When In Spain… On Wheelz: Planning A Wheelchair Accessible European Vacation
My personal guide to planning a wheelchair accessible vacation in Barcelona and Madrid. Each week, I will post a new blog post discussing a new topic, leading into my departure on March 2019. I will end the four-part series with my final post detailing my entire vacation in Spain, including all activities and experiences.
Part I: Selecting the cities of interest, the flight and the luggage
In the past few years, my passport stamp fever has taken me to Mexico, St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos, just to name a few. However, I have been told that you haven’t traveled until you have visited Europe. Well, in 2018 I decided to take the leap into un-chartered territory and plan my first wheelchair accessible trip to Europe. I originally wanted to visit Paris, France, since before I can even remember I have been infatuated with visiting, but after some research, I quickly learned Paris is not as accessible for wheelchair users as many would would assume.
Despite it being a major tourist location, it has been very slow to modernizing their facilities and services to those with reduced mobility. So due to this unfortunate discovery, I decided to switch up my travel plans and go to Spain! To my pleasant surprise, Spain is viewed as one of the most wheelchair accessible countries in Europe and continues to challenge the barriers for those who require modified services.
My plans were set, in March 2019 myself and a couple of my friends would visit Spain for 8 days, venturing to Barcelona and Madrid. I have decided to document my planning and travel to Spain in a 4-part series, When in Spain… On Wheelz. Each week leading up to my departure on March 6, 2019, I will post a new blog post discussing a new topic, ending the series with the final post that will detail my entire trip in Spain.
Part II: When in Spain… On Wheelz — Securing Wheelchair Accessible Hotels, Transportation and Activities.Part III: When In Spain… On Wheelz — What to pack, What to rent for your mobility and medical needs.Part IV: When In Spain… On Wheelz — CanCanTakesOnSpain.
As many of you know from previous travel posts, I travel with my personal caregiver and this trip would be no different. As usual, I would be covering my caregiver’s flight, hotel and any excursion/ activity cost that would require her attendance and/or assistance.
Due to this, I was determined to purchase my flight well in advance, as flights in general can be a huge expense for anyone traveling. Thankfully, I was able to find two flights on Google Flights for under $1000.00 (including me pre-selecting my seats) on Norwegian Airlines. This would be my first time flying with Norwegian Air, so I was skeptical of what my experience would be but thankfully, my friend who is also going on the trip reassured me that Norwegian Air was good.
One of the main reasons for booking this particular flight was obviously the price, but also, my departure flight is a non-stop from LAX to Barcelona, Spain, and my return flight has one stop in London, England. In general, people are not fans of layovers, but as a wheelchair user, layovers are the worst. With the multiple transfers, and the great possibility of your wheelchair, which is stored in the undercarriage of the plane with the luggage, not making it on your connecting flight or being damaged in the process, I always prefer a non-stop flight.
If a non-stop flight is not possible, I try very hard to make sure my connecting city/country is primarily English speaking, especially when I’m traveling international. When traveling with a wheelchair or other modified items, it is instructed by the airline for you to provide instructions on how to operate your devices. I usually type up step-by-step instructions in both English and the local language (with the help of Google Translate), laminate it and tape it my wheelchair/device.
Unfortunately, no matter how much preparation you have done, nothing is foolproof and in the event your instructions are lost, not translating properly or your device is lost, if you are connecting in a country/city that is English speaking or your primary language, you will have an easier experience trying to retrieve your items or communicate your needs. Traveling is already stressful, so if you can find ways to eliminate possible issues, especially regarding your mobility or mobility devices, do it!
Once the flight is booked, it was time to select seats. On Norwegian, you can pay extra to select you preferred seats or you can have them selected at the time of check-in. Well in my limited flying experience as a wheelchair user, I have learned that if you can’t fly first class, at least get a seat close to the front of the plane. Unlike other transportation services, where there are designated areas for wheelchair or reduced mobility passengers, airplanes are not set-up that way and trying to get to the middle or back of the plane in the airline seat chair (see picture above), down the teeny, tiny aisle is brutal.
