* This post is kindly sponsored by the companies listed at the end of this post, but all opinions are my own. *
Organising a trip abroad is naturally quite a time-consuming task, especially if you aren’t relying on a travel agency/organisation to coordinate the different aspects of your trip. But once you add a wheelchair, medical supplies, assistance dog, dietary requirements, allergies and a chronic condition into the mix, you can expect to be doing a lot of research!
I have been fortunate enough to visit many places over the past few years in the UK, Europe and America, but I can honestly say that each experience presented a new set of challenges. So I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learnt over the years, in the hope that it will give someone else the confidence to start planning their own adventure. Obviously there are agencies and organisations that can do everything for you, I just recommend doing some research beforehand and communicating with the staff to ensure they truly understand your needs and have the means to support your requirements. Sadly I haven’t had the best experience when booking through an agency, which is why I took it upon myself to create trips that I could safely enjoy. So for those of you who are unsure where to start when it comes to planning a trip, try breaking your search down into the following stages:
Obviously your options may be limited if you are bound by school holidays or preallocated annual leave, but where possible I try to avoid peak travel periods to reduce the cost, crowd levels and sometimes even the temperature/humidity!
This may be a straightforward decision if you are going to visit family or friends, attending a specific event or visiting a particular attraction. But if you are left feeling indecisive, then I recommend choosing a few potential locations and comparing the results once you have completed your research. Just remember when selecting your destination to consider what the weather will be like during your chosen travel dates, if there are any time differences and whether the destination is accessible enough for your individual needs!
Depending on the nature of your trip, this isn’t always necessary. But if you want to plan an outing, visit an attraction or even get excited about different dining options, I suggest making a list of the things you would like to see/do and organising them in order of priority. For example, when visiting New York I had a list of 6 things that I really wanted to see or do, but only organised 2 of them. This allowed me to make a decision on the day depending on how I felt, without worrying that I would be left feeling disappointed if I had to cancel my plans. It also helps if you can book flexible tickets, as I was able to quickly reschedule our visit to the Rockefeller Centre for a later time so I go back to the hotel and take a nap.
Obviously if you are travelling for a specific event such as a wedding, then I recommend giving yourself plenty of time before and after to rest. But should you feel up to doing something, this method ensures that you don’t waste time making a decision. Instead you can simply pick the most appropriate activity on your list and go for it!
Start by deciding what type of accommodation you want to stay in, (such as a hotel, self catering apartments or a villa) and choosing your preferred location; followed by making a list of your requirements. For example, somewhere that is wheelchair accessible; has grab rails around the bath tub; close to the airport/train station; has good transport links and has a refrigerator to store my temperature sensitive medication.
Most accommodations will have information regarding their access facilities online, but never base your decision purely off this information! I have made this mistake many times and despite one hotel stating online that it had a lift, it was not big enough for a wheelchair user. This is why I always recommend contacting them directly to ask for more information surrounding their accessibility features, and to answer any questions you may have. Below are some examples of the questions I usually ask:
Ask about the dimensions of the doors within the hotel or apartment, so you can figure out whether your wheelchair or mobility aid can pass through or not.
Find out whether the hotel has any additional bathroom facilities, such as a shower seat for roll in wet rooms or a bath bench if the accessible room has a bathtub.
Check if they have grab rails in the bathrooms, as well as in the public toilets, showers, swimming pools or spa facilities.
Ask whether there is a connecting room if you’re planning to go there with your assistant or caregiver.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they can make note of your preferences. For example, if it is possible to have a room close to the elevator so you don’t have as far to walk/push; an accessible bathtub instead of a shower if this is easiest for you; an early check in/late check out, so you can maximise your rest time before and after your travels!
Look into the local transport links and whether it is accessible to you. Same applies for private taxis, prebooked airport transfers and hire cars. I tend to avoid group transfer services as it can be very difficult to manage a bunch of suitcases, along with my wheelchair, oxygen machine and sometimes even my assistance dog! Plus it often takes a lot longer to arrive at your destination, because they are dropping other passengers off at various locations. Therefore, I think it is worth paying extra to have a private transfer with a reduced journey time, because I am usually exhausted by this point in my journey!
If you are looking to hire a car, then I recommend booking everything in advance to save time on arrival. It also might be worth paying to use a valet parking service at your destination (particularly when arriving at a hotel or airport), so you can drive straight to the drop off point and unload your luggage; without the added stress of trying to find a parking space and potentially then having to use a connecting shuttle bus.
If you are planning on using taxis during your trip, then I recommend finding a wheelchair friendly service to save time on arrival. Services such as Lyft and Uber typically give you the option of picking bigger sized vehicles. In some cities you can now also select a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) in the Uber app, or an Accessible Vehicle Dispatch in the Lyft app.
Finally, always shop around once you have decided on your dates, type of transport, accommodation and activities! You can often save some money by signing up to a websites mailing list, by booking with a third party or waiting for special offers!
I hope this post will help you to effectively plan an accessible and enjoyable trip; but please get in touch if you ever have any questions or find the process difficult, as I have so many other tips and tricks to share!