I’ve never been on holiday and felt safe

Samantha Renke in her wheelchair, wearing a leopard print dress and black hat, in a changing room.

I’ve never had a holiday where I’ve felt completely at ease (Picture: Samantha Renke)

As October begins, I cannot help but be thankful for our Indian Summer, after several dismal and rainy months.

I know it’s rather British of me to talk about the weather but the recent sunshine has done wonders for my physical and mental health.

As someone who has brittle bones, a collagen deficiency, dexterity issues and metal telescopic rods that run through my legs, sunshine helps soothe my aches and pains.

The boost of vitamin D helps my bone density and, as someone who battles with general anxiety disorder, longer, lighter days help lighten my mood.

Yet, despite knowing all the positives that come from glorious sunshine, I haven’t had a proper holiday in over five years.

Sure, there has been that small technicality of a pandemic, but even before and after that, I haven’t flown off to chill on a beach for ages.

Because, truth be told, I’ve never had a holiday where I’ve felt completely at ease, safe and comfortable.

Holidays are supposed to be a time to unwind and forget your woes. Yet, for me, I’ve always felt on edge, like a burden or struggled in my new environment.

Just to clarify, I’ve always loved the people I’ve been on holiday with, whether that be family or friends, and that’s what has really mattered, spending time with people I love.

However, I wish, just once, that I could take a vacation where I maintain my independence, feel like I’m residing in a home from home and come back feeling replenished and rejuvenated.

Samantha Renke in her wheelchair, dressed in winter clothes (coats, a hat) at a winter market at night, with a ferris wheel in the background.

When you have a disability, there is so much more to plan and navigate (Picture: Samantha Renke)

Rather than having to worry if my access needs will be met or if insufficient provisions will impact me, and those who are with me.

I cannot remember a holiday where I’ve not struggled even with the basics, like going to the bathroom, or been able to get up stairs and steps without being carried.

Instead, holidays have been filled with inaccessible beaches and coaches. I remember one holiday with my girlfriends, where we had to hire a rather costly accessible minibus to get us from the airport to our hotel instead of using the coach that was provided.

I felt so guilty, especially as I didn’t have the funds to pay for it solo. My friends were happy to chip in, and sure, this is what friends do but I couldn’t help but feel shame.

Holidays can be stressful for anyone – delayed flights, lost baggage, kids squabbling or catching a tummy bug.

However, when you have a disability, there is so much more to plan and navigate, that sometimes you think, why bother?

There is something undignified about being on your period and having your male friend helping you on and off the loo

As someone who has a condition where broken bones can happen often, I never travel anywhere without travel insurance.

But just having the diagnosis of brittle bones excludes me for many travel insurance brokers. And the ones that do accept my diagnosis charge a premium. On one occasion, I paid almost as much in insurance for a two-week trip to Mexico than the flight itself.

The view of someone having a disability being more high risk always seems unfair to me.

If, like me, you know the risks of your condition, you go above and beyond to safeguard against them on holiday.

I would, therefore, argue anyone – irrespective of their circumstances – going on a holiday, where alcohol and water, or balconies, are involved, should have to pay a premium.

Then there is the issue of travel itself. Given the fact that I cannot walk, I cannot travel independently on a flight. I always need to be accompanied.

Samantha Renke at home, wearing purple flowery headwear and a lilac top.

Being in a new environment can really impact us (Picture: Samantha Renke)

This wasn’t such a big deal when I was younger travelling with family, or in college years when I went away with my girlfriends. But now I’m in my 30s, most of my friends have families and understandably go away with them.

I could pay for a private support assistant but having to fork out for 24-hour support would be an enormous cost.

Not to mention the risks to your mobility equipment – roughly 29 wheelchairs are broken each day by airlines.

On a trip to Morocco, the airline lost the seat cushion of my manual chair. No big deal, it’s only a cushion, right? Wrong. My cushion was made to measure, designed to breath and avoid pressure sores.

I spent most of that particular holiday physically uncomfortable and the makeshift cushion we’d fashioned was too low for me to propel my chair, so I needed to be pushed around, completely halting my ability to do even the simplest of tasks.

Thankfully, I got my cushion back after a few days, but it really impacted my holiday.

When you have a disability, your home is your sanctuary.

Everything is where it should be so that we can maintain our independence and autonomy, even down to the minute detail of where we keep our phone charger or the string to help open and close doors.

So being in a new environment can really impact us.

I’ve been to hotels that have advertised as accessible, yet I still cannot get my wheelchair through the bathroom door. Every time I’ve needed to use the toilet or shower, I’ve had to get a friend to carry me, completely eradicating any sense of privacy or autonomy.

Luckily, I’m super close with my friends but there is something undignified about being on your period and having your male friend helping you on and off the loo.

Plus, I don’t want my friends or family to have to come to my aid while we’re on holiday. I want them to relax, in the same way I want to be able to relax.

Disabled people deserve to enjoy their time away. We deserve luxury, we deserve spontaneity, and we deserve to have our needs met, irrespective of where we are.

Finally, things seem to be changing in our favour. Recently I attended a parliamentary event to celebrate the success of the Rights on Flights campaign spearheaded by TV presenter Sophie Morgan.

The campaign shed light on the inaccessibility of airlines and has already assured more accessible air travel – including accessible bathrooms on planes and a prospect of remaining in your own wheelchair on board. 

Of course, disabilities all look and feel different, so I guess there will never be a holiday resort that will tick everyone’s bespoke boxes.

But that doesn’t mean that tourism and leisure facilities can’t go above and beyond to ensure they are catering for the disabled traveller. 

It’s what we deserve.

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