Wheelchair travel tips from a wheelchair user

Woman in a wheelchair on a dock, text reads: accessible travel guest post

Last Updated on 22nd March 2019 by Sarah and Justin

We’re pleased to share the next guest post in our accessible travel series where we feature different types of travelers who enjoy seeing the world in spite of what others may see as limitations. Brittany was born with a condition called dwarfism and doctors didn’t expect her to live longer than a few days. She proved them wrong! Brittany can walk, but must use a wheelchair for long distances. In this post she’s offering advice to help others travel in a wheelchair including booking accommodations, flying with a wheelchair, and researching accessible travel destinations.

Brittany’s wheelchair travel advice

I travel a little bit differently compared to other people because I travel in a wheelchair due to a condition I was born with called dwarfism. This means I am short statured but this does not stop me from doing what I love which includes travelling! 

I don’t travel full time but throughout my life I have travelled to a variety of different places. My first trip overseas was with my family when I was a child. I thought it would be a great idea to start up a travel and lifestyle blog, since I have a different perspective and way of travelling around compared to other people and travel bloggers. I found that there was a need for more information in regards to wheelchair accessible travel and so I created my blog, Born to Be Alive, to try and provide that information. Travelling in a wheelchair can be tricky and can require extra planning but it is so worth it! In this post I will give you some tips that I use myself and some things to consider when travelling in or with a wheelchair that may be useful to you or someone you know.

Flying with a wheelchair

Firstly if you are travelling via a plane you need to make sure that the airline you are flying with is aware of the wheelchair. Usually when booking airline tickets online there is an option for mobility users to fill out. If you are booking through a travel agent, remind them that you have a wheelchair and what type it is eg, manual wheelchair or electric wheelchair. I have found in the past, it is easier to take a manual wheelchair overseas than it is a power (electric) wheelchair. With electric wheelchairs the airline often worries about the batteries in the chair so just keep this in mind and maybe research if the type of battery you have in your chair can be taken onto the plane. If the batteries and/or chair are not allowed onto the aircraft it is simply because some batteries in electric wheelchairs can interfere with the aircraft as they can be a fire hazard. When you get to the airport, remind or tell the airport check-in staff that you have a wheelchair so they can help you out with organising further assistance such as boarding the plane. I would also recommend getting to the airport earlier than it states on your airline tickets as checking in can take longer with a wheelchair.

One of many times, I checked my manual wheelchair in as baggage instead of taking it out to the aircraft since I was just flying domestically so it wasn’t a long way for me to walk. I landed and got off the plane, walked into the terminal and waited for my manual wheelchair to arrive on the baggage belt. But after some time, it still hadn’t arrived. We went over to a desk and asked if it had been placed somewhere else in the airport for us to pick up. After a few phone calls, they thought it had gone from the domestic terminal (where we were) over to the international terminal and was apparently being placed in line to be packed onto a plane going overseas! We had no idea how, why and if it was actually taken to the international terminal but after some time, the staff at the airport found out that it wasn’t actually in line for an international flight but instead it had been placed on a domestic flight to another city. In the end my chair went on an adventure to another place and was delivered to our hotel free of charge once it had made its way back to the airport where we landed. If this situation ever happens to you, the airline should and usually does try to do everything they can to get it back to you, especially if they were at fault. The airline usually place labels and tickets onto the wheelchair just like a suitcase so it is unlikely to be lost and is usually traceable.

Booking accommodations as a wheelchair user

If you are booking accommodation online, usually most accommodation websites state if they have wheelchair friendly (accessible) rooms. If they don’t then I would recommend looking at other accommodation because the last thing you want is to book a room and then arrive at the hotel or resort and realise that it’s not accessible. That would be terrible! So double check if they have accessible rooms and even wheelchair accessible grounds so you can get to the room. Some places may have accessible rooms but sometimes you can’t even get to the room due to the grounds being inaccessible. One time I booked a room somewhere and it was a wheelchair accessible room but there was a huge flight of stairs to get to the room. It’s usually the small things that we don’t think about that catches us so we just have to prepare as much as possible.

