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  • Mary Salisbury

Road Trip Tips

Updated: Mar 26

5 Tips for Planning an Accessible Road Trip

A white woman with orange hair and sunglasses on her forehead, smiling.

With the warm summer months just around the corner, many of us are eager to travel. Road trips are a smart way for us wheelchair users to see the world without the fear of airlines damaging or losing our wheelchairs. Last summer, my mom and I took a 5,400-mile cross-country road trip from our home in Pennsylvania to the peaceful deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and the beautiful mountains of Colorado. After months of being cooped up at home, it was a much-needed post-quarantine getaway and a great way to see so much of our amazing country.

I am not yet back to driving since my spinal cord injury in 2017, so I like to do my part by taking over the planning process and assuring everything will be accessible. Next time you’re getting ready to hit the road – whether it’s a solo trip or with friends and family – here are some tips on how to make your experience as wheelchair-friendly and stress-free as possible:

1) Book hotels in advance

Hotels only have a limited number of mobility-accessible rooms with the roll-in showers that many of us need, and they are typically first-come, first-served. I’ve learned the hard way not to rely solely on online booking systems when making a reservation a couple of times. It's always good to hear a human voice. Give the front desk a call and reiterate the importance of needing these accommodations. The staff are usually super friendly, eager to help, and will make sure your needs are met. It’s also helpful to book hotels ahead of time to guarantee you’re staying in close proximity to the attractions you want to see. This will help you avoid extra driving.

2) Research destinations ahead of time

After being on wheels for almost five years now, I’ve learned that you can’t count on every place being wheelchair accessible. It’s helpful to do your homework and to research accessible destinations and activities ahead of time. You’d be surprised how many really great travel blogs dedicated to accessibility are out there! Check out Curb Free with Cory Lee and Posting in Facebook support groups and reaching out to local rehab hospitals near your destinations are great ways to get trustworthy information and reviews. I emailed some recreational therapists at Craig Hospital before traveling to Denver, and they pointed me to a local track-chair program at Staunton State Park, as well as paved hiking trails and adaptive sports centers.

3) Get an Access Pass for the National Parks

Depending on where you’re headed, look into getting an Access Pass. Passes cost $10 and allow people with permanent disabilities free admittance to U.S. National Parks for life! It totally enhanced my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. Click here for more information and to request your own Access Pass.

4) It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared

When road tripping, you never know where you’ll end up or how long you’ll be gone. Bring extras of all your essentials, including medications, personal supplies, snacks and drinks, garbage bags, phone chargers, etc. A couple of other must-have items are a map in case you have no cell service and a tool kit for making minor wheelchair repairs. While away, I met a young man whose manual chair had been slightly damaged during his flight. We loaned him our wrench, and, luckily, he was able to fix his chair. You never know what may come in handy or who you might meet along the way!

5) Make sure your vehicle is good to go

To avoid any setbacks or car issues that could spoil your trip, get your accessible vehicle serviced before you hit the road and look into joining AAA. Depending on where you live, I recommend getting an electronic toll transponder, often called an EZ Pass, FasTrak, or TxTag, so you or whoever is driving isn’t fumbling around for cash.

Have a great summer and safe travels!

Mary Salisbury is from the Philadelphia suburbs of Pennsylvania. She sustained a spinal cord injury in 2017 due to a spinal cord stroke. She recently graduated from graduate school at Temple University and enjoys accessible traveling, reading, and hanging out with family and friends.




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