8 Wheelchair Travellers Share How They Pack and Travel All over the World

It’s no secret that a wheelchair makes packing a bit more complicated, but that doesn’t need to stop you from traveling!

To inspire more wheelchair users to travel and to improve everyone’s packing, we have talked with 8 experienced wheelchair travelers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (all 8 have lots of travel experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

The 8 Wheelchair Travelers

Sylvia Longmire
I am originally from South Florida and I currently live in Orlando. I’m a Service disabled Air Force veteran, and I’ve had multiple sclerosis for over 12 years. I’ve been using a wheelchair full-time for approximately four years. I work full-time as a consultant, accessible travel writer, and accessible travel agent. My favorite travel destinations are Europe and Singapore.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

As a wheelchair/scooter user, I’m sitting down all the time. The scooter I travel with isn’t as comfortable as my chair at home, so I have to bring a memory foam cushion so I’m comfortable while I’m out and about. As a travel blogger, I also bring a variety of tools to capture moments, including a drone and gimbal for my phone. I always laugh when I see the variety of neck pillows that people bring for long-haul flights, as most of them are incredibly useless and uncomfortable.

How do you bring things with you?

Since I usually travel by myself and can’t walk, I have a very specific set up for my bags. I bring only one suitcase with for spinner wheels so I can pull it alongside my scooter with one hand. I have a backpack that I strap to the seat of my scooter with my electronics and medications. I have a theft resistant shoulder pack where I carry my currency and passport. Finally, I have my purse where I keep my glasses, wallet, cell phone, etc. I travel so much that I know exactly how much room I’m going to have in my bags on my return trip after buying souvenirs.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

Most wheelchair users travel with a companion, but even with the extra set of hands, I think learning to pack light is an incredibly useful skill. We have enough things to worry about with our wheelchairs and medical equipment!

Overpacking is definitely the biggest mistake I see other wheelchair travelers making, although it’s easy to think that everything is absolutely essential just in case something bad happens while we’re traveling.

My recommendations for getting out the door is to do all the research possible on your destination, start small by traveling to a city or state nearby before going overseas, and seek out the help of an accessible travel professional to get you started.

Visit Sylvia Longmire ‘s website

Karin Willison
I was born in Florida, and grew up in the Midwest. I moved to California for 20 years and then recently returned to the Midwest. I’ve had cerebral palsy since birth and use a power wheelchair. My favorite travel destination is New York City, because I love theatre and museums.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

I bring a wheelchair battery charger, which is about the size of a power brick for a laptop computer. I had to find it myself because my first power wheelchair came with a massive, heavy charger and no one told me smaller ones existed. Now thanks to the internet, it’s easy and affordable to buy a small charger for travel.

For hotel rooms, I bring my own hand held shower wand with an extra long hose. I can use this to wash my hair in the sink and do other quick cleanup on the go.

Sometimes I bring a twin air mattress, because I travel with a personal assistant and it can be difficult to find a wheelchair accessible hotel room with a roll in shower and two beds. Some hotels have rollaway beds, but I’ve had others refuse to provide one and claim it’s due to fire codes.

I try not to judge what others bring when traveling as useless, because they may need different things than I do. Also, it can be a matter of trial and error to figure out what you need and don’t need when traveling with a disability.

How do you bring things with you?

I mostly road trip, so I don’t worry about whether bags are carry-on size or not. Typically, I carry three bags: an overnight bag, a regular suitcase, and a bedding bag. I also carry a bag of food for my service dog. I use a small gym bag when I’m stopping for a single night at a hotel on the road, so I don’t have to bring everything for my whole trip inside. It contains a change of clothes, my toiletries, a small plastic bag of food for my dog and her favorite tennis ball.

I don’t have a particular favorite brand of suitcase, but I recommend getting a spinner suitcase with four wheels. These are easier to push when you use a wheelchair, and they tend to stay upright instead of tipping over. Inside the suitcase is where the real magic happens. I’m a big fan of packing cubes and folders. I put together outfits in advance and then place them into Eagle Creek packing folders. I typically have two packing folders in the suitcase, one with dressier clothes and one with more casual. I usually decide ahead of time what I’m going to wear each day.

I use packing cubes for sleeping clothes, extra pants, socks and underwear. My favorite cubes are from REI because they have great compression, but the Eagle Creek ones are nice also. I also put my shoes in a packing cube, not compressed of course. I have enough room most of the time, and if I don’t it’s a sign I’m trying to bring too much stuff.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

I am not too good at taking my own advice about packing light. I love clothes and I don’t like wearing the same outfit lots of times during a trip, even if I can do laundry. But here are a few suggestions:

Jeans take up a lot of space in your suitcase. Don’t bring too many of them. Instead, choose lightweight pants and/or skirts.

