My fiancé and I are both avid travelers. We travel for work regularly and we love to plan leisure trips together whenever we can. However, when we travel, it’s not as simple as when typical couples vacation together because both of us are wheelchair users. Traveling as a person who uses a wheelchair tends to take a bit more planning, so traveling as a couple who both use wheelchairs can get complicated occasionally. Thankfully, we’ve got it down to a routine.
First, we determine our mode of transportation for our travel. If we’re driving, that’s easy – my fiancé’s manual chair gets tossed into the back of our SUV and we use a power lift to get my motorized wheelchair in the back too. When we fold the seats down, both wheelchairs fit in just fine with room for some luggage too!
If we’re flying, we need to pick a flight that we know will give us enough time to get to the airport and through all the procedures. We’ll have two wheelchair users going through the lovely TSA pat down process. We’ll talk with the airline crew about how to move and stow our wheelchairs properly. If we’re taking Amtrak, we check the train to ensure there’s enough accessible seats on the train we want. Here’s the annoying part: we have to buy our tickets separately because the Amtrak website only allows one wheelchair user per ticket purchase. Technically we could call, but I don’t like calling people, so I opt to buy our tickets in separate transactions.
Second, we determine where we’ll be staying. If we want to stay with friends, are their homes accessible? If we’re going to a new city and planning to stay in a hotel, we need to find a hotel with good accessibility that is also conveniently located to the places we want to visit or located near accessible transportation, such as a subway station. While there are plenty of ways to search for accessible hotels in convenient areas, my method includes a combination of Hotels.com and Google. First, I google the areas I want to go to get acquainted with the geographic area. Then I go to Hotels.com and type in my dates and click the box for “accessible room” and do a map view search to try to find a hotel in the geographic area that I like. If there is a hotel that meets my criteria in that area and it is in my price range, then I go back to Google and I “street view” the hotel so that I can see the entrance to the hotel to verify that it’s truly accessible. I also look at the sidewalks, etc., to see if there are curb cuts in that area to make our travels easy. If this doesn’t work, I expand my search to areas near accessible transportation and go through the same process again until I find one I like. Finally, I’ll call the hotel to verify they have accessible rooms before booking.
Lastly, my fiancé and I work together to carry our luggage. Both of us carry backpacks for our electronics and personal items, such as bathroom products. Backpacks are easy for both of us to carry because my fiancé can push his wheelchair while wearing a backpack and I can put my backpack on the back of my power wheelchair. However, our backpacks are not enough for longer trips, so we often share a carry-on size piece of luggage for short trips. We usually choose a rigid suitcase with 360 wheels. When my fiancé carries it, he puts it on his lap, and the rigidness allows the suitcase to stay in place on his lap while he pushes. When it’s my turn, I roll the bag because my electric wheelchair allows me to steer my wheelchair with one hand and roll the bag with the other. When necessary, we’ll bring two suitcases, but we prefer to pack light and share the load.
It might seem like a lot of work at first, but for us, it’s second nature. Together we’ve traveled to New York City, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Grand Cayman, and dozens of other places. Now we’re planning our honeymoon in South Africa! We have a lifetime of adventures ahead of us and we’re excited to continue exploring the world!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.