By Sam Casteris, Accessibility Advocate
While public transportation is a great option for travel when you’re venturing out into the city or are travelling by train, there aren’t too many long distance public transportation options out West. In Virginia, I love taking Amtrak for its extra leg room and friendly staff. But in Idaho, when I decided to plan a trip with my Mom, we needed something else. Airports don’t work well for her because delays could mean she would be stuck in a wheelchair for hours without adequate lower lumbar support. So instead, we chose to take a road trip. By choosing to travel by car, we had much more control over our travel process, it just took some extra planning! Planning is absolutely essential for an accessible road trip. This can be the difference between a positive fun filled trip, or a frustrating wild ride.
This spring, my Mom and I took a road trip from rural Idaho down through California where we finally arrived in L.A. My Mom has been in a wheelchair for a few years now and travelling is hard on her body, so we needed to make sure that we rode in a comfortable car and knew where we would stop along the way to allow her to stretch and relax, and, we wanted to plan fun stops along the way! Here are some tips we learned along the way, which will make planning your own accessible road trip that much easier.
1. Pick the right vehicle
This one is pretty much a no brainer. You are going to need an accessible vehicle. The parameters for this might be different depending on how long your trip is. My mom and I did a lot of research and ended up renting an SUV instead of taking our car. It was versatile enough to lean back when she needed to take the pressure off her spine, but it also wasn’t a giant van. We knew we’d have trouble finding parking at our destination with a big van. Luckily, the SUV was able to fit her folding wheelchair, the air mattress and pillow top we brought, and all of our camping gear. Mom loves the mountains, so we stopped to camp a couple of nights along the way.
Renting a car has become very simple, and much cheaper than it used to be. But if that’s not for you, another option could even be a nice RV! Make sure that you create a checklist of things you may need to consider for accessibility so that way you can find the perfect vehicle with good storage. Here are some examples:
- Is the seat comfortable? How far back does it recline?
- Does the car rumble over cracks in the pavement? Take it for a test drive before you drive off the lot.
- Is there noise distraction coming from inside the vehicle?
- Is there adequate space for all of your luggage and supplies?
- When entering or exiting the vehicle, is it a comfortable height from the ground?
- Are the seat belts comfortable? Can they be adjusted?
Make sure to treat yourself. You deserve some great luxury on your road trip!
2. Plan your route
It might seem like driving the traditional Google Maps route would be the best option. This isn’t always the case if you have special considerations, or you want to plan your trip around some stops along the way. What you want to do is plan around yourself. This can be done with ease at your local AAA location. They are always accommodating when it comes to planning your trip. They even provide you with a trip itinerary you can take with you. As far as sleeping accommodations go, hotels are required to have a certain number of accessible rooms in their buildings but those aren’t always available. Make sure you call ahead of time to reserve the space you’ll need.
Once the route is sorted out, check to see which places are really accessible. This is crucial. You can do this by looking for the places of interest online. Call the business ahead of time, email, or research to see what kind of accessibility options they offer. Also, be sure to look for some awesome parks or stops along the way. We were even able to find an accessible national park along our route.
3. Pack smart
When I say pack smart, I don’t just mean that you should count out all of your socks. I mean, pack strategically, so that when it has been hours in the car and you are thirsty and hungry, you are able to find the snacks. You might be so busy checking if everywhere else is accessible that you might forget to check whether your stuff is.
If you really want some soda or candy bars, then bring them. However, that sort of food could cause fatigue and drowsiness while you are driving, and nobody likes a drowsy driver! Other things such as deodorant, disposable toothbrushes, and comfortable cushions are a good idea too. In my Mom’s case, we brought a variety of cold packs to ease the stress on her spine and it was crucial to have them handy when necessary.
Try separating your items in different bags by category, or frequency of use.
4. Account for safety
Nobody expects to be put into a bad position while on a road trip, but it’s important to plan for the unexpected. Your cell phone may get service in the majority of the United States, and you may have a charger with you, but these things are never guaranteed. This is when a GPS locator will come in handy. Devices such as the Spot Gen3 give you critical, life-saving lines of communication when you travel outside cell service. All it takes is to push a button and emergency services will be alerted to your location. This is especially crucial when you are traveling on the road by yourself.
I’m happy to report that my Mom and I had an incredible time! We were even able to meet up with my cousin halfway through.
About the Author
Sam Casteris is a vocal accessibility advocate, especially when it comes to travel. You can keep an eye on her other work at her personal blog.