For many families and individuals, travel – be it abroad or a staycation – follows a very typical routine. From booking and packing to flying, everything is planned and mostly predictable, something which can be taken for granted.
However, for my family, and many other families like us, travel can be stressful to plan and execute. Disabilities come in many forms and manifest in many different ways, so it’s difficult to fully encompass all aspects of a single condition when planning travel, particularly for invisible disabilities. Although my mum now travels in a wheelchair, and is visibly disabled, in the years before her mobility worsened, articulating her needs and access requirements presented many challenges.
Despite this, we’ve travelled to many incredible places, both at home and abroad, using a whole host of equipment along the way. Walking sticks, zimmer frames and mobility scooters – we’ve worked our way through every possible luggage allowance and safety measure to make sure my mum has everything she needs.
That said, we’ve been caught out a fair few times, not just with equipment, but also with documentation, accommodation, and even small, unexpected obstacles mid-transport. Despite the difficulties that can sometimes come with travel, I’ve learnt many ways to make the process a lot easier, and to use the help available.
When taking equipment, particularly if it’s your first time travelling abroad with it, always check the protocols on what can and can’t be taken on board
On one particular occasion when travelling with a walking stick, my mum was told her stick wasn’t safe to travel, because it was deemed a ‘potential weapon’. Less than an hour before our flight, we were forced to go hunting for a walking stick to take on holiday. Later, we discovered this was because many airlines require walking sticks to be collapsible, so it can be stored underneath seats or in luggage overhead luggage bins.
Often, the same rules apply for bigger equipment, such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters, so it might be worth investing in a sturdy, collapsible chair or scooter for travel. Although, when collapsing and packing away bigger equipment, make sure to mark your equipment as fragile, and pack away any straps and removable parts so they don’t get lost in transit.
You need to consider potential equipment for the accommodation too. Nowadays, we often pack grab-rails to fit onto walls and doors for ease of access. Another recent equipment discovery we’ve made has been the Euro and Radar Key schemes in Europe and the UK. By applying to these schemes, disabled travellers can gain a skeleton key which unlocks a majority of disabled toilets across the continent, allowing ease of access anywhere you go.
After doing the initial safety checks on equipment, a basic toolkit for repairs is a must
Equipment types and makes vary across countries, so it’s always best to keep the proper tools handy. If all less fails, a bit of duct tape has helped us through many equipment nightmares, so it could be your saving grace too.
For us, planning our accommodation is always the most difficult part of our trip. However, those who make the effort to plan ahead and do your research will be amply rewarded
When faced with the initial accommodation search, it can seem incredibly daunting, particularly when exploring new destinations.
A few years ago, we had a pretty daunting experience when booking what we thought was an ‘accessibility friendly’ resort abroad. However, the resort’s idea of accessibility was very different to our own. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a maze of a hotel, soon discovering that our room was on the other side of the complex, with a whole host of stairs and narrow corners to navigate. It also had lifts – and for this reason alone, had advertised itself as ‘accessible’.
Nowadays, we tend to opt for renting individual holiday homes, particularly if we can find bungalows or apartments with lots of flat surfaces. Regardless of what you choose, if your family is more suited to resorts and hotels, or individual rentals like us, make sure to do your research around any claims of ‘accessibility’.
Consider your medication wisely, or risk being caught out by legality, or a short supply
When going away, we always try to consider what medication mum will need before travelling. If you’re going away for an extended period of time, you may need to pre-order your prescriptions ahead of time, so you have enough to last the whole trip. It’s always best to check the legality of certain medications too, just in case of any nasty surprises.
Documentation is a vital part of your travel, and should be considered carefully
When traveling abroad with my mum’s mobility scooter for the first time, we discovered the airline needed a lot of information, such as the make and model. Although it may be time consuming and tedious, it is not worth getting caught out at the last minute.
Be it abroad or in transit, use the help where you can get it
Often, it can be difficult to accept help as a carer. But where you can get it, you should use it.
Be it an airline’s assistance team, or the airport staff, we have always been pleasantly surprised by the amount of help and support which we can receive when we just say yes.
In our experience of flying, we’ve found that Jet2 have been the most accommodating airline when organising our transport. They have a specific call centre for organising transport and answering any queries for disabled travellers, and are always happy to answer any possible question.
Accepting help extends beyond the airport, too. When travelling to major attractions and tourist destinations, asking for help has helped us skip queues, get better seating and be directed to easy-access entrances and exits.
Allowing those small moments of help and assistance can add up to a much easier and happier travel experience.