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No Place Like Home

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2014

Home exchanging provides an affordable,
comfortable and accessible way to visit
many places around the world.

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The renowned 19th century author of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, once wrote, “To travel is to live.” Countless writers, politicians, religious leaders, actors and backpackers have echoed his phrase proclaiming the significance of travel for generations.

Most people agree there is intrinsic value to a good vacation. However, many obstacles can stand as roadblocks for some would-be globetrotters, especially when it comes to those with spinal-cord injury/disease (SCI/D).

Cost is a big issue for everyone these days, but wheelchair travelers also have to be concerned with accessibility. Since various hotels offer different accessible amenities, it can be hard to find a good place to stay. It can also be that some of the better accessible hotels are pricey, which loops things back to money.

Fortunately, where there is a will, there is always a way. For more adventurous travelers truly looking for a new experience, as well as an economic and accessible way to travel, there is a vast, worldwide network of people willing to home swap.

Personal Relationships

Home swapping has been around for decades and proved to be a safe and economically conscientious way to travel.

The way it works is your family stays in someone else’s home while they stay in yours. A home exchange can be anything the participants want to make it. Sometimes people even exchange vehicles as well as homes. Being able to stay in an accessible home in a desirable vacation spot can make a trip extra special.


Justin Skeesuck and his wife, Kristin, in Maui, Hawai.

One of the oldest home exchange networks was founded in 1953 by a professor who wanted a way to see the world. This professor began networking with other teachers to trade homes for vacations. Since then, it has expanded to include thousands of families across the world.

“The elimination of car rental costs and home accommodation costs are quite significant, and what I feel is the most wonderful benefit of this type of travel is the personal relationships you develop along the way,” says Katie Costabel, a representative of HomeLink USA (home-exchange-usa.com).

With the advent of the Internet, planning a home exchange has become more convenient. Because of technology, many people planning to swap homes know one another so well before the swap takes place that they’re perfectly comfortable sharing each other’s homes.

Often, families will Skype, email, send photos and make phone calls to each other for weeks, even months in advance to iron out every last detail of the exchange.

I Can Do It, Too

Finding home exchange networks, tours or travel information that are specific to wheelchair users is unfortunately difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent.

For those wanting to learn more about world travel that accommodates wheelchairs, there are resources such as The Disabled Traveler (the-disabled-traveler.com).

Website creator Justin Skeesuck knows first-hand the challenges people with SCI/D face. His use of a wheelchair hasn’t stopped him from seeing the world. In fact, it has become his career to travel with his family and help other wheelchair users learn to do the same.

“I just found that there was a deep need for that and that people were always needing to have somebody to look at and say, ‘Hey, this is somebody who is out there doing it and that means I can do it, too,’” Skeesuck says.

World travel can be daunting, but Skeesuck encourages people “not be limited by their limitations.” Wheelchair users need not be deterred from using the home exchange method of travel for fear of not being able to find a home to suit their individual needs.

The Extra Mile

Home exchange websites and networks specifically for wheelchair users have advanced search functions that can help people find a home specific for them. 

“Members who are disabled can search for homes depending on what they need, wheelchair accessibility or a single-floor dwelling; they can search it on those very basic parameters, but of course through that initial communication you have with your potential exchange partner, that’s when you bring up your particular circumstances,” Costabel says of home-exchange-usa.com. 

“It just takes a little action and planning and you can literally go anywhere you would like to,” Skeesuck says. “Don’t be limited to the disability-specific home exchange websites, look at the non-disabilities ones.”

As Skeesuck has learned, home exchange networks not specific to people with SCI/D can often yield good results. A fundamental element of home exchange networks and people who participate in them is the desire to travel.

From Skeesuck’s own experience, he has learned some people are more than willing to make extra accommodations for their home exchange partners in wheelchairs.

“I was not staying in a wheelchair-specific apartment, but they worked with me, they actually made a ramp for me,” Skeesuck says of one home exchange experience. “If somebody is willing to go that extra mile, then it just means that they are a legitimate person and they really want to have you stay in their place.”

For travelers planning to use a non-disability specific home exchange network, be sure to list your exact needs in the search or communicate exactly what you require to your exchange partners. Sometimes a home listing will claim to be disability friendly and still not be what you need.

“Just because it says ‘disability friendly’ does not mean in any way that it is wheelchair accessible,” Skeesuck says. “Always ask for those very specific details and always ask if they will send you pictures.”

An Advisor

Checking the accessibility of the places you want to visit on the trip is just as important as making sure you have an accessible home to stay in.

Many sights may not be completely inaccessible or may have limited accessibility. Fortunately, there are resources that make researching your destinations easier.

“In one sentence, travabled.com is the travel advisor for people with disabilities,” says Stipe Splivalo, the founder of travabled.com.

Travabled.com is yet another website created out of necessity by travelers in wheelchairs. It’s a way for travelers to share their experiences with one another and learn about accessible places to visit.

“I was thinking how great it would be to have an Internet service like Trip Advisor where disabled people can exchange their experiences,” Splivalo says.

If travel is something deemed valuable, there is nothing that should prohibit anyone from the experience. Through websites providing information about the perfect places to see and home exchange networks with people willing to make their homes open and accessible, everyone should be able to travel. All it takes is a little extra planning and determination to get where you want to be.

“Live life with purpose and intent, and get out there and see the world despite your circumstances,” Skeesuck says. “It’s not why, it’s why not?” 

 

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No Place Like Home

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