Traveling with Spina Bifida

Last year, guest writer and SBANCA member Lauren O’Connor fulfilled a life-long dream and traveled to England for vacation. She shares her experiences here.

Visiting England has been on my bucket list forever. Last year I said to myself, “What am I waiting for?” and asked a long-time friend to join me on vacation in England. We knew there would be accessibility challenges, so we used a travel agent and did a lot of research ahead of time. The result was an adventure that was tricky at times, but tons of fun!

Getting around London was not difficult. All the taxis in London are wheelchair accessible—a pleasant contrast to taxis here in Washington, D.C. When we hailed a taxi, the driver immediately got out of the taxi, unfolded the ramp, and pushed my wheelchair into the taxi.

One day my friend and I split up for sightseeing.  She took the Tube (London’s metro).  My research indicated that many Tube stations are inaccessible, so I chose to “wheel” around the city on my own.  I went by Kensington Palace and Royal Albert Hall and stopped at a local grocery store and Harvey Nichols department store. (The accessible restrooms in public buildings are huge there, larger than many restrooms in the United States.) I had a great time taking pictures and experiencing London up close.  Several people offered help, particularly when I was rolling over cobblestone sidewalks, which are common there.

As anticipated, the hotels in England were a bit challenging. The bathroom door would not close completely in our London hotel; in Stratford-upon-Avon, the hotel manager had to take the door off the closet so that I could get my wheelchair into the room. Because we had to make a last-minute change–thank you Meghan and Harry for scheduling your wedding on our last day in England—our last hotel was not accessible at all. I had to enter the building through a side door because of stairs in the lobby, and the bathroom door was not wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair. Weary from a week of traveling, I was very grateful for my friend, who told the manager about the inaccessibility of our room. The manager did his best to accommodate us and provided a chair I could use at the sink and another chair for the shower.

On the other hand, the hotel in Bath was wonderful! There were steps to get into the building, but the staff were very attentive and put out a ramp whenever I came and went. Our first-floor room had a large, fully accessible bathroom—it was so nice I took pictures.  😊

We hired a car to drive us between the cities we visited.  I love the train, but I was uncertain about their accessibility. The hired car was more expensive, but it was worth the extra money to ensure that we reached our destinations easily and on time.

I am proud of myself for taking this trip, and I had a fabulous time! It was certainly worth all the planning and the expense. Having a friend to travel with was invaluable. She advocated when I was too tired to, and she helped me keep a good attitude when we faced challenges. She had a great time as well and learned how to fold a wheelchair. (It still amazes me how many people have no idea how to do it. 😊)

I will definitely travel abroad again, not by myself but with a friend who is willing to share the adventure with me. The big question is where to go next—Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Scandinavia, Australia, Africa?