Yes, You Can Travel!

The world is opening its doors to people who use mobility devices or have difficulty walking.

“I never thought I could travel again” is the comment often heard as someone with a disability successfully completes a vacation. The reality is that yes, you can travel and enjoy many sights, customs, cuisines, and joys the world has to offer.

No, it is not always as easy as just booking a flight and a hotel. You need to plan more, determine what is accessible, plan a successful strategy for self-care, and decide what type of vacation is right for you. Nevertheless, you should view the above items as a planning checklist, not barriers to taking your dream vacation.

The world is opening its doors to people with chronic illness or disability. As we prepare to mark the twenty-first anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we also celebrate a truly transformed travel industry. Many— but not all—airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and tour operators finally recognize that the disability  market is a reckoning force. A recent Harris poll estimates people with disabilities spent $13.6 billion on 31 million trips in 2009.

As any traveler in an airport, hotel, resort, or cruise line can testify, tourists with disabilities are everywhere and remain an important segment of the travel market. Major destinations such as Las Vegas, Nev., and certain cruise lines have pioneered access for these individuals, and more exotic destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, Bali, Japan, Turkey, Costa Rica, and Dubai are now accessible to people who use mobility devices.

Let’s take a look at that planning checklist to help you remove any mental barriers you might have.

Where Do You Want To Go?

Remember, do not immediately allow yourself to eliminate dream destinations because you believe you cannot travel there because they are not accessible. Again, the world is opening its doors to people who use mobility devices or have difficulty walking.

This year, Europe is “hot” again, and there are many options to tour there. You may enjoy the benefits of a European cruise, which allows you the luxury to unpack once in an accessible stateroom while the ship takes you to various ports. This is a popular choice with many travelers because more cruise lines are offering accessible cabins and docking at ports that provide easy access on and off the ship. However, work with a travel agent who specializes in accessible travel when booking a cruise so he or she can assist you with accessible shore excursions and tours.

Land tours in Europe are also gaining in popularity because more inbound tour operators can obtain accessible minibuses and motor coaches. An additional option is a river cruise. Last year we witnessed the addition of the first of its kind passenger boat that was redesigned specifically for people who use mobility devices.

Eastern Asia is also gaining prominence as an accessible destination. Tours and cruises can provide access to China, Japan, Vietnam, Bali, and Thailand, to name a few. 

What Do You Want To Do?

Determine what you and the people traveling with you enjoy. Are you looking for a relaxing vacation on the beach? Are you interested in seeing natural sights? Do you enjoy history, art, culture, or cuisine? Are you looking for a combination of relaxation and sightseeing? Knowing your expectations of your vacation in advance will greatly improve your ability to plan or relay your ideas to a qualified travel agent who understands your needs.

Again, do not limit your expectations about what it is you can or cannot do. Many accessible activities abound in the U.S. and around the world. You could take an accessible raft down the Amazon River, tour the national parks of the U.S., take an accessible zip line through the rainforest, try accessible snorkeling, explore the ancient ruins in Greece, or tour the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Your options are endless.

What Type of Care or Support Do You Need?

Many options can assure you have an accessible vacation while taking care of you. Thankfully, we are seeing more accessible hotel room and ship stateroom options. However, it is still important to receive clarification on what accessible amenities are available.

You do not necessarily always want to take the hotel reservationist’s word that a room is accessible. Ask for a list of the amenities offered and for the room dimensions, especially the bathroom.

When considering which cruise line might be best for you, it is not only important that the stateroom is accessible but also that you can access all parts of the ship.

Services are available to provide equipment you might need on your vacation such as patient lifts, scooters, power chairs, transfer boards, commodes, shower chairs, etc. This option provides the ease of knowing the type of equipment you need will be in your room or stateroom when you arrive and you do not need to pack these items and deal with the hassle of transporting them.

Contact a travel agent who specializes in accessible travel so he/she can assist you with your room and equipment arrangements. This is where travel experts can really help. The agent will know which accommodations, cruise lines, or tour operators will best meet your individual needs.

Another consideration to determine is, if you need assistance with your care, who is providing it for you. If you are traveling with a family member or friend, will this be a vacation for him/her? Sometimes when people travel, they want to make sure their family member or care partner has the opportunity to relax. Certain travel agents can provide you with options that include tour hosts or travel companions who can assist with personal care, transfers, or providing an extra hand so your family or care partner has the opportunity for relaxation as well.

What Is Your Comfort Zone?

Some people are adventurous and look forward to traveling on their own or with family or friends. Others are looking for a bit more security, especially if they are not frequent travelers. Determine your comfort zone while planning your vacation.

There are varieties of options:

– Independent travel—going on your own or with friends and family

– Hosted travel—being met at your destination by a local guide who provides transportation and individual tours

– Group travel—with a small group of people on organized tours with incremental time to yourself

Group travel is a popular option for many people. They feel safer in numbers, enjoy knowing someone is there to assist them while they travel, and appreciate the convenience of the group host making all the necessary accessible and travel arrangements for them.

Some accessible-travel agents provide group opportunities for people with disabilities, chronic illness, or difficulty walking. This is a popular option because they truly understand your needs, and group members enjoy the chance to travel with others who understand their life circumstances along with the opportunity for friendship and fun. Group travel is also an excellent option for single travelers, because they are not alone; sometimes travel agents can arrange roommates to avoid single supplement costs.

After reviewing the above checklist, travel should no longer be a scary thing. With proper planning and the many options available, the world is open to you.

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