Tips for the New Wheelchair Traveler

Wanting to travel but have a spinal cord injury and use a wheelchair full time? Nervous of ending up with a room that doesn’t work? Worried there won’t be things to enjoy because of your injury? 

I can’t speak for everyone’s situations and won’t be able to list everything I’ve learned or experienced but I hope that I can provide some assistance to others who are looking to travel or who may be nervous about trying it after their injury.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to some gorgeous islands, many US States, and have experienced some amazing adventures.

My name is Doug and I was injured at the age of 13 and am going on 23 years of being a T11/12 complete paraplegic and full-time manual chair user.  I’m engaged to my fiancé, Kari, and we have dated over 3 years and have traveled a lot together in just a short period of time. Growing up I also had the experience of being close with my uncle who is a C3-4 quadriplegic so I realize how lucky I am to be able to make things work for me that may not work for others. However, it does give me a little bit of a different perspective when trying to give the best advice to others that may have questions or when I’m reviewing destinations and activities.

Planning is most important and can be very time consuming! As wheelchair users we’re unable to book just any room, cabin, or condo, and it can take hours, days, or even weeks of research depending on the trip.  We enjoy very unique Airbnbs, such as treehouses and domes, as well as exotic beach destinations.  Fortunately, I can even make a non-accessible place work but figuring out if it works at all is still sometimes difficult. Are the doors wide enough? Will there be enough room to get to the toilet and shower? Is the rest of the resort accessible? These are all questions we ask the property owner, hotel or the travel agent we use when booking all-inclusive resorts. It definitely takes time and effort but alleviates the worry and likelihood of getting to another state or country and not being able to use the bathroom or amenities, let alone enjoy ourselves. We’ve ended up in another country and during check-in they tried making the room accessible but made it even worse. As it turned out, a non-accessible room actually worked out better. More on that specific vacation to Jamaica and the accessibility on where we stayed coming in another one of my guest blog posts!

Preparation and packing are next! We prepare for the worst and always hope for the best. I usually keep medications on hand but especially when traveling out of the country. I consult with my doctor prior to traveling and get prescriptions for “just in case” circumstances, such as UTIs. This would depend on your own personal experiences and require the appropriate planning.  For other medical supplies, such as catheters and gloves, I always pack extra just in case I miss a flight or get stranded a few extra days.  I also take a standard catheter that, if needed in an emergency, can be reused in addition to the closed system I use that’s more convenient and disposable. Read on for even more details about flying with your extra supplies. Personally, I’d rather have to carry a little extra weight back than to end up running out of a necessity. A folding shower chair has become a regular item when traveling for basketball tournaments!  Since there may be several teams at one hotel and only a small number of accessible rooms plus a limited availability for shower chairs, traveling with a portable one I found on Amazon comes in handy.  It’s not the most accessible chair but, as a para, I can make do. There are better ones available if needed but they take up more space and aren’t as easy to tote around. 

Method of transportation is the next important factor; driving, flying or taking a cruise? 

⦁ Driving takes less planning of course.  We can just enter our destination into Google Maps and be on our way!  

⦁ When flying, things require more planning and thought. We try to get direct flights if it’s possible and affordable. It’s worth a little more money to avoid an extra ride in an aisle chair and reduce risk of damaging or losing your chair.  *knocking on wood* I’ve had zero issues with my chair on any flight but I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories! We know it’s a possibility but we don’t let that stop us from living! If you do choose a flight with a layover, give yourself time to make it. Remember you’re the first on and last off on a flight, so a 45-minute layover is pushing it (pun intended) and you may end up looking like the McCallister’s trying to get to your next terminal. That was us in Texas last year but, luckily, we made our connection. When flying, we pack differently as well because you might lose a piece of luggage and not know for how long.  So we each pack extra supplies into our carry-ons, each piece of luggage and our backpacks! This way, you’ll always have at least a few days’ worth of supplies that can’t get lost if they’re on you.  

Cruises are easily accessible, have much larger cabins for wheelchair users and are very accommodating.  You will need to check your scheduled ports to determine how or if you’re able to easily get on/off during your stops and research accessible resources available, such as beach chairs, tours, etc.  I know it can be much different when using a power chair and that would need to be accounted for before booking as well.  

Lastly, be safe, enjoy yourself, try new things and don’t let any minor setbacks ruin your attitude.  Flipping out or being rude never helps.  Stay calm, be kind, look for a solution and have fun! We keep an open mind and, although we would love to have amazing accessibility everywhere we go, we don’t expect it and we work around whatever is needed. We do try to pass along any tips or suggestions in hopes it makes the next person’s experience better. Until next time, live life to the fullest and start researching your next vacation! Several great accessible ideas to come!


Doug Galica

My name is Doug Galica, I was injured in a hunting accident at the age of 13 and have been a T11/12 Complete paraplegic for going on 23 years. I currently work as a Patent Classification Specialist under a contract for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  I enjoy traveling with my fiancé, playing basketball, hunting, fishing, snow skiing, and numerous other hobbies. It hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been worth the work. 

Doug is on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube!