Wheeling around the World

Posted by Curran Brown in Life After Paralysis on September 23, 2022 # EmpowHer Stories

In 2018, I had just graduated college from the University of Illinois and moved back home. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next in life, but I knew I wasn’t ready to settle down, and I always had the urge to travel the world. In 2020, I got accepted to pursue my master’s in London. I packed up my life in two duffel bags, one for clothes and the other packed with as many catheters and disability essentials I could fit, and I boarded my one-way flight. Once I got settled, traveling Europe was my main priority, after school, of course. Here are some of the things I learned to do to prepare for traveling to different countries.

Choosing a Destination

When choosing where to travel, I look at the layout of the city I want to visit. Many European cities are old, with narrow streets and cobblestone everywhere, and the accessibility of restaurants, attractions, and bars is questionable. Recently I have noticed some major cities have made websites strictly around the accessibility of the city. There are also travel blogs about accessible travel. Research the accessibility of attractions you’d like to go to ahead of time as well. I think the best and quickest way to get answers is by just calling them or emailing them. You can also check if attractions have reduced prices for people with disabilities, and sometimes you can even get an additional ticket for free for a caregiver or someone to come with you.

Transportation

Public transport is another important part of travel. If the city is hilly or has cobblestones everywhere, it can make exploring the city by wheels challenging, so knowing what type of accessible transport exists allows you to have more freedom. Many buses now have a ramp and wheelchair space. Using the subway/metro/train can be a bit more tricky because a lot of stations may not be accessible. If you plan on using the metro/subway/train, check online or ask someone for a map of all the stations that are accessible. I have encountered some cities that have reduced prices for people with a disability as well.

Airport Shenanigans

In Europe, airports come in all shapes and sizes, and requesting assistance can be confusing. Make sure you have a tag to gate check your wheelchair BEFORE you go through security. This is typically done at check-in, but it’s best to also confirm with the staff at the gate right before you board. Before arriving at the airport, research the accessibility service so you know how and where to request assistance. Most airports I used in Europe had stairs to get onto the plane, so people with wheelchairs typically had to be escorted a different way. I personally do not bother picking my seat because they usually move me to the seat closer to the door for easier access with the aisle chair. Also, if you travel with any type of medical equipment/supplies, you’re allowed to check those bags or carry them on free of charge. This needs to be set up in advance, so check with your airline to see what process they require.

Accommodations

As a college student, I travel on a budget, and I’m not able to afford the newer luxury hotels that are accessible. Hostels are affordable and convenient when traveling Europe, but it can be hard to find accessible hostels. I use HostelWorld or Booking.com to find a hostel because both websites have a filter for wheelchair-friendly options. I also look for hostels that are a chain in multiple cities, and I have noticed those tend to be more accessible. I always call a hostel or hotel so I can verbally explain what my needs are and see if their building is appropriate.

There is a lot of research and planning involved in travel, and not everything is going to be easy, but don’t let that discourage you. In my opinion, travel is the best form of therapy, and everyone should be allowed to experience travel in an accessible manner.

Curran Brown was born & raised in the sweet peach state, Georgia. Curran is currently pursuing a master’s degree in London, England to become an occupational therapist. When not studying, Curran plays wheelchair basketball with East London Phoenix. Curran loves traveling to new places, seeing live music, art, and making memories with family and friends.

Curran wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.