Here’s what my dream travel day would look like as a wheelchair user

Aug 21, 2021

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Since starting my accessible travel blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, eight years ago, I have traveled to 37 countries and all seven continents. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and remarkable in the best way, but aside from seeing incredible sights and meeting people of all abilities around the world, I have also noticed that accessibility can drastically improve in many areas.

I have used a powered wheelchair since I was four years old due to having Spinal Muscular Atrophy, so being a wheelchair user is really the only life I’ve ever known. Therefore, I have certainly learned how to adapt to traveling with a 400-pound wheelchair attached to my body throughout the day, but I do wish that some aspects of traveling could be easier.

Being a wheelchair user who wants nothing more than to explore this big, wide, beautiful world of ours is a challenge at times. One that I have mostly learned how to conquer over the years, but a challenge nonetheless.

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Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about which parts of the travel process I’d like to change and what my perfect travel day might look like. From being able to simply roll on a plane in my wheelchair to easily finding accessible transportation upon arrival and more, here is what my dream travel day would look like as a wheelchair user.

I would stay in my wheelchair throughout the plane ride

Undoubtedly, this is my ultimate travel dream. Currently, I have to say goodbye to my wheelchair at the plane door and it is then loaded into the plane with all of the luggage. When I arrive at my destination, my wheelchair is frequently damaged, so throughout the entire flight, I’m always crossing my fingers and hoping that it will arrive unscathed and in working condition.

Related: 7 air travel tips for wheelchair users

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 29 wheelchairs are damaged every day by airlines, but if I could just roll on a plane and stay in my wheelchair throughout the flight, that would make things much easier and more stress-free.

And before you think “Well, that wouldn’t be feasible because it’d be unsafe”, check out All Wheels Up. They are performing crash tests to prove that using restraints to secure wheelchairs on planes would be safe. When I can roll on a plane and stay in my wheelchair, that will be the start to the best travel day ever!

Related: A day in the life: What it’s like to travel through an airport and on a plane as a wheelchair user

I would find accessible transportation quickly (without needing to pre-book it)

Once I get off the plane and get in my wheelchair (if it’s in operable condition), the hunt for wheelchair accessible transportation begins. Unless I have pre-arranged for an accessible taxi or am touring with a company that specializes in accessibility, it can take some time to get accessible transportation.

Related: These are the most wheelchair-accessible cities around the world

In the past, I have waited over four hours for an accessible taxi… and that was here in the U.S. (Los Angeles), where we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. If a city doesn’t have accessible transportation, then I’m pretty much stuck at the airport and unable to even get to my hotel. On my dream travel day though, I’d be able to quickly get an accessible taxi without having to pre-book it.

Related: 10 wheelchair-accessible tour companies that are changing the travel industry

I would have a fully accessible hotel room (without needing to call ahead and ask eight million questions)

On my dream travel day, after getting off the flight and quickly finding an accessible taxi, I’d head to my hotel. Since this is my dream travel day, it’d obviously be somewhere luxurious like the Four Seasons, but that’s beside the point.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I would go to my fully accessible room/suite. It would be on the ground floor (in case of emergencies, it’s always best for wheelchair users to be on the ground floor), have a large roll-in shower, a pull-under sink, grab bars in the bathroom, the room would be spacious, and the beds would be a good height to get into, just to name a few of the accessible features I like to see.

Typically, I have to call the hotel I’m considering staying at and ask them a ton of questions about accessibility before booking. They often don’t have answers for many questions, so this is usually a multi-day process as they try to get answers. Sometimes after going through this process for hours on end, I’ll find out that the room won’t work for my accessibility needs, so then the process starts all over with a new hotel. On my dream travel day, I’d be able to view photos and videos of the accessible room online to see if it’d work for me and then when I arrived at the hotel, it would actually be as accessible as I expected.

Related: 4 tips for finding wheelchair-accessible home rentals

I would visit an accessible beach

I am a beach fanatic. I mean, is there anything better than soaking up some rays while sipping on a piña colada?! I think not. Unfortunately though, beaches can often be very hit or miss when it comes to accessibility. On my dream travel day, I would visit a beach that had accessible changing rooms with adult-sized changing tables and hoists for transferring, beach wheelchairs, and beach access mats.

Related: The most wheelchair-accessible beach destinations in the US

The most accessible beach I’ve personally ever visited is Nova Icaria Beach in Barcelona, Spain. It had every accessible feature that I could imagine and showed me that it is totally possible to have a perfectly accessible beach.

I would go out to a nice accessible restaurant and then have drinks at a local accessible bar

To finish off my dream travel day, I would have a nice dinner at an accessible restaurant, preferably one that I stumbled upon without having to call ahead and see if they’re accessible. I was in Iceland a few years ago and called a restaurant to see if it was accessible. They said that it was completely wheelchair accessible, but when I arrived for dinner that night, there was a large step to get inside. So, even when I do my research in advance, it’s sometimes still not enough. To be able to go out to eat and to a bar without doing any research ahead of time sounds so simple to most people, but for me it would be a perfect ending to the best travel day ever.

While everything in this article is a bit far-fetched in today’s world, they are completely feasible improvements and could become reality, but only if we all work together to improve accessibility standards around the world. My biggest hope is that the next generation of wheelchair users does not have to jump through a million and one hurdles just to do something as simple as getting on a plane. I fully trust that one day, my dream travel day will become reality instead of only a dream.

Related: Planning an accessible trip? These travel resources can help.

Related: How to travel on a budget as a wheelchair user

Related: 7 of the best national parks for wheelchair users

Related: 5 tips for going on a cruise as a wheelchair user

Related: The best cruise lines for wheelchair users and passengers with limited mobility

All images courtesy of the author. 

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