14 Tips for travelling solo as a mobility aid user

14 Tips for travelling solo as a mobility aid user

6 min read

Solo travel is one of the biggest things I’ve missed since my accident. The adventure, the freedom, the quality ‘me’ time and the opportunity to interact with lots of different people along the way. It’s something I used to love and take for granted. It’s something I craved so much and worried was completely taken away from me once I struggled to walk. Now, 2.5 years later, with a lot of planning, support and the right mobility aids, I had the most amazing trip  to London reconnecting with a big part of the ‘old’ me.

Based on my recent English solo adventure,  I’ve come up with a bit of advice for others looking to take the plunge. Here are 14 tips for travelling solo as a mobility aid user:

1. Get travel health insurance. 

As many of you know from my previous posts, I am a big advocate for getting travel health insurance. Whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, for a weekend or for a month, make sure to get health coverage. You never know what unexpected expensive medical treatment you might need during your trip, so it’s best to be on the safe side. If you’re still not convinced, read my accident story

2. Bring a mobility aid suited to your needs. 

During my trip to London, I wanted to have the choice between a rollator and a wheelchair. I hoped to do a lot of walking but anticipated I wouldn’t be able to walk a full day. 

My Rollz Motion was the perfect mobility aid for the job.  Its sturdy rollator frame offered me a lot of support on my daily strolls through Shoreditch and — when I met up with friends — I was able to transform it and be pushed in a wheelchair. Having the wheelchair option was also great at the airport, as it allowed me to sit in my own chair and be pushed through Gatwick’s various terminals by a wheelchair assistant (thank you, Carina!). 

* I also took one of my panther print crutches for (toilet) walks up and down the airplane aisle.

3. Consider insuring your mobility aid.

I’ll admit, this is something that only occurred to me as I watched my Rollz Motion arrive on the Gatwick luggage carousel. Even though I take serious care of my mobility aids — they are, after all, basically my legs — I’m aware this isn’t always the case with airline luggage handlers. It’s a scary thought that my mobility aids could be damaged and that, uninsured, the high repair costs would fall on me. 

While I didn’t insure my Rollz Motion, I purchased a Rollz travel cover before my trip. It gave me peace of mind and my mobility aid a nice bit of padding. 

4. Make sure to organise airport or train assistance services in advance.

Most airlines will ask you to indicate in your flight booking whether you need wheelchair assistance. Where possible, make sure to book assistance services in advance so you don’t have added stress on your travel date. 

Meet Carina, one of my lovely wheelchair assistants at Gatwick Airport

5. Read up on your rights as a traveller with reduced mobility.

During my travels to Spain earlier this year, I was told by the airport security officer in Malaga that I had to put all my mobility aids through the airport scanner. I asked for my crutch in order to go through the scanning gate and was instead told to hold onto the arm of the security officer for support. I managed, but I felt incredibly unstable and upset that my mobility aids had all been striped away. I later realised it was probably a violation of my rights. 

Educate yourself on your rights so you get the support and treatment you are entitled to. Click here to read more about EU rights for travellers with reduced mobility. 

6. Book your accommodation early and make sure it has the right accessibility features for you.

Many hotels have limited availability for accessible rooms, so it’s important to book your accommodation early on. I also recommend: 

  • Calling potential ho(s)tels before booking and specifically describing the facilities you need.  Simply asking whether a room is “accessible” leaves too much room for interpretation. 
  • Confirming that the hotel entrance is accessible.  
  • Checking that your accommodation is in a location with good accessible transport links. You don’t want to be stranded. 

7. Plan ahead with (public) transportation so you know how to get around.

I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of the Gatwick Express and London black cabs (see photos below). Make sure to do some research ahead of time to know how you’re getting from A to B.  

Accessible toilets on the Gatwick Express train
Inside a spacious accessible London black cab

8. Prepare a list of accessible things to see and do on your trip.

The theme of this blog post is basically plan ahead. I recommend making a list of potential accessible restaurants, museums, or whatever you want to visit so you don’t have to spend time doing the research on holiday.  

9. Take advantage of useful accessibility-related apps. 

There are some fantastic apps out there to make your life easier as a mobility aid user: 

  • accessaloo is a new app that allows users to share reviews about accessible toilets worldwide. 
  • Wheelmate shows accessible toilets and parking spaces near you.  
  • TripTripHurray is a travel planning app for people with specific needs and requirements, including different levels of mobility.
During my trip I added the first accessible toilets to accessaloo's London map

10. Save some extra money for unexpected costs. 

I didn’t expect to be taking a London black cab as much as I did, but my leg pain on certain days meant public transportation was out of the question. 

Travelling with a disability means you sometimes have to pay more for comfort and convenience — make sure to bring some extra $$$.  

11. Pace yourself.

On my first day in London I got way too excited and pushed myself over my walking limit. I paid for it with a seriously painful leg and (quite literally) by needing to get a taxi home. Make sure to take it easy and listen to that little voice in your head telling you it’s probably a good idea to slow down.

12. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help…

As much as I love being independent, there were certain situations during my trip where I couldn’t do without help. Getting out of a taxi with my rollator and suitcase in the pouring rain for instance (ah, the lovely English weather). Or when my grandmother gave me three lemon drizzle cakes to carry back to my friend’s flat. 

13. … and to take photos! 

Without asking passersby to snap a photo, I wouldn’t have had any pictures of my solo adventure. It felt weird at first, but I got over it pretty quickly. Now I’ve got lots of lovely photos — and some admittedly crappy ones — of this special milestone. 

If I hadn't asked a random train passenger to take a photo I wouldn't have had this exciting snapshot of me on the Gatwick Express

14. Consider using an accessible travel agent.

If you’d rather someone else help you plan your accessible (solo) trip, consider using a specialised agency. Some examples include: 

How cool is this accessible London phone booth?

Useful resources

I highly recommend joining the Facebook group Accessible Travel Club. The information and photos by other mobility aid users motivated me to take the plunge and book my solo trip to London. 

My solo trip to London was so much fun, I’m already thinking about  future destinations. So tell me, where should I travel to next?

Josephine Rees

My name is Josephine Rees (1993) and I am Dutch-British. I was raised in Tokyo and Moscow and moved to The Netherlands to study Anthropology & Human Geography in 2012. After briefly living in Thailand and Cambodia, I am now based in Amsterdam. I love exploring Amsterdam and hope to help others by sharing accessibility tips.

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