With December upon us, many individuals and families have made plans for their year-end vacation. If you (or your travel companion) have to use a wheelchair, the planning can be a little tricky. But don’t let that get in the way of your desire to see new places and meet new people. Obstacles can always be overcome with a little planning.
Here are 7 tips to get you started on planning your vacation.
1. Research your destination. We hear friends say all the time that “Venice is not wheelchair accessible,” or “Hong Kong has poor accessibility.” Those are generalisations, and generalisations aren’t useful when you are planning. You need details.
With a little research, you’d almost always find a way. You’d discover routes to move about in Venice without crossing bridges. You’d find out that half the buses plying the Kowloon-Aberdeen route are wheelchair-enabled.
Fact is, all destinations have places that are not accessible—and places that are. The more research you do, the easier your trip will be.
2. Stay in the most accessible parts of town. It’s crucial to not just research hotel accessibility, but also the hotel’s neighborhood. Are there stairs (or hills) in all directions? Will you have to roll over cobblestones? Are there accessible restaurants nearby? Think about the smaller details of your itinerary, e.g. lunch and dinner places, and ask your hotel for recommendations.
PROTIP: Use Google Maps’ Street View to get the lay of the land, then email the hotel with your questions. You’ll be amazed how much you can find out on your own before you even ask anyone.
3. Book hotels in advance. This advice comes a little late if you’re flying in December, but it is almost always cheaper to book an accessible hotel accommodation far in advance. So-called accessible may have only one or two accessible rooms, so they may be taken early by other travelers.
At the risk of explaining the obvious, don’t just look out for claims of accessibility on the hotel website. Email and ask them about details, e.g. whether their bathrooms can accommodate wheelchairs. If you cannot enter with your wheelchair (and we’re assuming you’ll only bring one wheelchair along), no amount of accessibility features will help you reach the shower head.
4. Check for accessibility information about your itinerary. This will include the accessibility of sidewalks, bus routes, metro stations, and the location of accessible entrances. Look up TripAdvisor for reviews left by disabled visitors. Or simply Google “wheelchair” and the name of your destination, and see what’s written by others. Remember to look out for the publishing date: some places may have had accessibility features added after the review you’re reading.
5. Plan your route. Know what you’re getting into before you land at your destination. Some routes will have wheelchair ramps, smooth pavement, and flat terrain; others may have steep slopes, cobblestones, or flights of stairs. There’ll likely be numerous ways to get to the tourist attractions you want to see.
6. Have a backup plan. Even on a perfectly planned vacation, something can go wrong. So when it does, how will you deal with it? If you anticipate and prepare for issues, and travel with someone who can help you during your trip, unexpected events won’t turn into trip-ruining problems. What will you do if part on your wheelchair breaks? If a train strike occurs in Madrid, how will you get from Sevilla to Barcelona? With backup plans (such as packing vital spare parts for your wheelchair), you won’t have to put your vacation on hold.
7. Be ready to improvise. In Bangkok, one of our friends who was going to take cab noticed that the tuk-tuks carried all manner of bulky goods. So he approached one tuk-tuk driver to ask if he was willing to take him and his wheelchair. Sure enough, he did. Soon he was making his way around the city, wheelchair stowed away and thoroughly enjoying the experience of getting around in a local form of transport. The lesson here is, whether overseas or at home, we can always benefit from a little improvision.