CHARLOTTE, NC,: Each time I venture out on another travel experience, I learn more about the joys, and hazards, of being disabled in a mobile world. If you have the same wanderlust I have had for more the last half of my life, there’s no reason to let a handicap keep you from your appointed rounds in seeing this marvelous planet.
Even for the healthiest among us, travel is a travail. Nonetheless, having a disability should not be a deterrent if the spirit to roam the world remains strong. It simply requires a bit more patience and due diligence in planning.
First do your homework
That said, many inexperienced travelers, even those without crippling afflictions, fail to do their homework. Thus, being disabled can, in many ways, be an advantage because it forces you to do ample study to simplify your journeys.
One thing to fully understand is that the rest of the world was built long before building for handicaps were a consideration.
That means cobblestone streets, steps, nooks, steps, crannies, steps, alcoves and, did I mention, steps are inevitable.
The very things that offer the character, charm and historical perspectives we seek, can also be a hazard for unwary disabled visitors.
Traversing Hotels, Airplanes and Ground Transportation
In the case of hotels, it’s a simple matter of contacting them via e-mail and asking whether they have facilities that can ease your experience. Ask if they have elevators, bathing facilities that are easily adaptable for your specific needs. Or if they have first floor accommodations or other special services you may require.
One of the biggest frustrations can be traveling with the need for a wheelchair. Of course, you can take your own, but that presents addition schlepping problems, especially if when dealing with considerable amounts of luggage.
In most place, airlines, hotels, railways, cruise lines and airports do have good services that will accommodate your mobility needs. The biggest problem is that they all operate independently.
Therefore, an airline may be very efficient, but once you need to transfer to a rail service or a hotel, you will likely be required to also transfer services and the quality could change.
Hotels which often provide wheelchairs for example, frequently only allow them to used within the confines of their own campus.
In that regard, the advantage of using your own chair is a plus.
Choose your travel destination to fit your disability
For travelers with disabilities, there is perhaps no better system for “coming from and going to” than the Swiss Travel System. The Swiss have somehow managed to make their country operate as a precision watch to such an extent that transportation is an art form all its own.
The bad news for habitually late travelers is that being one minute tardy in Switzerland will usually mean you have missed your train. The good news is that there will probably be another one to the same destination within a half-hour or an hour.
For punctual travelers, the Swiss Travel System is a masterpiece of optimism.
You can actually set your watch by arrival and departure times in most cases. The Swiss network is very well synchronized. Travelers will find that there is minimal waiting while making a transfer. It can be easy to navigate from trains to trains, or boats, or cable cars, funiculars, postal buses and/or local trams and buses.
Here’s one key to traveling Europe by rail with a disability. Go to the Rail Europe website and inquire about the services they offer. Keep in mind that trains do not handle large amounts of baggage. Adding a wheelchair can be difficult to deal with unless the rail companies are given advance notice.
As with independent tourism services, the efficiency of handicapped operations varies in railways from country to country. Switzerland is among the best, but other destinations will probably be less capable, so it is wise to plan as much in advance as possible.
That said, larger cities are typically better prepared to accommodate requests than smaller towns and villages. Usually, there will be rail personnel to assist, but wheelchairs may not always be available.
Prepare before you go, call ahead
The Swiss prefer that you call ahead to your next destination at least an hour in advance so they can be ready for your arrival. Sometimes easier said than done. Especially if you wish to move about freely and at your own pace.
When riding the Swiss federal railways, trains marked with “SBB CFF FFS”, conductors will usually be helpful in calling ahead and making arrangements for you. However, that is no guarantee.
Much of your success will be largely based upon the individual personality of the conductor and whether there’s enough time to make the preparations.
Help is usually generous
Remember, rail personnel are humans and we are asking the to helo us. Remember, someone who had a fight with their spouse that morning may be in no mood to assist.
In general, however, especially in Switzerland, you have a high percentage of getting to and from your trains and other forms of transportation with minimal barriers.
Eventually, as travel operators grow savvier, they will realize there is a huge disability travel market. When that happens, the coordination between services will improve.
It’s all part of the hospitality industry’s learning curve, but if you do your homework and plan ahead, disabled travel can be a great way to go.
In Switzerland, travel is a “moving experience.” Take advantage of their services and you will be pleasantly surprised.
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 the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up
Lead Image: By MarkBuckawicki – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42236741