Awhile back, I went to Big Bear in Southern California for a leadership retreat. Before the trip, I asked the teacher who was coordinating the trip if the campsite was accessible for those traveling with disabilities. I require wheelchair accessibility, such as ramps, flat surfaces and accessible bathrooms. Her answer was yes. Upon arrival I quickly noticed that my definition of accessible was challenged. My eyes fell upon a small brown building that read “handicap accessible bathroom,” but the bathroom was raised from the ground by a large slab of cement. Sure the bathroom was accessible, but there was no way for me to get up the slab of the cement to the bathroom by myself.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude”-Scott Hamilton.
I could have gazed up at that high-rise bathroom and felt conquered by my disability, but I chose to change my attitude about the situation. With help from friends, I was lifted up the cement slab and made it just in time. I’m telling you this not to share a funny memory, instead to show how I was not prepared for my trip.
Do Your Research
One aspect of traveling is exploring the unknown, but when traveling with a disability it is crucial to make sure you have a solid foundation of knowledge to help you make the most of your trip. When planning for an upcoming trip, I make sure to cover the five essentials: who, what, when, where and why.
Heard of the saying, “Only you know yourself the best”? Well, it’s true. You know your disability and what limits you are willing to test when traveling. Come up with a list — mentally or on a piece of paper — of what accommodations you may need while traveling. Your list may include breaks for resting, accessible showers or medical supplies you may need to bring with you. Whatever it is, make sure to evaluate yourself and to be honest about your expectations.
What will your trip consist of? Will you be hiking through a national park or road tripping along the coast in search of beautiful beaches?
Do your research on your planned activities. By research I mean to call places ahead and ask specific questions about accessibility, such as if the national park you are visiting has paved trails for those who need wheelchair accessibility. Showing up at your destination and discovering that you are unable to physically hike the trails could add unneeded stress to your trip.
When will you be traveling? The time of the year you’re planning for is very important. Check the weather. Will it be over 100 degrees, or will it be non-stop pouring? The weather could really alter what you are able to accomplish on your expedition. Whether or not the weather is a crucial factor, depends on your disability. Since I am in a wheelchair, traveling when it is pouring down rain would make getting around very difficult. Knowing the weather of your destination ties into Step One of knowing yourself and what you are comfortable with.
While all these details matter, but what really matters is where you are going. Knowing the location of your destination guides you towards the answers for the other four steps. For instance, if you are traveling to a historic location such as Europe, it is important to note cobblestone streets or historic buildings were not built with accessibility in mind.
Packing your bags and picking a spot on the map is exhilarating, but your plans can crumble when you get to where you’re going and realize it is not accessible. Or maybe research leads you to believe a destination is accessible, but once you get there you realize “accessible” can have different meanings — such as my accessible bathroom on a high-rise slab. This is why researching and planning ahead for your trip matters. Personally knowing that you can be independent while on your trip allows you to feel safe to take more risks and be the adventurous traveler you have always imagined!
This is the first article in an original Epicure & Culture series, The Wheel Deal, which looks into how to travel and have immersive experiences around the globe with a physical handicap. We hope you feel inspired to see the world, despite any physical difficulties.
Do you travel with a disability? Please share your stories and tips in the comments below.
By Katie Estrella. Follow her adventures at DiscoverKatie.