The Great House Hunt

So I thought I would share a few of our experiences when searching for  perfect holiday accommodation for a trip abroad, staycation or mini-break. The need for us to think about accessibility has increased over the past few years, which often makes that search more complicated.

The accessible tourism market is worth a massive £12bn in the UK ( so it is very much in tourism operators interests to find out what holidaymakers may need and require, and include this in their property information. At the moment that’s not always the case so finding a suitable property can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I am one of those strange people who actually likes searching and looking at lots of lovely holiday properties, but even I sometimes become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and choice….

I appreciate that not only all people who have mobility difficulties have differing needs and requirements; so too do families when having to take into account the ages/hobbies/likes/dislikes of everyone in the family.

It’s really important for us to remember that we are a family first, but the add-on is checking out how suitable a property will be access wise (to prevent the need to be googling local minor injuries units and jumping out of our seats every 2 minutes to make sure Emily doesn’t miss a surprise internal step….)

Very subtle things can create a problem for us, such as very narrow stairs in older houses, random internal steps into various rooms, poorly maintained paths or driveways that cause a trip hazard, or stairs that cannot accommodate stair gates.

Gardens can often be a problem as French doors often have a lip on them followed by 1 or 2 (often poor quality) steps down onto a nice hard crazy paving patio with plenty of trip hazards to keep you busy. More and more houses are beginning to add good quality garden photos on to their descriptions which does help.

The holiday rentals market in the UK alone is overwhelmingly massive, and the options when filtering are usually ‘ground-floor facilities’ or ‘disabled access’; often meaning adapted bathrooms, hoists, etc. Some agencies have really good levels of additional filters such as whether the property has internal steps, how easy access is to the garden, etc; others may have more limited information.

I have found that many cottage companies can be very accommodating if you email them directly with your specific requirements and the area you want; and may send recommendations for properties which most closely match these.

This isn’t always possible with the rentals websites which link you to the owners, but again I have found the (majority) of owners to be very accommodating when you send them a set of random questions. Direct contact with an owner is more likely to guarantee you the exact information you need, as an agency may not always have the detailed knowledge around the interior of a property.

We are visiting a cottage complex later this month, and when I emailed the owner about a set of steps I spotted in the corner of a small photo, she was good enough to take a photo and email it to me. Another cottage owner took additional photos and added them to her cottage description, so people can be really keen to help.

Some holiday properties have brilliant accessibility guides which answer all your questions without you having to write endless emails; but others will have very few photos and limited descriptions.

Sometimes properties will have 40-50 photos and despite squinting at them for hours, you can sometimes arrive at a property to be greeted by a real problem (like 3 large external steps and no handrail, a large step halfway across the terrace or loads of hidden internal steps – these have all happened to us).

Virtual tours are great in terms of giving you a real flavour of the dimensions and potential problems of a property, but tend to be few and far between.

There are some ‘disabled holiday’ websites which you can access and which can be really helpful, but again you may not always have the same requirements as others with mobility or access needs.

If you enjoy staying in static caravans, they can be a great way to ensure that you will definitely have no internal steps! Fully adapted caravans have verandah/ramp access, widened doorways, hoists and large wetrooms.

If your requirements aren’t as specific as this, most websites have the option to refine your search to include criteria like a ramp and enclosed verandah. Static caravans which are not specifically adapted tend to have smaller bathrooms and the doorways can sometimes be narrow; so again it would depend on your own needs. Sofas and dining areas are usually fixed so may not be suitable if you would struggle to sit at a table without freestanding chairs.

I suppose a summary of our experiences, and the advice I could give (and I’m still learning!) would be to apply as many filters as you can (if there is a good selection); read the description and look at the photos closely; and read reviews from others.

This isn’t really the most groundbreaking advice I could offer as you would be doing all that anyway. The extra bits I would say may be helpful are:

  • Explain your requirements to agencies and ask them to help you narrow down the choices. Be specific about your needs, what you don’t need can be just as important to know as they may presume you need a wet room, hoists, ramps, etc; which may limit your choices. Let them know if you need things like level access to a garden or a large bathroom.
  • If dealing with an owner directly ask them detailed questions by email, they are usually really happy to help.
  • Don’t depend too much on the photos to give you the detail you need, ask the questions too.
  • Virtual tours are always helpful and if you’re really lucky the property might have a good accessibility guide.
  • Once you have chosen your holiday, is a good website for planning local places to visit, and has really detailed access guides.

Finally – enjoy your holiday and be sure to write a review for the rest of us searching for the elusive perfect holiday property!


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