Getting around the world with a wheelchair is a unique experience and sometimes not for the faint of heart. Most of us know what does and does not work in our local communities, and travelling throws that all up in the air. However, when you consider the risks versus the rewards, travelling is worth all of the inevitable dramas.
When I travel, I try to think ahead (where possible) and research what it is I am about to embark upon. Taking my electric wheelchair is obviously my first choice but sometimes a manual chair opens up the travel destination. When I go on a longer trip I will take both my wheelchairs, which allows me to choose on the day what one will make my trip more accessible.
For those of us willing to get off the beaten track a little, there are many adventures to be had that are waiting in this wonderful world of ours. My biggest travel tip for going around the world with a wheelchair is to work out the transport from the airport to your accommodation as a priority, stay central to major cities, and go from there.
Here are some of the modes of transport I have used as I travelled around the world with a wheelchair. Some of them have been amazing for access, and some might be best left to the more adventurous wheelie traveller.
Metro Monorail in Dubai
Dubai is always worth a stopover. I have been to Dubai a few times, mostly using taxis despite the difficulties, and the last time I thought I would try something different. The Metro monorail line gets you to all the major touristy spots and it’s cheap as well. I would consider it accessible for all modes. Find out more.
Motorbike with Sidecar in Paris
Paris is beautiful, but it can be tricky for a wheelchair user to get around. The public buses are accessible, but if you want to try something different, check out the motorbikes with sidecars. You will need to transfer into the cart, but it is stable and supportive once you’re in. An amazing experience! Find out more.
City Bus in London
When travelling I always look for ways to travel like a local. All public buses in London are accessible and a great way to get around. Get an Oyster pass and explore this incredible city. Find out more.
Hot Air Ballooning in Albuquerque, USA and on the Gold Coast, Australia
I first did a hot air balloon ride on a Contiki tour in Albuquerque. I loved it! But it was a small balloon and I had to bump my manual chair into the basket and stand up (weight bearing). Here in Australia, as a Gold Coast local, I was thrilled to hear that Go Ballooning now offers a huge 20-passenger balloon, with room and support for wheelies to stay in electric chairs.
It’s best if you have a chair with a lift function, but if you don’t, try propping yourself up with a few cushions. Tell Murray I sent you (or, better still, invite me – they can accommodate up to four wheelies at a time). Find out more.
Eurail in Europe
This is a fantastic way to get around Europe, and you can do it from the comfort of your wheelchair. There are various passes on offer; I recommend getting a first class ticket, as it’s a minimal extra cost. If you get in touch ahead of time (and persist!), your companion may travel with you for free. Find out more.
Snowmobile in Japan
I went to Japan with my school many years ago and they worried the snow would be boring for me. We hired a snowmobile, and it was amazing! The fun I had was well worth the transfer on to it. Find out more.
Helicopter in Hawaii
I have done many tours in helicopters (I’ll even be skydiving out of one soon!). Choppers are a great way to access amazing views; however, transferring into them can be tough, especially for the assistant. Blue Hawaii Tours have a chair lift to help you into your supportive seat, and they’re affordable. Find out more.
Skyrail in Switzerland
I’ve travelled on Skyrails all around the world – Cairns, Barcelona, New Zealand – and all of them have had a wider berth cart for wheelies. Switzerland offers something special: catch the cart up, and come back down the world’s steepest funicular railway. You’ll never forget these views! Find out more.
Black Cabs in the UK
Nothing will make you feel like you’re in the UK like a black taxi, all of which are now accessible by law. Headroom is a bit tight, but manageable. In Liverpool, you can do a half-day Beatles tour in a black cab, and see all the Beatles landmarks. Find out more.
Maid of the Mist Boat in Niagara Falls
When you see this wonder of the world you must experience her sheer force. What better way to do that but ride at the front of a boat getting right to the base? Make sure you have an extra poncho to cover your electrics though! Find out more.
Contiki Tours Worldwide
I have joined four Contiki tours and I have made many friends along the way. As a company, Contiki will offer some support (e.g.chair storage, and advice on possible challenges), but if you need muscle and day-to-day assistance it’s best to bring your own. That said, I’m a firm believer in natural support and I have found it on every Contiki tour I’ve done. Find out more.
When you think about “accessible transport”, skydiving might not come to mind, but if you’re a daredevil and you want to give it a go, it’s definitely an option! The skydiving community is amazing, and there are instructors all over the world who love taking wheelies – Dubai, Switzerland, the USA, and even Egypt (over the Pyramids). Find out more.
There are many options available for getting around the world with a wheelchair, as long as you have a thick skin and a sense of adventure. Don’t be afraid to get creative and get out of your comfort zone. Travelling the world in a chair can be challenging, but I encourage you to give it a go – the only limit is your imagination!
Follow Marlena Katene’s adventures around the world with a wheelchair on her Youtube channel.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.