Bring clothing you can mix and match. I tend to bring a few pairs of black and blue comfortable pants and dress pants. If you find you need to change clothing unexpectedly, you’re more likely to have something left that will match. I usually bring patterned tops and solid pants, but sometimes I’ll switch it up and bring colorful leggings with mostly solid dresses and tunics. Try to pick a color palette or two and bring groups of items that match each other. For example, I’m often told I look good in jewel tones, so I will bring a few shirts and tunics in teal and purple, then match them with black pants. If I feel like also bringing something red, it will work with black pants too.

If you’re not sure about the weather, bring layering options. I have a pretty black cardigan with lace trim that I always take with me. It can be worn over a dress or blouse and looks great in professional or casual situations.

Definitely don’t try to pack like everyone else. Your needs are your needs, and you may feel you need to bring more clothing or an extra supply of medical or bathroom products. Sometimes I have to remind myself there are stores where I’m going, and if I forget something, it’s not the end of the world. But I do find it easier to have everything on hand and not have to go shopping for necessities. Obviously this becomes even more important when traveling to a remote area or another country.

Don’t hold yourself back by worrying about everything that could go wrong. It’s important to plan in advance and think about potential challenges you may face, but don’t let fear stop you from getting out there and enjoying all the beauty and excitement travel has to offer.

Visit Karin Willison’s website

Laura Moore
My son, William age 9, is a wheelchair user as he has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. We live in in Worthing, West Sussex, Uk. Our two favourite places to travel to are Naples, Florida and Mallorca.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

We bring a very expensive, specialist car seat for my son to sit on in the plane as he can’t sit on the seats independently. We also bring a lot of mediation and nappies (diapers). These are all essential items.

How do you bring things with you?

We use suitcases, the strongest but lightest we can find. We don’t travel light so usually have at least five suitcases between the three of us and 5/6 pieces of hand luggage.

The hardest part is carrying all of these while pushing a wheelchair.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

My main tip would be with regards to keeping your wheelchair safe on the plane. Print off a large a4 size label/ sign, which says “this is my wheelchair, it’s really important and without it I cannot go anywhere, so please take good care of it” or something along those lines and add your photo on it. Make it personal so that the baggage handlers can see the user and will not throw it and damage it.

Visit Laura Moore’s website

Jim Parsons
We live on Bainbridge Island Washington, just a 30 minutes ferry boat ride from Seattle. we’re currently in the Phoenix area where we come each year for a couple months. I’ve been in a wheelchair for 50 years but travel everywhere, to five continents and almost 40 countries. We love Hawaii but recent trip to South America and New Zealand have been fabulous.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

Most important items include packing light, a lightweight folding chair and any medical supplies I need. A folding chair is key since is can be stowed within a plane (not sent to baggage) and can fit in the trunk of a taxi.

How do you bring things with you?

Just a regular Tumi suitcase. I carry my own bags so I have attached an inexpensive carrier fold-out onto the wheelchair leg rests. I also carry a small Tumi travel bag for all medical supplies I may need for a few days (in the event my main suitcase gets lost).

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

Watch my video on travel trips which includes equipment and packing guide.

Visit Jim Parsons’ website

Alan Chaulet
I am from Paris, France. I am in Massachusetts now. I am in a wheelchair because of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. My favorite travel destination is Europe.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

  • My Urinal
  • My Hoyer Lift Sling
  • My transfer sheets

These things help me become independent and comfortable in the hotel room.

How do you bring things with you?

I like to have a carry on bag. I have someone help me pack everything. I have just enough room.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

Plan ahead and imagine how your travel will be. I see many wheelchair travelers bring too many things they won’t ever need and it just makes everything tougher. Pack the bare necessities.

Visit Alan Chaulet’s website

Carrie-Ann Lightley
I live in the Lake District, UK with my husband Darren and our little dog, Poppy. I love to travel, to the next town or somewhere far away. I’m an organiser, a planner, and a list maker. Researching new places to go is what I love to do, and it’s also been part of my role as Information Service Manager at Tourism for All for the last 12 years.

I have Cerebral Palsy, which means I use a wheelchair. I was brought up to believe that there is nothing I absolutely cannot do – there is always a way. I launched my blog www.carrieannlightley.com as my way of sharing that belief with the world, and celebrating accessible businesses that go above and beyond to make sure that everybody enjoys their holidays and travels. My favourite travel destination is Rome. Rome isn’t an easy city for someone with mobility requirements to visit, but it’s worth the effort. Ancient Rome has an abundance of cobbled streets, so prepare for a bumpy ride with beautiful sights everywhere you look, vibrant culture and magnificent food.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

  • Stickers to label and mobility equipment as fragile and essential – so that it is handled sensitively in transit.
  • Downloaded or printed resources about the accessibility of the place I’m visiting – information is power for a disabled traveller.
  • A clip-on travel bag that sits under my wheelchair, to keep travel documents, money and valuables safe when I’m out and about.

