Travel Guidelines

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Traveling with a disability is hard, no doubt about it. Europe, as well, is not exactly revered for being disability friendly. How do you find the only bathroom you can fit through when you don’t speak the language? (Many of the public restrooms in Europe are gated in order to ensure people pay their Euro before entering; unfortunately the walkway to pass the gates is too narrow for a wheelchair.) What happens when you need to get to a pharmacy because you’re having unsuccessful bowel programs? How do you find the lift to take the train in an unfamiliar station? And how in the world can you enjoy a city square when everything is broken cobblestones?

This difficulties aside, traveling and some international soul searching are experiences that my husband and I need in our lives. I’m fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of Dusty to navigate some of the challenges of traveling, but I’ve also successfully traveled to Greece and Rome on my own.

The term “handicapped accessible” or “disability friendly” comes with expectations dependent on each individual country. How a government anticipate disabled tourists fluctuate throughout the European union and have very different and unique standards. The ability to advertise a hotel or attraction as “disability friendly” might mean accessible bathrooms and barrier-free routes in Spain, but in Greece it may only mean a working lift. Anticipate that what you think of as accessible may not be what that country sees.

Our experiences have affirmed our opinion that Barcelona and Munich have been the easiest cities to navigate, however the airport disability support has been the most thorough throughout all of Spain.

To mitigate some of the above difficulties, I’ve accumulated a few strategies:

  • I wear a Foley catheter when traveling, always. We learned early on that there are never public restrooms close enough when you need them. I always pack an extra Foley, night and day catheter bags, an empty syringe, iodine tabs and a small bottle of sterile water. Carrying these extra supplies is a must; I once had to remove and then insert in a cramped airplane bathroom.
  • While this needs to be cleared with a doctor, I was advised by my doctor to carry laxatives when I travel. Traveling can cause any person to get backed up, but in my experience traveling will always make me nervous about my bowel programs. I make sure to not eat too much bread or dairy while one the go and instead consume 25-30 grams of fiber every day. I also drink 2-3 liters of water. However, I do use pharmaceutical help when needed to ensure that I’m in no danger of autonomic dysreflexia.
  • Call and confirm with lodging that their room is accessible for a wheelchair user. Many times I’ve called and had to cancel because while they had a room labeled accessible, for example, the bathroom could in no way fit a wheelchair.
  • For each attraction that we visit, I plan ahead and simply google “accessible entrance for X” so that when we arrive we know how to enter. Fortunately enough, many of the sites that explain the accessibility of the attraction will also inform you that a disabled persons’ admission is free.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, Dusty and I are hostel-hoppers and we love it. We’re also just dumb kids and I still cry at Pixar movies (but who doesn’t cry at the beginning of Up?).Staying in a hostel is not for everyone. I don’t recommend hostels for families with children unless the hostel specifies family friendly. While there is generally a broad demographic of persons staying at a hostel at any point in time, there is usually a loud bar or restaurant attached to the hostel that can make sleeping a challenge. We enjoy this crowd and have found hostels to be quite accessible, although we only choose to stay in ones that are equipped with lifts. *NOTE: The traditional way to stay in a hostel is to sleep in a bunk bed in a dorm room with a shared bathroom.** The dorm beds are not made for accessibility, although there are other beds that aren’t stacked. We learned through a few fateful, albeit disgusting nights that the dorm life wasn’t for us. We only stay in private, two person rooms in a hostel with our own bathroom. It’s similar to staying in a hotel, except the rooms are quite small and generally have to navigate through the common spaces or bar to get to your room.

Some resources that have been extremely include:

 

Santa Cruz de la Palma, La Palma Canary Islands

Santa Cruz de la Palma, La Palma Canary Islands

 

 

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