January 8, 2019

Kristina Shelden, Resource Coordinator, PIRC

With the holiday season behind us, and several months to go with the winter weather many people take this time to get outta dodge and find some sunshine! Here are some of my personal observations and suggestions for travelling with a disability.

1 – Prescription medication — Don’t pack it in your suitcase

This is probably a no-brainer for everyone, but it’s so important I thought I’d include it regardless. Especially if you’re flying somewhere, keep your meds with you in your carry-on. I personally keep an entire supply, with a bit of extra, regardless of how long I’m travelling for. Clothes and toothbrushes are easily replaced, many prescription medications are not. My luggage has been lost before, and it’s because I kept my meds on me that my trip was hardly inconvenienced.  I was going to Koh Lanta in Thailand, I bought myself a bathing suit and just lived in that until my luggage finally arrived.

It’s also important to do your research and keep medical prescriptions on hand. Some countries don’t allow medications that are commonly used in North America. For example, “It is illegal to bring into Japan some over-the-counter medicines commonly used in the United States, including some inhalers and some allergy and sinus medications.”[1] Every country has its own rules and regulations. Make sure to check first. No matter where you’re going, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy supply of meds, and proof the meds are prescription. This can save a lot of headache, and can save a trip entirely. No one wants to be caught in a pain flare-up or potentially life threatening situation because meds have been lost or confiscated.

2- Communicate as much as possible about your disability and specific needs

In my experience, I’ve found communicating as much as possible about my disability and specific needs, and being as friendly as possible, has served me well. Most people and places want to help, and if they’re given enough notice and information, they’ll make sure your trip goes as comfortably and successfully as possible. It can be hard for the airports, busses, or hotels to accommodate you at the last minute. They’ll be unprepared and scrambling. Also, if something does go wrong and you still find yourself in trouble, you’ve done everything right, and they’re much more likely to bend over backwards to make it up to you.

3 – Take advantage of the perks

One of the hard facts about travelling with a disability is you’re going to be inconvenienced in extra ways, and you’re going to miss out on some things. This world just isn’t up to accessibility standards. Even if you do everything right, communicate your face off, and prepare as much as possible, you’ll encounter people who are improperly trained, ignorant, or just plain make mistakes because, let’s face it, no one’s infallible. There will be accessibility fails everywhere; like in Bali, the sidewalks had massive, deep holes and were simply covered with old slabs of wood. Ridiculous. BUT, there are many ways in which people with disabilities are, in a sense, compensated for these inconveniences. First to board? Yes! Possible bumps to first class? Oh ya, baby. Free tickets for attendants? Take it! In my opinion, take advantage of every opportunity you’re presented with. You’ll face extra bumps on the road, so indulge in the free champagne you might be offered. It makes the bumps more fun anyway.

4 – Talk to friends, family, and other experienced travellers.

Adventure awaits you, whether you’re headed south to sunshine or just over to family you haven’t seen in ages. A great way to find out options and opportunities is to chat with everyone you possibly can! It’s amazing the little gems you can learn about from other people’s experiences. And also the little hacks about places you might never have known or experienced without their input.

To help plan your travels, our friends at Spinal Cord Injury BC have created an Accessible Travel Guide, a set of resources that help those travelling with a physical disability plan their trip, regardless of their level of ability. Their travel advice was compounded from a panel of travellers who also have physical disabilities and have explored the world in their wheelchairs.

Happy travels!

Note: This article was originally published in January 2018 and has since been updated to include relevant information


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