Traveling as a wheelchair user comes with its many obstacles. Not only do we have to worry about our luggage getting lost after a seemingly never-ending flight and general health concerns like most other travelers, but we also have to be somewhat cautious with our wheelchairs. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun and immerse ourselves in different cultures; we just have to get a bit creative with how we do things at times. As a powered wheelchair user that has traversed fifteen countries, I’ve learned many tips and tricks along the way. If you are a wheelchair user and new to traveling, here are some travel tips for wheelchair users that will hopefully make your next getaway a little easier.
Request bulkhead seating
When you are booking your flights, call the airline and explain to them that you are in a wheelchair and will require some assistance. Also, be sure to request the bulkhead seating if you’d like it. Bulkhead is the front row of economy class and these seats are usually more spacious than average economy class seats, which makes it easier to maneuver around during the boarding process. Bulkhead is an extra cost on many airlines, but for wheelchair users it is free (there are some perks!). Be aware though, that sometimes the armrests on bulkhead seats do not lift up. If this is something you’ll need in order to transfer into the seat, just tell the airline when you are making the reservation and they will know which seat will work best for you.
Arrive extra early to the airport
Most airlines say to arrive at least one hour before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. As a wheelchair user, I always add at least an hour to that suggested time. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be running full speed to your gate with only a minute to spare. It’s happened to me and I promise you that it isn’t any fun. Since I can’t walk through security, I always get a pat-down and this takes more time. The security officer wipes down my wheelchair, my shoes, and more to test for any dangerous chemicals.
Only one time has this process gone bad: the night before flying, my mom cleaned my wheelchair with furniture polish. When the security officer wiped my chair down and tested it, it showed up that there were explosive materials on my chair. Luckily, after a while, the situation was resolved, but I’ll be sure to never use furniture polish on my chair again before jetting off.
Check the voltage at your destination
If you’re traveling internationally, always be sure to check the voltage at your destination before going. In America, it’s 110 volts, but most other countries in the world are 220+ volts. If you use a powered wheelchair like me, and need to charge it in a foreign country, a converter and an adapter could potentially work, but I haven’t had the best of luck with converters. Wheelchair battery chargers are just so strong that they can’t properly convert. After plugging my charger into an outlet in Germany a few years ago (even with a converter and adapter), it literally blew up. Sparks were flying and the entire hotel managed to lose power for a few minutes. To prevent that from happening to you, I would highly suggest purchasing a 220-240 volt wheelchair charger before going on your trip. Your local wheelchair repair shop can help you find the right one. It may be quite expensive to purchase (around $250 usually), but trust me when I say that it will make your life much easier in the long run.
Research wheelchair repair shops at your destination before you go
This tip sort of ties in to the last one because when my wheelchair charger blew up in Germany, I had to frantically try and find a repair shop that would sell me a new one. It took a while to search, but we finally found one online and gave them a call. Soon, we were headed to the wheelchair repair shop and forked out a few hundred dollars for a new charger. I don’t mean to scare you, but things can always go wrong on any trip whether you’re in a wheelchair or not. By being adequately prepared and researching repair shops at your destination before leaving home, you’ll be quickly covered in case anything should happen to your chair. This will save you precious vacation time and allow you to visit museums instead of researching online at your hotel.
Book any transportation in advance
Some cities have readily available transportation that is wheelchair accessible. Sydney, Australia and London, England are included on that wonderful list. However, the sad truth is that a lot of cities do not have as much accessible transportation as they should. By researching online beforehand, you can discover if there are accessible taxis or accessible public transportation. I have waited over three hours for an accessible taxi in the past, so booking as much as you can in advance will save time once you’re at your destination. If you can’t book all of it in advance, at least book your accessible transportation from and to the airport. You’ll be able to lay your head on that comfy hotel pillow that much quicker…
Hopefully these five tips will make traveling as a wheelchair user a little easier for you, and give you an idea as to what to expect. Now, get out there and start exploring! As my favorite quote by Saint Augustine says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page.”
About the Author: Cory Lee is a 25-year-old travel addict, recent college graduate, and wheelchair user. He has been everywhere from Australia to Iceland, just to name a few, and he blogs about his accessible (and sometimes not so accessible) travel adventures on CurbFreeWithCoryLee.com. Cory hopes to inspire others to break out of their comfort zones and start rolling around the world.