our normal routines so it can be good to take a little extra care, a nap here and there, and take advantage of down time.
Call your hotel before your trip
This is a big one! Unfourtunately booking the accessible room is not enough guarantee that you will get the room you are wanting. Accessible means so many different things and lately hotels have been indicating what features a room will have to make it accessible. Look for things like mobility, hearing, visual, mobility tub, mobility roll in shower to find the room set up best for you.
Once you booked the room I suggest calling the hotel directly within 1-2 days of booking to make sure they got your accessibility request. You can also ask them about shower chairs and other parts of the hotel. Then, be sure to call the hotel 2-7 days BEFORE your trip to ensure you are still slotted for the room you are expecting. Most hotels will have their plans done by then and can make changes if they need to. If you are still feeling uneasy you can also call the day before or same day to ensure you have your correct room.
Now, I have done all of these things and still shown up and received the wrong room. It happens, and sometimes I have had to switch hotels. But if you check in multiple times you can have some leverage when talking to the staff about their policies and how this effects you stay and your life. It is a big stress but pre-planning here can hopefully avoid some of that.
If you can find an accessible short term rental - book it!
Rentals can be so nice if you can find one! They are like a needle in a haystack but if you can find a rental I always suggest renting it. Usually you can have more specific pictures of the actual space you are staying in and/or ask the host for more detailed shots. It can be more comfortable to have home amenities like a kitchen and a washer/dryer plus be a better environment if you need to bring attendants or friends. Also if you find any truly accessible rentals, please share with the world so we know where to take our next vacations.
Pack comfy clothes
Comfy clothes is my new life motto but especially for travel. I like to take tried and true items that I know how they are going to feel and wear throughout the day. The pre-shopping trip before a vacation is a real thing so if you are one to buy new outfits for a trip, be sure to test them out before you pack them. Nothing worse than being uncomfortable.
Have fun & get out there!
It is so worth the hassle of traveling to get out and experience new things and places. Traveling has been a joy in my life and helped me prove that I can still have a full, fun life being paralyzed. Of course shit happens (sometimes literally), things break, we fall, places aren't accessible, the list goes on but you will overcome and be ok. And after all the fun and craziness, it is always best to then come home.