When In Spain... On Wheelz: Planning A Wheelchair Accessible European Vacation - Part II
How to select a wheelchair accessible hotels, tours, excursions, day-trips and airport transfers in Barcelona, Spain and London, United Kingdom.
As many of you know, over the past year I have been diligently planning my first Wheelchair Accessible European vacation to Barcelona, Spain and London, United Kingdom. In today’s post I plan to continue my three-part blog series and discuss how I selected my hotel, day trips destinations, tour activities and my overall accessibility and travel.
In my previous post, I discussed my process of how I chose my vacation destination(s), airline logistics (seats) and luggage pieces but when your preparing for an international European vacation for my differently-abled needs, my packing and planning expertise hit an all-time high.
Selecting A Wheelchair Accessible Hotel:
I am no stranger to selecting hotels for vacations, however, when selecting an international, affordable, clean, centrally- located hotel, that would be accessible for an electric wheelchair -- well, that would require more research. I knew I wanted to be in the City Center of Barcelona, especially since I would be traveling via public transit. I selected Petit Palace Museum Hotel in Barcelona. After confirming the accessibility I booked the “Family Room” with was larger and could accommodate 3 people comfortably. The total cost was $1064 for 8 nights.
Due to the fact that I love to travel, when it’s time to confirm the accessibility at a hotel whether it be domestic or international I have a process of elimination I use to find the right one.
I prefer to book through a discount hotel site such as, Booking.com for multiple reasons:
It allows me to reserve and cancel at anytime, often with no charge.
A lot of hotels use booking.com so their selection is vast and check-in is seamless, plus for the discount traveller, it allows you to free up your cash and pay at the time of check-in!
When trying to confirm wheelchair accessibility on Booking.com, I look under the “Hotel Facilities” list to see if they list “Elevators” and/or “Facilities For Disabled Guests” -- usually if it’s listed then my research is a lot easier.
I also go through the hotel photos on both on Booking.com and Google to “spy” any step barriers and/or swimming pool lifts (this feature may not be identified on the website as an “accessible feature.” but sometimes you can spy a pool lift in the photos and contact the hotel to verify the lift is still available and in operation.)
Once I have selected my hotel, I reach out to the hotel via email and ask specific questions to clarify my accessibility. In this case, there was a language barrier, so I drafted my email via Google Translate and requested they confirm:
The hotel entrance has zero steps or a paved ramp that can accommodate an electric wheelchair. Believe me, you think this is standard until you venture into international accessible standards.
The elevator/lift services all common areas (cafeteria, rooftops, etc) and is large enough to support your wheelchair, especially if it’s an electric chair. European lifts are very narrow, my rental wheelchair barely made the clearance. This could be a problem for someone traveling with oxygen tanks or additional items on their wheelchair.
What the height of the bed from the floor is? This is important if you are transferring from your wheelchair without a Hoyer Lift or additional equipment.
What to Rent, What To Pack?:
Once I had my hotel booked, it was time to figure out how I would get around, and that goes beyond just public transportation. Although this is not my first time international, it would be my first time in Europe and having to consider charging an electric wheelchair with different electrical voltages. Since I am not well educated in the electricity conversions from the USA to Europe (Spain) I decided to alleviate my stress and rent/ hire a wheelchair in Europe. I understand this option can be costly and not comfortable for some… I know most wheelchair users have custom chairs that cater to their specific medical needs (including myself) and riding in anything else can often cause more pain, however, it is the best option if you want to maintain the integrity of your personal wheelchair.
Personally, I am not comfortable traveling via airplane with my day-to day wheelchair because the airplane cargo crew give zero concerns on how they handle wheelchairs and wheelchairs are either lost, don’t arrive at the destination, or the chair is treated like a piece of baggage and is broken/damaged. For this reason, I always rent an electric wheelchair for all airplane travel. For this trip, I decided to go with a company called Cosmo Scooter. They were very professional, reasonably priced and allowed me flexibility when delivering/picking up the wheelchair and payment options. I rented their Jazzy Powered Wheelchair (pictured below) for 8 days for $223.00 USD. There was no deposit needed. Payment was completed upon successful delivery of the wheelchair.
