Hit the Road: Traveling with SCI

Everybody enjoys a good journey, whether it’s a day trip for a long weekend getaway. For people affected by a spinal cord injury, they may feel these type of vacations are a thing of the past. The good news is that now it is possible to hit the road with friends or family with just a little bit of preparation and forethought. A person suffering from SCI (spinal cord injury) has a routine around their home and this creates a comfort zone, but when traveling there is a level of uncertainty that can be disconcerting. As someone who is living with SCI and has traveled due to a lacrosse plan son, I have had to overcome some of these issues. Understanding your needs can go a long way to making that trip possible and enjoying the world around us instead of being stuck at home.

What all you need for Traveling with SCI?

Hit the Road: Traveling with SCI

The first step in preparing for a successful trip is understanding what you actually need, not just for your daily routine, but for any possible issues that may arise and impact your mobility. Depending on the extent of your injuries (paraplegia vs. quadriplegia) there may be a greater need to travel with more equipment. Everything from oxygen to bowel and bladder needs has to be addressed. Even the hotel you stay at needs to be investigated. For instance, if you use some type of patient lift for transfers in and out of bed then you will need to make sure you have access to underneath the bed. Not all hotels offer open access under the bed in order to facilitate the legs of your lift. Other objects that can be an obstacle to enjoying your vacation are thresholds and curbs. You should always be prepared to encounter a larger threshold or a small step in a hotel or in a restaurant. Many of these places, while they are handicap accessible, may not allow for unfettered access. A quick phone call can head off any potential problems, but you have to fully understand what your everyday needs are and articulate them clearly.

Avoiding the Bump in the Road… Literally

For anyone confined to a wheelchair, any piece of an uneven real estate can be a tricky endeavor. Curbs, thresholds, and even stairs pose a formidable obstacle for even the best wheelchair (including power chairs). Depending on your injury and torso control, this can be unsafe. It’s always a good idea to travel with portable ramps so that you are prepared for whatever the environment throws at you. Whether you need to gain access to a family member’s house or a hotel, the use of a portable ramp can open all sorts of doors (no pun intended).

  • The Clarke DecPac Portable Fiberglass Multipurpose Four Panel Ramps is a lightweight, weatherproof ramp that can be stored under a minivan seat or in a closet.
  • Many ramps come in a variety of sizes, such as the Drive Wheelchair and Scooter Ramps, which is available from 2-6 ft. and has a 600-pound capacity. It is lightweight and comes with a carry bag for easy transport.
  • For those that might require a longer ramp to overcome a higher rise, the EZ-Access Trifold Ramp Advantage Series Advantage Series is available in a 10-foot length as well as shorter options. It’s designed to be used as one piece that can be separated by simply removing two pins and has an 800 lb. weight limit. Lightweight materials used in the manufacturing of these ramps make them highly portable yet extremely strong.
  • The Harmar Multi-Fold Two-Piece Ramp has an anti-slip surface that is both lightweight and it’s tested to a 3X safety factor to provide strength.
  • Since portability is an important necessity, ramps such as the Mabis DMI Telescoping Adjustable Wheelchair Ramps can go just about anywhere. They contract for storage in a nylon bag that can be hung over the wheelchair handles and can accommodate up to 660 lbs.


Hit the Road: Traveling with SCIEven traversing a threshold can be unsafe, especially for quadriplegics due to a lack of torso control. One simple way to overcome this obstacle is the EZ-Access Transitions Modular Entry Mat. It is designed for doorways and raised landings and provides a smooth transition from ground to the sill and is perfect for sliding glass doors since it does not interfere with the door track and can be trimmed easily for a custom fit. A simple solution for uneven door thresholds is the Harmar Threshold Portable Ramp, which improves access over almost any threshold and is designed for doorways, sliding glass doors, and raised landings alike. If you need a ramp that is adjustable, the PVI ELEV8 Adjustable Threshold Ramp is available and aligns directly against the door threshold and can accommodate a variety of rises and is available in a variety of widths and lengths. It can be left in place and allow the door to open and close and is made from slip resistant grooved aluminum.

Need a Lift for Spinal Cord Injury?

Living with a spinal cord injury means being dependent upon a wheelchair for mobility and therefore needing assistance transferring from the wheelchair to a bed, chair, or commode. This is usually done with the assistance of another person, like a family member or an aide.

  • While this can be accomplished manually, the safest and most secure way to transfer while traveling is to use a patient lift such as the Hoyer Advance Patient Lift. It’s easy to use and maneuver around furniture while providing a safe transfer. It also folds up without any tools for easy portability.
  • Another option is the Chattanooga Alliance Hydraulic HE Patient Lift which can be disassembled easily for transport.
  • For those that use a power chair, the option of taking it with you may be overwhelming. One option is to use a folding manual wheelchair such as the Drive Rebel Lightweight Folding Transportable Wheelchair. It features a folding frame that allows for transport in just about any vehicle trunk and swings away footrests for easy storage. Not every instance will require the use of a patient lift.
  • For someone who has upper body mobility, the use of a transfer board may be all you need. These can be made of wood or plastic and allow the user to slide from a wheelchair into a bed or a chair. Hausmann offers the Bariatric Wood Transfer Board and the Hardwood Transfer Board that are available in various options to accommodate the needs of just about every patient. One specific use of a transfer board is to go from a wheelchair to a commode chair.
  • While handicap assessable hotels utilize handrails near toilets it’s a good idea to travel with a folding commode chair such as the Drive Folding Steel Commode. Its ability to fold for easy storage makes it an ideal travel companion.

The days of spinal cord patients being limited to their home are over. Just by understanding your needs you can explore our wonderful world.