Wheelchair accessible travel destinations

Wheelchair accessible travel destinations: Queenstown, New Zealand

Personally I research activities and attractions to see and do in the destination that I am planning on visiting before even booking the trip. If you go to a destination there may not be many wheelchair accessible activities or attractions. I recommend doing some research and writing down some activities in advance. If there don’t seem to be any activities that you can do or any accessible attractions to see, then maybe look at a different place to visit, if possible.

There are many destinations all over the world that are wheelchair accessible and have wheelchair accessible activities and attractions. Here is a small list of some wheelchair accessible destinations that I have visited personally and have found to be ok for wheelchair users: Los Angeles, USA; Baltimore – Maryland, USA (the roads are bumpy and rough but still accessible for wheelchairs); Hawaii, USA; New Zealand; Gold Coast, Australia. You can also read about these and other destinations in my travel guides by going to my blog and clicking the “Destinations” tab.

Please know, my blog covers wheelchair accessible travel, but my travel guides are not just written for wheelchair users – they are written for able bodied people too.

Favourite places

Infinity pool, Bali, Indonesia

I pretty much love all of the places that I have visited but if I had to choose a favourite, it would be between Bali, Indonesia or Oahu, Hawaii, USA. Both of these places are completely different to one another but they are both beautiful and worth visiting for different reasons. Hawaii is more your perfect picturesque destination and focuses more on the branded shops and chain restaurants and I think this is why Hawaii has that luxurious feel to it. The vibe in Bali is more simple and laid back. It is a place where you can buy a top or get something tailor made for very cheap. Bali is beautiful, not just because of the incredible yet unique sights and the gorgeous sunsets but because they have the most kind and genuine people there. The people in Bali are so happy and helpful! I think this is because they don’t focus their happiness on materialistic things, they care more about the people around them! I love that about Bali but I also love the tropical island feel and views of Hawaii. I literally cannot decide on just one place!

Final thoughts

The planning process for traveling in a wheelchair can seem very overwhelming and there are a lot of things to remember and to consider. But once you have done the planning for one destination or trip, it will become easier to plan out your future trips. You will have gotten to know what things to look out for and to keep in mind. I hope some of these tips and pieces of advice are helpful to you or someone you know!

About Brittany

Brittany is based in New Zealand and writes the lifestyle and travel blog Born to Be Alive. You can also follow Brittany on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.



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10 thoughts on “Wheelchair travel tips from a wheelchair user

  1. Anna says:

    I love that Brittany is so determined to travel and encourage others to do so too! I take so much for granted when I travel so it’s great to read about the adjustments that can be made. I can’t wait to read the travel guides over on Brittany’s site. They sound fab!

  2. sue says:

    This is very helpful. I tried traveling with my mom who was starting to need a wheel chair for long walking about 10 years ago and it was very challenging. Wish I’d seen your site before that. I was trying to take her to Russia for her 85th birthday. It didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.

  3. stephanie@packingforplenty.com says:

    It’s great to see her so determined to travel! I think sometimes people really get down on themselves and don’t want to make the effort for the adjustments they need..glad to see she’s out there doing it though. I would love to visit Bali and agree that Hawaii has a luxurious feel to it.

  4. Anisa says:

    Glad to see that Brittany doesn’t let anything stop her from traveling. I had to travel with a knee injury so I got a glimpse into what it can be like.

  5. Traveler Ideas says:

    This helped a lot even know I’m 12 I’m in a wheelchair because I lost my left leg above the knee due to cancer but all cancer now is gone and I’m going to Florida thank u for these blogs there really helpful

  6. Adam Golightly says:

    My cousin has been having a really hard time because he doesn’t think that he will be able to travel anymore because he is restricted to a wheelchair. He would really like to get some help from a professional so that his car can be outfitted with it and he can travel more. I liked what you said about how he should have practice planning things and finding hotels that can accommodate him.

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