For decades, travel has always been an activity that both my husband and I have prioritized and saved carefully for year-round. We have worked very hard to make this happen and as a consequence have been blessed with some amazing adventures along the way. We long ago decided that next to nothing will ever stop our passion for continued travel and bucket-list adventures – including the fact that Pierre now uses a wheelchair.
Adjusting and adapting to accessible travel has been very interesting, to say the least. In fact, some of our best successes (and fails) have proven to be almost as entertaining as the actual trips themselves!
I have been asked to share a few key factors that have stood out for us on recent trips as we continue to learn and adapt to travelling with a wheelchair. These are my top three tips!!
- Plan, Plan, Plan ………
I have actually always been a “planner” and this has definitely proven to be even more imperative now to minimize disappointments along the way during travel.
For us, planning includes booking the most direct routes possible to limit stopovers and excessively long distances between airports, hotels, train stations, etc. This also serves to maximize our actual time enjoying our trips. That said, sometimes a train ride can serve as both transportation and a relaxing way to enjoy beautiful viewing simultaneously.
There are a ton of great resources on the web related to travel and accessibility including blogs, vlogs and websites and I love exploring them all in advance to compare perspectives from real people in similar situations. I think it is common knowledge to those of us in this community that “accessibility” is a very broad term that can often be completely inaccurate when it comes to hotels, transportation and local attractions/activities. This is where I have learned to double-check any specific accessibility features that we require in advance, regardless of what is actually listed.
Personally, for accommodations, we have recently had more success with airBnB and VRBOs where we can specifically communicate with the host to confirm our accessibility requirements. European hotel rooms and elevators tend to be much smaller and we are not as familiar with many of them as we are with North American chain hotels.
While I used to avoid the big well-known travel guides (Frommers, Foder’s, Lonely Planet, etc.) as their accessibility information has been so minimal and often out-of-date (in my experience), I now look at all options when planning travel, whether listed as accessible or not, as I have also learned that activities or sites listed as “not-accessible”, are sometimes actually do-able with proper planning, communication and adaptations.
This was true for us last year as we were repeatedly told that many of the sites and tours that we wanted to experience in France were not wheelchair accessible. Having both always dreamed of visiting the Canadian battlefields and memorial sites in northern France, the “eighth” (yep, you read that correctly) company I contacted was open to discussion and ended up planning a (mostly) accessible tour for us that included walking and rolling through entire battlefields, military cemeteries and the breath-taking Canadian Vimy Ridge memorial site. While I joined a group to walk through the recreated trenches of our brave soldiers (that obviously were not wheel-chair accessible), Pierre spent that time exploring the fantastic Vimy Ridge museum next door.
2. Pack carefully ………
Long gone are the days of over-packing which I was very guilty of!! The simple fact that I now personally carry the bulk of our luggage has taught me to lighten up substantially. After packing up the wheelchair attachments (smart drive, free wheel, battery chargers, etc.) and all the other various medical supplies, my list of cute “must-have” outfits and shoes suddenly has become far less important to me.
side-note: this also makes for a great excuse for more shopping while travelling!
While travelling lighter, we also try to plan for accommodations with laundry facilities. Again, we have found airBnB and VRBO rentals more likely to provide for the same.
3. Never EVER lose your sense of humour………
This might be the most important tip we have learned to date. Regardless of how well we have planned or packed, mishaps WILL happen!!
……like when Pierre’s wheelchair somehow decided to take a different plane than we were on …….
……when we discovered that our hotel room in Brussels had the most amazing accessibility features we had ever seen in a hotel ……. except for that one BIG step to actually enter our room…….
……….when the “accessible” restaurant we arrived at advised us that the toilets were all up a massive flights of stairs ……….
I hate to say, “expect mishaps” ……but seriously, “expect mishaps”…….. BUT enjoy the entire experience as we have found that sometimes a mishap actually turns out to be a great learning experience and/or an excellent opportunity to educate vendors or communities about accessibility in general.
And truthfully speaking, many of our mishaps have actually become some our best memories ……well….more-so “after the fact”, of course… 😉