So in an effort to ease my discomfort, I decided to pre-select my seats before all the good options were taken. I selected seats within the first 25 rows of the plane. On certain airlines, the seats that are closer to the restroom provide a bit more room. The total cost for pre-selecting my seats for my nurse and I cost approximately $200.00. If you aren’t in the financial position to pre-pay for your seats, I would suggest arriving early to your flight and asking the airline counter representative if they may be able to accommodate a closer seat to the front, sometimes they may have some flexibility. For short flights this may not be an issue but for long flights, well you may want to consider all your options when it comes to your comfort in the air.
Upon booking my flight and confirming my seats, I begin looking for hotels in Barcelona and Madrid, which I will discuss in more detail in my upcoming blog post Part II: When in Spain on Wheelz — Securing Wheelchair Accessible Hotels, Transportation and Activities. During my hotel search, I quickly realized I needed luggage. Despite my recent travels, I have never purchased a real set of luggage; that needed to change asap.
Living in Long Beach, CA in a quaint one-bedroom, closet space is at a premium and mine was currently at its max. So I needed to find something that could store easily and efficiently, but also be durable for real travel. After much research and contemplation, I decided I wanted to purchase a hardside luggage set. I needed two pieces (one large and one carry-on) that could store away as one piece (nesting style), it must have four durable spinner wheels, have the ability to expand on the sides, securely lock and be a vibrant color so that it wouldn’t be lost in the sea of black or dark colored luggage.
I eventually found the perfect set via CALPACK. I purchased their Stevyn Drop-Bottom Duffel Bag in “Palm Leaf” and their Davis 2-Piece Spinner Luggage Setin “Teal.” This series also comes in a three-piece set as well. In total, the cost for my first luggage set was $200.00 on sale over the Christmas season via Nordstrom’s Rack. Unfortunatelevil luggage set is currently sold-out at the moment, but they have a similar set by the name of “Brynn.” Upon receiving my luggage, I was happy to see that it is sturdy and provides great room, which will come in handy when it came time to pack for my trip to Spain. Although I do not want to check a bag, (Norwegian Air charges $90.00 for each checked bag!) I know that when traveling with medical items and mobility devices, it may be a necessary evil.
Fortunately, CALPACK’s “Davis” carry-on and Stevyn Duffle Bag are big enough for me to survive 8 days in Spain without checking a bag. One of the saving graces for making this even a possibility is via compression packing bags. I found some on Amazon.com. The bags come in a set of 10 (five medium and five large) and don’t require a vacuum. This will allow me to compress my clothing so that I have more room in my carry-on. Another packing tip I suggest is, utilizing the laundry services at your hotels… especially when traveling aboard where it may be included in the cost of your hotel.
Using the laundry services will allow me to pack less, re-wear my items and save $90 each way on a checked bag. The older I become, the more I realize, it’s not photoshoot. Your travels should not revolve around your clothing and make-up, you want to experience culture and create memories. Traveling with the basics is the smart way to to go. Also, if the country you are traveling to will allow you to rent some of your bulky devices such as walkers, canes, wheelchairs, batteries, consider renting it.
This is a great way to not damage your items in travel, reduce your luggage space/cost and not have to worry about converting electronic appliances or how to change the power voltage when charging your wheelchair batteries. I will go further into this in my blog post Part III: When In Spain on Wheelz… What to pack, What to rent for your mobility and medical needs.
As you can see, I have left little to the imagination when it comes to my upcoming trip and as I continue to document my journey, I hope it provides you a better sense on how to prepare for international travel as a wheelchair user, person of reduced mobility or even as a companion and/or caregiver. Stay tuned for my blog post next week, where I will release Part II: When in Spain on Wheelz — Securing Wheelchair Accessible Hotels, Transportation and Activities.
Until next time, this is my world…. On wheelz!