By Martyn Sibley
Travelling can be a daunting experience for everyone, and even more so for those with a disability. There’s so much to think about: how you’re going to get to your destination, where you’re going to stay, insurance, airport transfers… the list goes on. There’s even MORE to think about when you’re disabled: what equipment will you need to bring, will your airline cater for your needs, will your accommodation be accessible?
My name is Martyn Sibley, and I’m a huge travel enthusiast. I was born with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) so I’ve been a wheelchair user my whole life. I’d wanted to travel badly, and I put it off for so long, until one day where I thought “screw it”, and I haven’t looked back since. I've been to Australia, Japan, USA, Mexico and all around Europe a few times.
Just the thought of accessible travel is enough to put most people off; there’s just too much to think about. I’m here to make things easier for you. I’m going to give you 10 handy tips to help make your next accessible holiday, a less stressful experience for everybody…
1) Ring the airport AND your airline prior to your holiday. Of course, the earlier the better as it allows them to prepare for your visit. If you are a wheelchair user, you will need to book yourself a normal seat on the aeroplane. Ring the airport you are travelling from, tell them your flight and inform them that you will need assistance. After, ring your airline company and inform them of exactly the same. Between them, they will assist you and ensure you have a pleasant flight.
2) Ring your accommodation. As before, inform them of your stay and notify them of any assistance you may need. This is a chance to ask any questions you may have, and to find out if this accommodation is FULLY accessible and able to cater for your needs. I also highly recommend that you ask if they have any equipment available to hire.
3) Ensure you have FULL, valid insurance. It may be costly, BUT it’s worth every penny. If you need any form of assistance during your holiday, the last thing you want is a horrifying bill to return home to. Ensure you tell your insurance company of every existing and pre-existing conditions, so you’re covered for everything.
4) Insure your equipment. Many people don’t think about this, but what happens if your wheelchair, or any other form of equipment breaks during your flight? If you insure your equipment, you will be covered for these circumstances, and your equipment will be replaced, or you will be given the equivalent value.
5) Separate your ‘must-haves’ from your ‘may-needs’. Of course, you know exactly what equipment you need and what you don’t. If you’ve contacted your accommodation beforehand, you should be aware if they have any equipment available to hire. If they provide manual hoists, there’s no need to bring yours too. It’s very easy to over-pack, which is why you should rethink what you really need.
6) Label ALL your equipment. This is something else many people don’t think about, but can come in very handy. Write your name, address and contact number on your equipment, just in case it goes missing during your travels. I’m aware at how expensive equipment can be, so the last thing you need is for your brand new manual hoist to go missing during your flight!
7) Research and plan how you’re going to travel around your destination. This may seem obvious, BUT decide how you’re going to travel around, ensuring you have all the details you need. Taxi, underground/ subway, bus, hire car, train, tram… Everyone has their preferences, but decide which will be the most convenient mode of transport for you.
Top Tip: It’s also handy to have the information of a second mode of transport, just in case.
8) Have a way to get extra money if need be. Of course you’re going to take more than enough money for your trip, but it’s always handy to have access to or bring spare just in case. What you if your wheelchair breaks and you need to hire another one? What if the bus breaks down and you need to call for a taxi? What if the manual hoist the hotel provided for you isn’t sufficient, and you need to hire another? It’s always handy to have spare money just in case.
9) Get the details of an equipment hire company. This is essential if you use a range of different equipment. I understand that to some, equipment such as a hoist or shower chair is an essential part of their everyday life, so it’s handy to know of a company that you can hire from whilst on holiday.
10) Print off ALL your documents. This doesn’t just mean your flight/ boarding passes and accommodation vouchers, this means ATOL certificates, insurance details, taxi numbers, equipment hire company details… the lot. You’ll probably find that you won’t need half of the information, but it’s handy to have.
I have many other top tips to hand, but these are by far the best top 10.
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