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Travel Tips for Wheelchair Users

Road trips are a staple of summer and early fall vacations, but making them enjoyable for everyone takes a lot of planning. When you or someone you’re traveling with has accessibility needs, planning becomes even more critical. From creating a strategic route to being prepared for any health needs, we have travel tips for wheelchair users and a large inventory of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to make any road trip memorable for the right reasons.

Planning Ahead

There are various things to consider before even getting on the road. Taking the time to plan will ensure you enjoy not only your destination but the drive there, as well. Is your intended location or your stops along the way equipped with wheelchair-accessible parking and entrances? Should you be preparing your wheelchair vehicle for different weather conditions? Keeping these wheelchair safety and travel tips in mind helps make it accessible for everyone and sets realistic expectations for travel time. Here are the ways you can plan your wheelchair-accessible road trip:

Map Out a Route (Including Time For Important Stops)

Odds are, unless you’ve driven to a specific location several times and know it well, you will be looking at a map to determine your route. While your phone’s GPS or vehicle’s navigation system will certainly do the job of getting you to your destination, it won’t provide you with ideal areas to stop for restroom breaks, food, or other needs along the way. Reviewing the route can give you more control over planned stops and your scheduled arrival time. As you create your route, keep the following in mind:

  • Trip Mileage: Are you preparing to drive a significant number of miles to and from your destination? If so, check your vehicle’s maintenance schedule; it may be smart to schedule an oil change or even consider a wheelchair vehicle rental to save mileage.
  • Trip Length: If your road trip takes more than just a few hours, how many miles and hours do you plan to cover in a single day? Breaking it into realistic segments can make it more comfortable and provide a realistic timeline for the trip.
  • Rest Stops: As you look through the route, find the areas that offer rest areas, whether it’s for restroom breaks, food, or simply getting out of the vehicle for a few minutes. Either determine where you plan to stop based on the miles you drive, how much time you’ve been driving, points of interest, or simply personal preference. These stops offer a good break for everyone that can be factored into your overall timeframe and are a great way to plan for those who may need to stop more frequently.
  • Gas Stations: Find the gas stations along the route. Driving through some rural regions may mean you won’t see a gas station for miles, and you definitely don’t want to get stranded. You can either use this to plan where you will stop based on your vehicle’s gas mileage or at least have the information handy to know when you’re near one should you need to fill up soon.

Whatever stops you plan along your route, make sure to verify accessibility, such as the availability of wheelchair-accessible restrooms, entrances, and more. There really is no specific recommended time traveling for wheelchair users. Ultimately, it will be up to the individual’s needs and comfort, so be sure you plan the route with everyone in your group.

Pack Strategically

No one likes to reach their destination only to realize they’ve forgotten something they meant to pack. For a wheelchair user, forgetting something could be more detrimental than inconvenient. Before even opening your suitcase, start by creating a list of everything you’ll need, checking things off as you pack. In addition to your clothing, toiletries, and daily items, here are some other things to pack for a comfortable road trip:

  • Wheelchair Seat Cushion: Sightseeing takes a lot of time, and sitting in a wheelchair for a long period of time can result in a sore back. Bringing a seat cushion can help keep it comfortable for longer days of local exploration.
  • Tube and Tire Changer: Exploring new areas could subject your wheelchair to an accident. Carrying an extra tube and tire changer ensures the wheel damage is more of a minor inconvenience that won’t ruin your entire trip.
  • Meals, Snacks, and Drinks: Yes, you want to stop places occasionally, but bringing your own meals, snacks, and drinks can help reduce the amount of times you’ll need to stop (and save some spending money).
  • Day Bag: Put anything you want easy access to in the vehicle together in one area, whether it’s electronics, comfort items, or any gear you need. This will keep you from hunting through all your bags to get one specific item you need or want to use along the way.
  • Pack Multiple Bags: This tip best applies to trips that will take several days. Pack a separate bag or two for each specific day so you can prevent having to take your entire trunk of luggage into a hotel room with you each night you stop. This bag should be packed with the essentials, like pajamas, clothes for the next day, toiletries, medications, and a phone charger.
  • Extra Medical Supplies and Medications: Those with disabilities are no strangers to medical needs that can change daily. Bringing extra medications and multiple types of mobility aids can help avoid unforeseen or emergency medical situations while on your trip.

