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Top Travel Tips for a Veteran in a Wheelchair

Traveling with a wheelchair user may seem daunting, but it’s doable if you bear these things in mind

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Vacationing with a veteran in a wheelchair can be challenging. Everything might be going along smoothly — and then you’re faced with steps to enter a restaurant or a small bathroom door that’s nearly impossible to maneuver through.

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My husband, Rick, and I have encountered these scenarios, and more, way too often. Rick served in the Army in Vietnam. Due to his exposure to Agent Orange, which resulted in a brain tumor, he now spends most of his time in a wheelchair.

But even though Rick’s disability limits our travel options, it definitely does not rule out vacationing. And who is more deserving of a hassle-free getaway than a veteran? That said, we no longer indulge in spontaneous outings. There was a time when, if we got bored, we’d simply hop in the car and take off for parts unknown. These days, we must plan ahead.

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Yet, even with some planning, we’ve faced challenges. Rick and I recently rented an Airbnb that the owner had claimed was perfect for someone in a wheelchair. Not only did we end up having a handyman build a ramp from the bedroom to the living room, but my husband was unable to use the shower —actually a tub — since he can’t climb into a tub without bars. So I decided I’d rather spend a week with his body odor than all day in the emergency room.

That experience and many others have taught me the proper questions to ask and things to look for when traveling.

Bathroom 

Make sure there are enough bars near the toilet and in the shower. Most important, make sure the shower is a walk-in without any steps that has a seat.

Bedroom 

Ask how high or low the bed is. And make sure there is room for the wheelchair to move easily around and pull up to the bed.

Restaurants

Most eating establishments have ramps, but not all of them. When making a reservation, ask about the accessibility of the entrance and how long the wait for a table could be. Also, make sure the tables are far enough apart for a wheelchair or scooter to make its way through.

Parking

Handicapped parking spots should be conveniently located. You’d be surprised how many shops and restaurants have their handicapped spots at a back entrance even though their ramp is located at the front.

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Tourist attractions

Before taking a tour, make sure there’s a ramp for boarding the tour bus. If this information isn’t on the tour operator’s or attraction’s website, call ahead and ask.

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Flights

Arrange ahead of time for a wheelchair to use while at the airport, since you may be shipping your own. In addition, have one waiting at your destination. Some airports would allow me to push my husband. Others said an airport employee must accompany us; if that’s the case, come prepared with small bills to use as tips. Book a seat with plenty of legroom, and make sure to keep important items by your feet, not up in the overhead bins.

Cruises

Most cruise ships have various levels of handicapped rooms. A fully handicapped room is large enough for a wheelchair or scooter and has a larger bathroom with bars around the toilet and a walk-in shower. The next level down is smaller and may have a step up into the bathroom. Most cruises offer expeditions suitable for handicapped passengers, but once again, ask ahead of time.

Traveling with a veteran who uses a wheelchair may well seem challenging. But Rick and I are proof that it’s doable. Approach your trip with a positive attitude, relax and let some of the hardships roll off your back. Pack patience, a sense of humor and understanding, and your trip will be a success.

Janie Emaus is the author of two books with a third to be published in early 2023. Her essays, stories and articles have been published in numerous magazines, anthologies and online publicatiuons. She lives in Southern California with her husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War. More about her work can be found at www.janieemaus.com.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.