How to Travel Safely as a Wheelchair User

With restrictions being eased and a range of new rules and regulations throughout the United States, it can be tricky to know how to go about local and distanced travel. Now may not be the time to plan a road trip, nor is it the time to start traveling the world, but whenever you feel safe and ready to get out of the house and plan a short trip, here are some ways to travel more safely. It's best to start small and travel locally, then when you have a good feel for the restrictions and how travel looks, go ahead and plan larger trips.

General Tips

Only consider traveling if your state has reduced restrictions. The restrictions and regulations are often changing, so make sure to follow the guidelines and virus status closely, both in your area and at your destination.

With these new rules and regulations, it's also a good idea to plan a small or short trip first, maybe only a few hours away from your home, to explore how everything is currently working. Being this close to home will give you a new place to enjoy, but also keeps you within a close enough distance that if you have to leave early or if the trip is cancelled, you can return home quickly.

Remember that regulations can change with new outbreak data. You may begin to plan a trip and there could be new guidelines in place within a week or two. With this in mind, trips may take more planning and research. Even if you're visiting a destination you've been to before, you will need to look up the hours of operation and spend some time reading their website or placing a call to learn of new procedures.

1. Socially Distanced Destinations

One of the best ways to travel safely in this new world is to choose socially distanced locations. This means that your destination allows you to keep space between you and the rest of the guests. Some destinations are catering to social distancing, such as resorts limiting the number of guests and keeping outdoor seating separate, but there are some destinations that are naturally good for social distancing.

National parks are a great option because you get to spend time in nature and typically trails and parks have enough space to stay separate from other guests. Many national parks have driving trails or driving loops, which are very wheelchair-friendly and are inherently socially distant, as you're in your own vehicle. National park websites will have lots of information about new regulations and hours of operation, in addition to information about wheelchair accessibility.

Beaches are another good option for social distancing, as many stretches of beach, boardwalks, and other spaces allow you to stay separate from other guests. Visiting the beach may require a beach wheelchair if you want to get in the sand and water, but there's usually a space for dining and a boardwalk of sorts for observing the ocean waves from a close distance. Remember that popular beaches may be very crowded depending on the weather, and that following the necessary social distancing guidelines may be more difficult at some beach locations.

2. Accessible Vacation Rentals

When you're ready for a few days or a weekend away, choosing a wheelchair-accessible vacation rental or cabin is a great alternative to a hotel room. Renting a home or cabin is typically more expensive than a hotel room, but it gives you a lot more space for lounging and relaxing, while keeping everything socially distant and specific to you.

Hotel rooms may be open, but there are several shared spaces like the front desk, lobby, elevators, and dining areas. If you want to reduce your contact with others, a wheelchair-accessible vacation rental is a better social distancing option.

The most common vacation rentals are cabins and beach houses. Both destinations give you new scenery to take in and a different atmosphere than your daily routine. Homes in these locations are often self-contained, giving you a large indoor space and a private outdoor space. Renting the home and staying for a day or two can be a great vacation in itself and may be a viable option for a whole week if your schedule allows. This change in scenery can be quite the retreat and is a great reset from lockdown.

3. Road Trips and Driving

Another place where it can be difficult to stay socially distant is with air travel. The whole process, from arriving at the airport to boarding the plane and arriving at your destination, involves coming into contact with many people. The best way to avoid this is to choose to drive and travel via road trip.

A road cutting through a forest in autumn

A good road trip at this time is visiting another part of your state, a few hours away, or visiting a neighboring state. When choosing a destination, it's a good idea to choose somewhere you can get to in a few hours or within a day's drive. This will save you on making stops and will give you more time at your destination.

If you're choosing to visit a neighboring state, be sure to check the state's travel guidelines as well as any restrictions. Some states my require a 14-day mandatory quarantine to those who are from out of state, which can cancel your quick weekend getaway as you'll have to stay for two weeks before being able to explore the destination or return home.

4. Staycation

A great way to start your travel back up is to explore your home state or city. Choosing a "staycation" gets you out of the house and in the travel mode, while giving you an easier time packing, traveling, and organizing a full trip. You can rent a place within an hour or two of your home with the goal of working through the new travel process, as well as getting away for a change of scenery. Choosing this option saves you some time and research, as you're probably already aware of the current rules and guidelines in your area.

5. Travel Tips

Plan your driving route ahead of time, as you won't want any unnecessary snags once you get on the road. Knowing the route and where you're headed, along with how long the trip should take, will make it easier to enjoy your trip as soon as you leave.

Think about what bathroom breaks and other rest stops may look like. Now that there's a protocol for wearing a mask and washing your hands, rest stop breaks may look different and take more time. Some rest stops may be closed as well, so take this into consideration when choosing a destination.

Pack your own food for a picnic while you're on the road. This will save you time and will make it easier to stay socially distant during your drive. Bringing your own food reduces who you come into contact with and also allows you to eat on the move, as opposed to having to find a good place to stop. You may want to also bring meals or groceries to your destination, as grocery shopping can be time-consuming as well.

Always have masks on hand, especially when entering a new state. As rules and regulations change, you'll want to be prepared for anything. Having masks, either cloth or disposable, along with hand sanitizer will ensure you're ready for any unexpected stops or contact with others. While traveling, it's best to assume the regulation is to wear a mask at all times and be prepared to wear your mask any time you're outside of your vehicle or temporary residence.

Before you book your trip, do your research to understand the current state and local rules at your destination. Remember that regulations can change at any time, so it's better to wait to travel if you're unsure about quarantine protocol or the current virus status.

Safe travel is possible, but it should only be done when you feel safe and prepared to do so. Choosing to travel with social distancing in mind, such as a short road trip to a cabin or beach rental, is a great way to get out of the house, explore a new place, and take some time to retreat and relax. Travel and vacations may be slower and more deliberate, but this pace may be just what you need to take a break and enjoy the view.

About the Author

Cory Lee

After being diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of two, Cory Lee's thirst for adventure never ceased. He went on many trips around the U.S. when he was younger, and then started taking things internationally when he turned 15. Since then, Cory has traveled to 21 countries across six continents, all while managing to start up his travel blog Curb Free with Cory Lee, where he shares his accessible, and sometimes not-so-accessible travel adventures with others. Cory is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). He has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, in a nationwide segment for CBS News, Lonely Planet, and many others. His blog won the 2017 Best Travel Blog Gold Lowell Thomas Award. He hopes to inspire other wheelchair users to roll out of their comfort zone and see all of the beauty that the world has to offer.

Cory Lee's ride is a Quickie QM-710.

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Date: 9/8/2020 12:00:00 AM

Rebecca Gardner
Thanks for explaining how it makes things easier to rent a home or cabin that's wheelchair accessible. Additionally, it's a good idea to find a rental van that's handicap-accessible if you'll be flying to your destination. This way, both transportation and lodging will be as simple as possible for your family.
5/10/2021 11:58:13 AM

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