Vacations on Wheels
Tips on successful travel with scooter, wheelchair, or other mobility devices
When my husband retired in 2012 after almost 50 years in academia, we were more than ready to travel. I remember he said, “Let’s see as much as we can now before we get too old or too disabled to do this.” That summer we took our first cruise and even before we got on the ship, we saw a number of fellow travelers with scooters and wheelchairs, including a very elderly woman at the handicapped check-in. Within a week at sea, the story was making its rounds that this sweet lady was taking this cruise to celebrate her 100th birthday. We saw her often in her electric wheelchair, sometimes alone, sometimes with her travel companion, rolling along the ship’s corridors, into the dining rooms, or up the center aisle in the theatre. So much for getting too old or too disabled to travel.
In the ten years since his retirement and after a series of health setbacks, my husband has gradually become more and more dependent on mobility aids himself. He uses a cane and sometimes a rollator in our home, a walker or scooter outside, and a wheelchair when he thinks he needs it. And still we travel.
Visit your Computer First
Our best source of advice for travelers with mobility issues has been, of course, the Internet. At first we could not believe all the opportunities and assistance available to travelers using wheelchairs and scooters and other mobility devices. You can find everything from handicapped tours across Europe . . . to specialty vacations at our National Parks . . . from handicapped Ubers in Chicago . . . to travel agents who specialize in trips and tours for those dependent on mobility devices . . . from contacts with local disability groups around the world for on-the-scene suggestions . . . to information from airlines, trains and buses about their individual policies regarding the mobility aids of their passengers. Most of this information is supportive, comprehensive and reassuring—and easily found.
Here are a few of the helpful tips you might find online (and a few of my own from personal experience) as you contemplate taking a vacation this summer along with your wheelchair, scooter or other mobility device—whether a local jaunt, a nearby visit, or a trek across the country or around the world! The first suggestion is, given that you have no medical reason to abstain, go for it. Take the risk of encountering some hassles and obstacles—which you’ve certainly had to face anyway during a lifetime of vacations and travel—and have confidence that challenges can be met and overcome. Talk to others with mobility issues who have travelled and learn what worked for them—and what didn’t.
The second most important suggestion is to research and plan (see Internet reference above). Check out information specific to your travel plans, your mode of transportation, hotels and restaurants for your journey and your destination, as well as special offers and opportunities for the mobility challenged. Some accommodation sites—Expedia.com, for instance—will filter available properties by accessibility. Transportation resources in the US are required to be ADA-compliant, so you’re starting from a hopeful position there, yet you do need to check and recheck and ask a lot of questions: “Who can help me get my luggage onto the conveyer belt?” “What’s the neighborhood environment and handicapped access around the hotel? Is it a problem that I can’t lift my scooter by myself?” “How far will I have to walk?”
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Here is the kind of information you need to unearth in your research: Most airlines allow you to bring a folding wheelchair onboard and will store it for you. Airplanes with 100 seats have to have a wheelchair closet in the aircraft cabin. In some cases scooters qualify for the same option, and you can ride your scooter to the door of the plane. (Of course, you can check your wheelchair, scooter, rollator, etc., at the counter and use one of their chairs to get to the TSA checkpoint and the gate, right to the door of the plane.) With your mobility aid stored away in the onboard closet or in the cargo compartment, your airplane will have a narrow, rolling “aisle wheelchair” available should you need transport to the bathroom. (Also request an aisle seat near the bathroom.)
My best advice for a road trip is to make it a leisurely one. Don’t plan to travel too far in a day or set a destination too far away. Think about travelling off-interstate, along some back roads and blue highways. Car trips are the best way to be spontaneous and open to whatever comes your way. With car travel, you already know that your truck or backseat can accommodate whatever mobility device you’ll need on your travels—and you also have more control over delays or cancellations that can be more troublesome when you travel by public transport.
Be sure to check out 1-800-USA-RAIL. AMTRAK has good discounts for wheelchair users (from 15% to 50%) and a travel companion. As with Greyhound (which also offers discounts to those with mobility issues), once you’re in place in your seat, you can relax and leave the driving to others.
Advice: Practical and Personal
You will find online advice specific to your personality and habits. Consider your own situation carefully as you decide how far afield you want to travel, what a specific destination might be, what attractions you will be able to access, your mode of travel. Is this going to be a car trip to a state park, a flight to Rome or a cruise to Aruba? If there’s a time of day when you have more energy, schedule activities within that time frame. Don’t try to do too much in a day. If you’re accustomed to an afternoon nap, include one in your planning. If you’re used to a shower bench or need a roll-in shower and grab bars, ask as you make your reservation. (If the desk clerk doesn’t know about those avails, ask to speak to someone in housekeeping. They will know exactly what your options are.) Make use of your hotel concierge, who can arrange taxis and shuttles, arrange tours that accommodate your limitations and mobility devices, make reservations that take your special needs into consideration.
Pay attention to practical advice, like get some good travel insurance with medical. (Medicare is not operative overseas.) Determine your power outlet accessibility and bring a power adapter if you’re traveling to a country with different plugs. Also, bring along not one but two chargers! And a bungee cord.
Welcome the Kindness of Strangers
A final thought: Discounts and special offers abound for those of us with mobility problems or other medical issues. As previously mentioned, Amtrak and Greyhound both have special discounts, and so do any number of destination sites. The National Park access and services are generally free for the disabled. If you check or ask individual museums, historic sites, monuments, zoos and theme parks you might want to visit in this country or others, you are likely to find special offers at some of those as well. Almost always, a wheelchair or other mobility device will enable you to skip a line or go to the front. Finally, don’t forget about the kindness of strangers. Don’t be reluctant to ask for help if you need it. It’s often a surprise to find out how eager others are to help out, but they are out there and ready to aid you if you just let them know you want and need some assistance.
Enjoy your vacation, then. We suspect if you and your scooter, wheelchair, rollator—whatever mobility aid you need or want to take along—undertake a trip or a vacation this year, it won’t be your last. Whether you roll around the world, across the state or up the coast, won’t it be wonderful to travel again . . . and again?