This was my main wheels through Europe and although it wasn’t the most comfortable for my medical needs, the chair was durable to handle every cobblestone I rolled over and each teeny, tiny elevator I rode on. Cosmo Scooter delivered my wheelchair to my hotel before my arrival so I could immediately begin my vacation and one of their representatives came back to the hotel the next morning to retrieve payment.
I highly suggest renting your bulky/medical items (wheelchairs, lifts, etc) if you can. This way you aren’t paying in baggage fees, and you reduce the risk of breaking your items. Most countries, especially tourist-friendly locations have an accessible/adapted website that caters to reduced mobility / medical needs.
When packing for my vacation, I was determined to only carry-on and not check any baggage. I planned to pack a 10 day trip to Europe with medical supplies in the two bags below.
In my suitcase, I packed enough clothes for a few days as I planned to use the laundry services at the hotel. I thought it would be a small fee but for about 8-10 items it cost close to $70.00 USD so it was really did not save me that much, next time I will check how much it would be before I pack but overall I packed one sweatshirt, one light rain -jacket, four leggings, one pair of jeans and 4-5 tops, three pairs of shoes (one flat, one heel and one tennis shoes)
For the trip, I purchased a few items on Amazon.com that I HOPED would assist me in my packing restrictions and European Travel needs:
Anker Power Bank for an IPhone (this was a waste of money since it never worked. I ended up buying another one in Europe. I’m returning this power bank back to Amazon.com. Paid $34.00.)
RFID Wallet (Great at protecting your cards from being scanned by thieves. Paid $8.00)
My Adidas Fanny Pack (This is the best fanny pack! Stay hands free with this roomy, discreet and easy to clean! Paid $25.00)
New, Compact Toiletry Bag (Roomy but compact! Love it! It fit so much in such a small space. Paid $14.00)
Inflatable Travel Foot Rest (I bought this for $17.00 to use on the plane to elevate my feet for the long flights but through all the chaos I never got a chance to use it but I plan to try it on my next flight.)
My manual wheelchair (I bought this for two reasons: I needed a manual wheelchair at home for emergencies, and I needed a chair that I could use for airport transports that would not break in-flight. This particular chair was $124.00)
European Wall Adapter (Loved it, worth every penny! So sad that I left it at the hotel. Paid $13.00)
Compression Space Saver Travel Bags (A waste of time and money! It does not compress and it was bulky AF. Paid $18.00)
As a differently-abled, wheelchair user, I always have to pack the “just in case” medical supplies and this trip was no different. I packed the bare minimum, in an effort to reduce my baggage and fees:
- One Foley Catheter: I use a specialized / hard to find size so in the event I needed to change my cord I wanted to have one on site. (I also packed a small bottle of sterile water and tub of lubrication.)
- A bedpan, it fit right into my duffle bag.
- OTC medicine (Aleve, Neosporin, Tums) and all my everyday medications
- Compression Socks for the airplane travel and everyday since I knew my rented wheelchair would not provide the same comforts for my legs.
As you can see, I didn’t pack too much medical equipment, but for those who need more assistance or equipment and need to check a bag, I suggest packing your medical equipment and a couple of change of clothes in your carry-on just in case your baggage is lost. Keyword in this packing struggle is to REDUCE, REDUCE and REDUCE as much as possible.
Securing Airport Transfers
One of the main things I like to secure immediately is my Airport to Hotel transportation, especially if I’m out of the country. Upon my research, I found that hiring a private car in Barcelona would be very costly and adapted taxis in Spain charge the same rate as non-adapted taxis so I figured I would just go the taxi route. In Barcelona, there is ONE taxi company with over 10 adapted vehicles; Taxi Amic. I was excited to see a form on their website that would allow me to request a vehicle however, no one answered my email inquiries! I tried calling them on my Google Voice number but they either never answered or didn't speak English. So for the first time in a long time I stepped out on faith that when I got to the airport, I would be able to haul a taxi cab for our whole group. In my next post, I will go into further detail of how I handled taxis and airport transfer but upon landing in Barcelona, (after about an hour wait) myself and my entire group of friends made it safely to our hotels in an adapted taxi for approximately $40.00 USD.
