As a full time professional Boccia player with four Paralympic medals to his name, David Smith MBE is no stranger to both domestic and international travel. His trips to Spain, Portugal and other European countries are frequent, with occasional trips to destinations that are further afield, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Rio, Canada and the US. Here he shares with us his top tips for travelling as a wheelchair user.
My Cerebral Palsy means I have limited use of my legs and dexterous functions are difficult for me. My current day chair is the Quickie Jive M which is great in tight spots, but travelling with a powered wheelchair brings its own challenges.
Travelling in the UK with a powered wheelchair
When I’m travelling domestically I tend to travel by car or train. It’s a credit to Motability that someone as severely disabled as myself can drive independently to wherever I want to go. To plan my route, I always check Google Maps and look for potential short-cuts where traffic is likely. Having a fully traffic alerted Sat. Nav. which makes diversions if necessary is a life saver! Also know what your limit is in terms of endurance, I’ll never do more than 4 hours a stint because it kills my neck. So, on trips to Scotland I’ll plan my stops at midway or third-way points. Also, I plan my fuel use. I try to use a reasonably priced local petrol station.
Trains come a distant second in my preference. I tend to find them slow and expensive and as a wheelchair user I must book 24-hours in advance, hope that they have a ramp and that they remember me at the destination station. The advantage to train travel is that if train stations are located near to where I need to get from and to, traveling by train can be less tiring than driving.
Travelling abroad with a powered wheelchair
When travelling abroad with my wheelchair I either fly or drive. It is impossible for me to travel alone due to logistics. Flying as an electric wheelchair user is not without its challenges. Powered wheelchairs being damaged beyond the workable is common due to a lack of care from Baggage Handlers.
Just before London 2012 airlines started allowing wheelchair users to remain in our wheelchairs right up to boarding the plane, which is much better, although sadly not universal.
To protect my Quickie Jive during transit I get my PA to use huge amounts of bubble-wrap and remove vulnerable pieces. Although that doesn’t stop the 30 minute anxious wait for the chair to be brought to the plane door at the destination airport. You can find more of my tips for travelling by air with a wheelchair in this blog post.
Driving abroad is great fun, but can be tiring and expensive, as hotels are often needed for stop overs due to the distances travelled.
My dream destination
I would love to visit somewhere relaxing and romantic like the Maldives. It would be an ideal honeymoon destination, although sadly it’s impossible at present due to the seaplane needed to get there.
My favourite UK destinations
I am lucky enough to live in a great part of the UK, Swansea, which provides a great mix of urban and rural landscapes. The sea is so close and there are lots of places to wheel around. I can really open up the Jive’s speed along the beach cycle paths.
The Brecon Beacons are just a 45 minute drive north, just 20 minutes drive to the west is the Gower Peninsular and to the south is the Bristol Channel.
My favourite international destinations
Abroad, I have really enjoyed Vancouver, Hong Kong, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Florida. I don’t really have a favourite. Rio is the most shocking place I have been, both good and bad. My Jive copes well abroad, so long as it arrives undamaged! The ability to descend large kerbs is invaluable in places where disability access is an afterthought at best.
Find out more about Boccia and David’s career, or take a look at his day-to-day powered wheelchair the Quickie Jive M.
About the author
David Smith (or ‘Smithy’) is a professional Boccia player who lives in Swansea. David has Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia. His day-to-day wheelchair is the Quickie Jive M Black Edition powered wheelchair. His Boccia career began at Treloar School where he moved for his secondary education. At the age of 14 David became the youngest ever British Boccia Champion, going on to become the Boccia World Champion at 18. Since then he has represented Great Britain in the Paralympics on numerous occasions, where he has won two gold medals (Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016) and a silver and a bronze medal at London 2012. David holds a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He currently trains 6 days a week as a full-time athlete and is the reigning Boccia Paralympic Champion and World number one. His greatest achievement is being the joint most successful British Boccia player in history with four Paralympic medals from three games and his proudest moment has been receiving his MBE from Prince William.