The top 10 tips for travelling Europe with a disability

Alice is 21, has cerebral palsy – and has just returned from a whirlwind trip to Europe. Here’s her tips on travelling with a disability.

By Alice Georgas
I am a huge fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, so this year I traveled to Vienna with my parents to see it in person.
I’m 21 and have CP – which stands for cerebral palsy. Luckily, I can walk, but with my gait I do scrape my feet on the ground, can be unbalanced, and I also can’t walk long distances, so I often rely on my wheelchair.
There’s a lot of walking in Europe, so I ended up using my wheelchair on most days as we toured Vienna for Eurovison (where I loved Serbia – they should have won!), then onto France, Italy, Poland and Amsterdam.
Here’s my tips for travelling with a disability.
  1. Most people just get to walk through the security gates. But because I sometimes use a wheelchair, it means I have to get patted down. That means a female guard will pat all over my body. Sometimes it’s OK, but sometimes I get so frustrated I just get up and walk through the gate. My tip is to give yourself at least an hour extra to get through security.
  2. Always ask for help at the airport – it often means you don’t have to queue up. But please don’t give me a dirty look, as you don’t need to get patted down.
  3. Bring spare parts and tools for your wheelchair. But if you get stuck, always ask your hotel concierge or maintenance.When I was in Amsterdam, my Dad broke the back of my wheelchair lifting me over a curb. But of course he didn’t bring tools, but the lovely maintenance team at the Marriott in Amsterdam came to the rescue with bolts and spanners to make a temporary repair.
  4. If you have an electric chair, consider not taking it because the streets and laneways are so narrow, it can be inconvenient. Instead, get a scooter or a manual chair.
  5. The history in Europe is great, but it means the streets are old, and the pavements can be cracked and bumpy. I recommend a seat belt for your chair - I didn’t have one, but wish I had, as I nearly fell off my chair several times as we bumped over cobblestones. It can be bumpy and hurt a bit to jolt over the stones – but I did it!
  6. When booking tours, exhibitions, plays or museums make sure you ask for a concession price (some even offer free entry). I got a discount at most places, including the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Bodyworks Exhibiton in Amerstdam and (blushing) the Sex Museum in Amsterdam.
  7. Divers are crazy in Europe - be aware they do park their bikes and small cars on the footpaths and some even block the way, leaving you no choice but to wheel on the road.
  8. Always allow a bit of extra time – to work out where the best access is, or to get the concierge to order you a handcapped taxi.
  9. When traveling by train make sure you do ask for assistance as you will be the first one on the train if you do.
  10. When booking hotels, always ask :
  • Do you have a wheelchair accessible room?
  • Do your rooms have a walk in shower, not a bath tub shower. (I can’t step into a bath-tub, so this is a must for me. And a lot of hotels over there, have tubs and not shower cubicles. So make sure you ask, and are very clear in what you want.)
  • Is the lift to get to my room big enough for me and my chair? (Some lifts in old European buildings are tiny and meant for just one person – and a skinny one, at that. Some also have a weight restriction.)
  • Do you have any stairs to get into the hotel?
  • Can you supply me with a non-slip bath mat for the shower? (I didn’t for this trip, but next time I think I will take one from home. If you don’t have one, a bath towel on the shower floor is a good idea to prevent dangerous falls.)
  • Does your hotel room have wider doorways, mid-level light switches and grab rails in the bathroom?

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