Booking Excursions in Barcelona
Since Barcelona is a bubbling city with hundreds of tourist sights and adventures, it is hard to select which activity to choose, and even harder when you have mobility restrictions. To make my research easier, I decided to use one website for all my excursion needs. Visit Barcelona, they have a plethora of tours you can purchase, even some that indicate that they are wheelchair accessible; they even offer an accessible website that provides even more details on the overall accessibility of their tours. However, these tours can add up and become very costly so I decided to look on their website, find the places or activities I wanted to partake in and then Google the actual location to see if there was a more cost effective way to attend; often times I found out that I could literally roll down the street from my hotel to the venue or catch a taxi or use the Metro and save between $25-30 at certain venues. I would also suggest you contact the location via email and Google Translate (if there is a language barrier) and verify their facility is wheelchair accessible for an electric wheelchair.
I have noticed that in Europe, when the facility indicates that they are wheelchair accessible, you MUST elaborate! You must let them know you are using an electric wheelchair and are unable to walk and/or stand.
A lot of the facilities may have small steps, uneven surfaces or some form of a barrier that a manual wheelchair can pass but not an electric wheelchair so it’s best to contact the facility and have a written verification that the facility is accessible for your needs (especially when you have paid for a tour or excursion) not what they think are your needs. Also, I suggest you research the country’s accessibility guidelines for companions/caregivers and activity/ tour discounts. In Barcelona, if you have been medically certified as disabled / permanently disabled you can receive free entrance to a lot of the museums, cathedrals, and tourist activities. Prior to my departure, my Primary Care Doctor provided me an official letter certifying my permanent disability so when I arrived at certain facilities I would show my letter and qualify for free or discounted entrance.
Even still, before arriving in Barcelona, myself and my friends purchased the Barcelona Card and Barcelona Night Card. In total, both cards cost about $55.00 and it included an Metro Card for 5 days and multiple discounts for the tour activities in Barcelona. I must admit the Night Card didn’t get used since the night we decided to go out we didn’t have our Night Cards lol but if I could go back in time -- I would not have purchased any of the cards and instead I would have purchased a one day Metro Card, especially since I only traveled one day on the Metro (I’ll explain my Metro Adventures in my next post.)
Selecting A Day-Trip
It’s very common to visit other countries while visiting Europe, and my vacation was no different. Originally, the group decided to go to Madrid and Barcelona, however once we saw how expensive ($350 for two people) and the amount of travel it would be to go to Madrid we decided to re-route ourselves to London! We found round-trip plane tickets on Easyjet.com for $50.00 per person! A steal right!
Easyjet made it very easy to request airport assistance for a differently-abled passengers while purchasing your flight -- and since it was an English speaking country I was less nervous about flying in my wheelchair rental (boy! that a mistake. I’ll go further into detail on my next post.) I would arrive in London at 8:50am and leave the same day at 7:50pm. With such a short time in London, I would only have enough time to take a tour (this tour was amazing! It only cost $85 USD for two people for a 3-hour, completely wheelchair accessible bus) eat and of course do a little shopping. Once again, before arriving in London, I didn’t have my airport travel booked, however, from my research, I knew the airport transfer from London - Gatwick Airport to Central London wouldn’t be too bad since the famous London Black Cabs all come equipped with ramps and charge the same price for all passengers regardless of mobility.
As you can see, the amount of planning and research I did pre-arrival into Barcelona and London was very calculated and specific to my needs as a wheelchair user and women with differently-abled needs. I will admit that not everything can be planned, however what you can plan or at least have knowledge of is very useful and can be the difference between enjoying your travel and struggling to make it thru. I hope this guide will provide more clarity when you are looking into international travel and how to secure wheelchair accessibility for your personal needs. In my next and final blog post for this series, I will take you on my full journey throughout Barcelona and London, my personal experiences with the accessibility and my overall travel experience.
Until next time, this is my world... on wheelz!