How do you bring things with you?

Clip-on wheelchair bag as mentioned above, rucksack custom made to hang on the back of my wheelchair and a cabin-sized wheely case. I keep valuables in the clip-on bag, things I need handy in the rucksack and everything else in the case. Between these three bags I have enough room.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

First things first – you need to pick a destination. Give some thought to how accessible the environment, terrain and local area will be; it’s wise not to choose somewhere with steep hills or very rough terrain if you’re using a manual wheelchair. Weather is an important factor too – if you struggle in very hot or cold temperatures, be sure to consider this before booking your getaway. Once you’ve settled on the perfect destination, it’s time to consider your choice of accommodation.

Do some thorough research to establish whether your chosen hotel (or equivalent) can accommodate everything you need – ensure there are lifts, flat walkways and available aids and assistance to make your stay much more comfortable. There’s simply no way you should travel without insurance. When heading abroad with a disability there’s a few more things that could go wrong, and without insurance you could be facing some hefty costs if you need to repair mobility equipment or access healthcare.

When packing for your trip, be sure to bring the things that’ll make the journey there much more comfortable. Plane journeys aren’t always the most fun even for non-disabled passengers, and with the extra considerations you may require, you could be in more of a predicament. Don’t be scared to simply ask others for help if you’re in need. More often than not, regardless of where you are in the world, the locals are friendly and willing to assist you as much as possible. Look in advance to see just how to get around in your destination. Are there dedicated methods of accessible transport? Buses and trains are usually good options, as are trams – but make sure it’s easy to get around with the challenge of different terrain or obstacles that could make it difficult.

Visit Carrie-Ann Lightley’s website

Esther De Wildeman
I am originally from Belgium but live in Barcelona. I am not in a wheelchair myself but when my father-in-law Keith came visiting us in his wheelchair, in 2013, he inspired me to build Mucho Gusto Travel, an inclusive travel agency dedicated to Spain. I love Barcelona and the Spanish coast lines, the food, the weather and the tranquility of the people.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

I advise travelers to bring this:

  • Their smartphone and install the app Maps to Go, this way you don’t rely on internet to find your way through the city.
  • A blanket for when a harsh unexpected wind starts to come up, it can really feel comfortable in the wheelchair.
  • A water spray for face and feet; it can relieve you so much

How do you bring things with you?

Just normal suitcases, Samsonite is a good brand.

By not packing too much stuff that you can actually easily get on the spot, you will feel comfortable.

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

  • Don’t be afraid to rely on services on the location to give you extra comfort. In Spain, you can rent a hoist, a power scooter, a handbike… And 99 percent of these service providers really care about your happiness and satisfaction. No need to bring too much.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the hotel more than you initially would. They can reserve tickets; call an adapted taxi company in Spanish, give you an umbrella or a kettle. People are there to help and make your holidays run smoothly.

Visit Esther De Wildeman’s website

Julie Jones
We live in Sydney, Australia and it is my son BJ who is the wheelchair user in our family. He lives with cerebral palsy and uses both a manual and power wheelchair but travels with the manual one. We love visiting the USA but also love many areas in Australia too.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all travelers bring?

We travel with a wheelchair repair kit, which has helped when something has gone wrong with our son’s wheelchair saving time on the road. We hate wasting travel hours chasing up repairs. When travelling domestically we take our son’s beach wheelchair which means we can access any beach we fancy and we’re not restricted to patrol hours.

We love the freedom of choice and liberation of taking a walk on the sand any time of the day. A power board is something we really need with multiple cameras, devices and a GoPro to recharge every day. We also sometimes travel with off-road tyres, which help us include our son in more unusual experiences like taking bush walks or navigating a rocky track.

People usually travel with too many clothes……just in case.

How do you bring things with you?

We travel with multiple bags, which are mostly the Antler brand. I like soft suitcases as I think they last longer and less prone to breakage. Our family organize the contents of our suitcases using packing cells of various sizes and colours to distinguish each person’s gear. We also have a Nike backpack for day tripping with multiple compartments, which makes it easier to find everything. We never have enough room in our bags but that has more to do with my love of shopping than the suitcases!

What are your top tips for other wheelchair travelers?

A basic repair kit is a must when travelling. We also think it’s wise to put a laminated sign on your wheelchair advising bag handlers how to operate the chair. We feel this helps with the safe arrival of a chair at its destination. We recommend removing, and carrying as hand luggage, any removable arm rests or cushions. Communicate well with the airline when booking to ensure they know the dimensions of your wheelchair and your needs.

If you’re new to travelling with a wheelchair, start local and work out what makes a good vacation for you. Once you’ve done that, start travelling further afield but always research and plan well for the best chance of a successful trip.

Visit Julie Jones’ website

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