CHARLOTTE, NC, October 1, 2017 – As a passionate traveler, the idea of satisfying my wanderlust following my diagnosis with ALS seemed, at first, to be a daunting proposition. Oddly enough, not only is disabled travel relatively easy these days, it is also a growing market.
Back in the day, when I was healthier and able to negotiate narrow cobblestone streets and other hazards, the idea of taking off on a tour as a disabled person seemed terrifying. For all the marvelous architectural wonders of the world, history did not design the planet for tourism; steps can be overwhelming for people with limited mobility.
That said, tour operators and travel marketers are waking up to a new world of people who still want to be on the go, rather than confined to a wheelchair. The result has been an abundance of information that is now available for “accessible travel” and tour companies are constantly upgrading facilities to accommodate those of us with limited capacities to move as freely as before.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that disabled travelers receive equal treatment under the law. All of which is nice but does not necessarily translate to convenience once you leave the U.S.
Part of the problem is that there is an infinite number of disabilities which means that even handicapped accessible facilities may work for one person and not another.
Even so, airlines, which used to be a glamorous means of travel, have now gotten considerably better in most countries, providing wheelchairs at arrival and departure gates to get disabled passengers where they need to go.
In fact, in many ways, the hassles of flying have been reduced for disabled travelers, especially those who have Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Not only is the process of getting through security usually quicker, it is also frequently less cumbersome.
Arriving or departing from an international gateway can not only speed the process of clearing Customs and Immigration, but it can save considerable time in not having to make those forced marches from the plane to the customs hall.
For the military, whether veterans or on active duty, many airports now feature lounges that operate in the same manner as the luxury airline facilities which can be expensive. It is worth checking to see if an airport has a military lounge and if they will accept your veteran’s ID card.
It can be a godsend for a disabled traveler with a long layover, and the amenities are comparable to their fancy high dollar airline counterparts.
Railway stations, which are far more prevalent in other parts of the world than the U.S., trains, boats, cruise lines and many restaurants are slowly adapting to the needs of disabled travelers. Getting around is simply not the overwhelming process it used to be and, the good news is that it’s getting better.
Here are some tips for people traveling with a disability or for companion caretakers for someone with limited capacity.
Call ahead: If you give a service provider 24 to 48 hours notice of any special arrangements you may need, you will be amazed at how efficient the traveling process can be. Airlines and cruise lines, in particular, are excellent at providing assistance if they have advanced notice.
Talk to your doctor and be specific: The more information your healthcare provider has, the better he or she can adapt your needs to your itinerary. Things such as medical records, prescriptions, dealing with unusually long flights etc. can aid your physician in knowing whether or not travel is advisable.
As an added precaution, it is wise to travel with a letter from your doctor on his letterhead which describes any unusual circumstances or medications that might be required.
Bring extra medication: One of the hazards of travel these days, not just for the disabled, is the possibility of disruption to a trip for any number of reasons. Thus it is wise to have a supply of additional meds with you just in case there’s an unanticipated event that alters your travel plans.
Avoid connecting flights:– Non-stop travel can be a bit more expensive, but it is also worth it in the long run when you do not have to race through an airport to catch a connecting flight after your first leg is delayed.
If you must connect, be sure to leave plenty of time between flights to ensure you do not get caught between departures because of mechanical problems, weather or other unforeseen delays.
Use travel agents and tour companies that specialize in accessible travel: Many people these days prefer the independence of booking their own travel and bypassing a travel agent. The value of a great travel agent is worth its weight in gold, however, providing they are knowledgeable about logistics and the destinations you choose.
Many agents and tour operators now specialize in “accessible travel” and those businesses can save you hours of pre-planning, adjusting itineraries and back-tracking which is not only time-consuming but expensive and a wasteful use of valuable traveling options.
Plan on transportation to and from the airport: All too often travelers worry about their flights and their hotels and forget about the other aspects of travel such as luggage handling and ground transportation when you arrive.
Travel light. Take half the clothes you think you will need and twice the money.
When you arrive at a destination where you can do laundry quickly have it done there and work those costs into your travel budget. The time and energy you save schlepping bags around the world is priceless.
Do not fail to consider how you will travel when you arrive. Americans typically think like Americans and opt to rent a car. This is not always a great solution. Cars can be expensive, fuel is expensive, reading maps is a hassle, road signs can be difficult and some countries still drive on the “left” side of the road.
Frequently a rail pass or a local tour operator can save both time and money.
To be honest, until I came down with ALS it never occurred to me how simple and easy travel for disabled people can be.
If you share my wanderlust to see the world, it is still out there waiting to be discovered.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up