For several years, Sebastian Forsén has run Welltrips, a travel agency specializing in trips for people with disabilities. Sebastian himself has a spinal cord injury, and has logged countless miles through his adventures.
"You broaden your perspectives, when you travel," says Sebastian. "You can handle more than you think."
Travel fever struck Sebastian when he voyaged throughout the west coast with friends just a few years after his injury. It was during this period that Sebastian realized what he is capable of, and traveling has been a great passion of his ever since.
Here are some of his best tips for exploring the world with a disability!
Find the right place
Doing some homework ahead of time can help save you from stress throughout your travels, especially when choosing where to visit.
For the times when fun in the sun is on your itinerary, it’s worth researching the beaches you would like to visit. Are there wheelchair ramps? What’s the lifeguard situation like? How is the sand? One beach in Mexico had sand packed densely enough for Sebastian to roll all the way down to the ocean, but this definitely isn’t the case everywhere. Sand can easily go places where you don’t want it! One of Sebastian’s favorite tips is to bring an air mattress with him, so he can lie on the beach and go into the water without any problem.
If exploring new cities is more your style, America has some excellent destinations. "The USA is particularly good for people with disabilities," states Sebastian. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)* ensures that people with disabilities can travel practically anywhere in the USA.”
For those American travelers wanting to add stamps to their passports, Sebastian recommends checking out Germany, the Canary Islands or cities that have hosted Olympic Games. These host cities usually have accessible streets and modes of transportation: Barcelona and London, for example. Otherwise, Europe is a risky bet since conditions may vary widely between the countries.
Knowledge is Power
On his website welltrips.com, Sebastian and his colleagues give tips on what to consider when booking a hotel and flight. They even have a search engine that lists handicapped-accessible hotels in various countries to make things easier for the visitor.
"It is also good to know all of the various abbreviations when you fly," says Sebastian. "For the sake of good order, you should call the company right before departure to confirm that they are prepared to provide the assistance needed."
Abbreviations that are good to know when traveling
- WCHC (cabin): The passenger is completely immobile, requires a wheelchair to and from the airplane, and must be carried up and down stairs and to and from the airplane seat.
- WCHS (steps): The passenger is not capable of getting up or down stairs, but is capable of getting to and from the airplane seat on their own. He or she requires a wheelchair to and from the airplane and must be carried up and down stairs.
- WCHR (ramp): The passenger is capable of getting up and down stairs, and capable of getting to and from the airplane seat on their own. He or she requires a wheelchair to and from the airplane.
Prepare for the Journey
Preparation is key before venturing out! If you are in a wheelchair, many accidents can be prevented by bringing a spare tube for the wheels and a small hand pump for inflating the tires. Both these items can be purchased at your local bike shop.
Packing extra catheters, medication and other essential items in your carry-on is a good idea, just in case your luggage is lost or delayed. Be sure to snag an aisle seat on longer flights, so trips to the bathroom go as smoothly as possible. You can also use a catheter with a collection bag, such as the LoFric Hydro-Kit. You may want to get catheters with a water sachet, especially for visits to countries with poor tap water quality.
*= The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990.