Ensure Accessibility

Wherever you’re headed, it’s vital to ensure the places you intend to visit are wheelchair accessible from the hotel, campground, or resort you’re staying at to tourist hot spots you want to see. If you’re headed to a popular tourist destination, check out the location’s website. Many places will include planning and accessibility guides for visitors with information regarding wheelchair access, service animals, audio/visual assistance, and other accommodations. If you’ve looked online and cannot find the information you’re looking for, call ahead to anywhere you intend to visit, whether it’s the hotel, a park, museum, restaurant, or other attraction. Most public locations will have accessible areas, but if you’re visiting more historic locations, it would be beneficial to reach out for verification if certain areas are inaccessible to those with a disability.

Today, technology has made finding accessible locations even easier. With the website and app, AccessNow, you can browse a worldwide database to view locations that are accessible, somewhat accessible, and not accessible. You can even search your desired destination to see how it ranks in accessibility features including parking, handicap-accessible bathrooms, and automatic entryways. Those with other disabilities can also determine if their accommodations will be met, such as the availability of ASL interpreters, braille, and large-print accommodations.

Prepare Your Vehicle and Your Wheelchair

Taking a road trip means your vehicle is about to experience some serious use, and if you don’t plan on simply staying in one spot your whole vacation, so is your wheelchair. If something were to go wrong with either, it would present a major inconvenience leaving you stranded. While your vehicle could technically be serviced in any location with an experienced mechanic, finding a wheelchair repair shop could prove more difficult.

Before venturing off, make sure your vehicle is prepared by having all routine maintenance performed and get your wheelchair serviced. Make sure the axle nuts and bearings are tight and in place. You may also want to consider investing in a basic repair kit from your wheelchair manufacturer or a disability supplier if you don’t have one already. In addition to servicing, make any additions to your wheelchair to have it ready for the trip, such as attaching a bag to carry your items as you explore.

Keep Health Needs Top of Mind

Your daily medical needs are just as important on vacation as at home. However, when you’re traveling, should a medical need arise, you’re far from your regular physician, hospital records, and more. Be sure to bring your primary medical provider’s contact information as well as any relevant information regarding prescriptions, your condition, potential complications, and more. This way, should you need medical assistance while you’re traveling, a new provider will have the information they need to treat you effectively. If your needs are unique, it may be worthwhile to identify a specific medical provider in the area you’re visiting in case you need assistance while there.

Make sure to bring all medications with you and, if possible, have extra on-hand as it may not be easy to get the medications you need while away should you run out or accidentally lose a dose. Pack all of your medications together, and if any part of your travel involves flying, take them all in a carry-on so the airline won’t risk losing them if your luggage goes missing.

Save Your Vehicle’s Mileage and Travel in a Rental 

Road trips are a classic American vacation, but they can also put some serious miles and wear on a vehicle. Whether you want to keep the miles off your vehicle, you are looking for something more comfortable and accommodating for the trip, or you require accessibility temporarily due to an individual coming with you, looking into wheelchair vehicle rental is an excellent solution. Southern Bus and Mobility offers a variety of wheelchair-accessible transportation options to keep everyone safe and comfortable on your road trip without the commitment of vehicle purchase.

Make Your Next Road Trip Comfortable for Everyone in a Wheelchair-Accessible Vehicle

Everyone should be able to enjoy a road trip vacation, with or without a wheelchair. Making sure you adequately plan your trip and pack strategically will ensure you have everything you need so all you have to worry about is enjoying the time with family and friends. When you need a vehicle that is comfortable and accessible in a way that meets your unique needs, especially if you love taking road trips, it’s essential to find one that accomplishes this and is affordable for you and your family. Let the knowledgeable staff at Southern Bus and Mobility help you find your perfect accessible road-trip vehicle. Contact a wheelchair vehicle provider or visit one of our area locations today. We are proud to be an NMEDA QAP Certified dealer to offer you invaluable resources and experience in accessible vehicles.

Looking for an easy way to plan ahead for your road trip? Download and print our Preparation Checklist to ensure you have all the essentials.

Download the Preparation Checklist