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Before you go: Accessible travel tips

by Bruce Mumford, Australia.

Bruce with his family at Antwerp Station in Belgium, while holidaying in Europe

It's important for anyone to get organized for a trip overseas, but when you've got a disability it's essential!

Here's some tips:

Make sure you take plenty of any medication you may need. Never try to buy it overseas. It will be enormously expensive, or may not be available. Get a covering letter from your doctor and make sure the airline is aware. Needles are OK in the hold, but if you need to take them as cabin luggage, you'll need to make special arrangements.

You also need to choose a good airline and inform them of your special needs. We've tried some cut-price airlines and a few wobbly luggage hoists and tarmac steps later I can tell you it ain't worth it! Contact the airline well ahead to arrange seating. We found the best place was up the very back, right near the toilets.

Almost all airlines will take your wheelchair for free (that includes electric ones). You'll need to arrive at check-in a bit earlier to book it in and to get a wheelchair for use at the airport. Ask for a staff member to help you through to the plane. This has the added advantage of giving you quick checking through customs. You'll be put in an "aisle chair", which is a wheelchair narrow enough to get you down to your seat on the plane and you'll get taken to your seat first. Unfortunately this also means that you'll be last to get off, but don't worry; with the VIP service through customs you'll be first at the luggage carousel! And ask for staff help all the way through as it will make things much easier and quicker.

When traveling if you have a disability, it's very important to book ahead. Unfortunately your days of just dropping into a town and grabbing somewhere to stay on the spur of the moment are over. We started booking accommodation almost a year prior and the internet is a wonderful (and cheap) tool for this.

Don't rely on those 'wheelchair friendly' access symbols because sometimes they've been put there for no apparent reason. Contact the owners directly by email and check on steps, space inside rooms, doorway width, safety rails, bathroom configuration and accessibility generally. (In fact, I could write a book on motel rooms - I have quite a list of practical suggestions for improving them for travellers with disability!) In general, I found it's better to exaggerate rather than downplay your level of disability. That way you're less likely to end up somewhere unsuitable. I've been to quite a few "fairly accessible" places that were pretty well impossible for someone with moderate disability.

You'll want travel insurance; if only to cover any medical emergencies. We had to pay a little more to cover my "pre-existing condition", but it wasn't at all hard to get. Most insurance companies will be happy to cover for everything apart from your illness!

If you suffer from incontinence, for men I'd strongly recommend wearing a leg bag as it takes away a lot of the pressure of trying to find a toilet in time.

If you've got someone happy to push, I've found a manual wheelchair, rather than an electric one, much less hassle to take on a trip.

Don't forget your disabled parking pass if you've got one. I've tried to organise passes for other countries, but they never eventuated. So we just used our Australian sticker and had no problems at all.

And don't be afraid to say you could do with help. It's taken me a while to work this out, but most places are set up to cater for people with disability and are only too happy to help if given notice. You might be pleasantly surprised and even find yourself at the front of the queue for once!

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