7 Habits of Successful Travelers
By Ashley Lynn Olson, wheelchairtraveling.com
Planning your dream vacation, looking to getaway or just need to travel for business or otherwise? The world is perfectly accessible to everyone, but with the right tools and knowledge, you can prepare for anything. Whether you are looking for leisure or adventure, there is something for all.
1. To the Internet!
Go online! There are a number of sites about accessible travel to help you plan and prepare for a trip. Check out wheelchairtraveling.com for ideas and deals on group, individual, leisure and adventure travel, including hotels, transportation, equipment and more. For instance, the accessible safari company Epic Enable or Seable, which plans tours all over Europe. Check out Access Travel Academy for videos on the A-Z of accessible travel as well as great resources and trips. Love the outdoors? Then be sure to get a golden access Passport for FREE entry into ALL U.S. National Parks, Monuments and Sites. Know where you are going and want to see access? Try using GoogleMaps for a satellite view of parking spots and curb cutouts.
2. Time is of the essence!
People who say (in faux self-deprecation) that "if it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would get done" never flew with a wheelchair. The moral of the story? Don't wait until the last minute! To have a better chance of getting what you need, notify companies of your plans to reserve what you need. There are limited numbers of accessible cruise and hotel rooms, vehicle rentals and aisle chairs at airports to board planes. Notification shifts responsibility off you. Keeping records or who you talked to is also a good idea.
3. Be your own advocate and know your rights. Speak up!
Only you know what works best for you to be comfortable and safe. Know the ADA to know what to expect from companies, or at least the areas of the ADA that directly affect you. Be vocal on communicating what works for you with not only those traveling with you (if not alone) but also those assisting you, and repeat yourself more than once. Use politeness and education as tools of communication rather than hostile anger and accusations. If you see ways to improve accessibility for the next traveler then say something! Don't settle for a representative, speak to a decision maker and even submit your findings to the Department of Justice or the Department of Transportation. Help pave the future. And to be extra safe, get travel insurance.One time, I sent a letter to the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina about access improvements around the city. He applauded my efforts as no one had ever brought such issues to his attention and apparently many of these issues have been improved for the better.
4. Have patience for yourself and your surroundings.
Things go wrong and misunderstandings happen all the time, but don't panic. Do what you can, adapt how you must. For example, if no repair shops are around and you are in need of one, try your luck at a bicycle shop. Use your clever and creative mind to overcome the barrier or find a new way. Life is full of uncertainty, in which humor is your most powerful tool to defuse a situation and keep sane. Don't let barriers dictate your experience.
While traveling in Japan I spent over an hour wheeling to a particular temple only to find the pathway blocked by construction with no accessible detour. Instead of getting upset, I decided to explore the business area that I was in which at first didn't seem like much for a tourist, but then I stumbled upon a Little League World Series Championship game Japan versus the U.S. and ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. Patience is rewarded.
5. Test your limits.
Nothing is perfect, so use your courage to try new things; go a different way; go the long way. You may very likely discover that you are more capable than what you previously thought. Life is an adventure and you are an explorer.
For a birthday celebration, I booked a room at a cute bed and breakfast by the ocean but upon arrival I was told that my room was given away. To make matters even more complicated, a big local event meant all hotels were sold out. The solution? Emergency camping in our accessible van—something we had never done, but it worked! The air mattress fit perfectly in the car as if it were a tent and being high off the ground made it easier for transferring. Now we've been camping numerous times because we know we can make it work!
6. Have the tools and supplies you need.
Don't assume anything. Have your tools and enough medical supplies (includes medicine) to last for an extended stay emergency situation, like planes being grounded due to a storm, and pack all of this in your carry-on. Depending on where you are going, bring extra equipment (like a spare wheelchair) for backup protection and other devices that will improve the quality of your experience. Make it easy on yourself, be prepared.
7. Attitude is everything.
See the beauty of this world. Get lost in people and places. Life alters your plans from time to time, but consider it an unexpected gift; little gems that are found everywhere if you take a moment to stop and see. When you travel, be open to every path and you will see. It is the journey not the destination that is the most fun.
Ashley Lynn Olson's paralysis from a car accident when she was only fourteen has not slowed her down one bit. She loves people and nature and thrives on experiencing the beauty life has to offer no matter where or what season it is. Her not-for-profit, www.wheelchairtraveling.com , is a community for people with limited mobility who are interested in travel, whether it is a far-off destination or a local gem.
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