I receive multiple requests to write for Solo Traveler almost every day of the week. It’s a bit overwhelming and 99.9% of the time I say “no”. But this time I said yes. This is a post that I cannot and likely will never be able to write myself.
Our guest writer is Josh of Vitalise, a charity devoted to helping people with disabilities to travel. They help with respite centers around the UK and by providing support and advice to those going further afield. Follow them @Vitalise!
Doors are opening – figuratively and literally – with increased frequency to travelers with disabilities.
No longer relegated to the front porch for fresh air, wheelchair travelers, blind persons, those requiring assistive devices and many more are on the move, taking planes, trains and automobiles to destinations near and far.
Traveling alone can be daunting at the best of times. For those with disabilities this increases significantly.
Below we’ve drawn up five key steps — which we’ve nicknamed the five D’s — to help those with disabilities to travel.
Decision: the decision of whether to travel is more complex for those with disabilities.
First things first: you’ll obviously need to decide if you’re able to take a trip. This is something you’ll be able to gauge far better than us so we’ll leave that to you. Check with your doctor before embarking on any kind of trip. This will be especially important if you’re traveling alone. Ask if there are any precautions you should take and any advice pertaining to your medical requirements. Even if you think you know all of this already it never hurts to ask.
Be realistic and don’t let a desire to travel cloud your better judgment.
Destination: choosing the right destination will affect the success of your travels.
As for all solo travelers, consider your travel experience as well as your travel interests before deciding where to go. If you haven’t traveled solo before, start small – a weekend in the next city may be enough. On top of this, people with disabilities must also research his or her travel choices to ensure that the companies involved can provide for your needs.
You can get most of the information you need on the companie’s websites. If you’re not using a travel agent, make sure you talk personally with each service provider for transportation, lodging and attractions. Ask about policies and accommodations for someone with limited mobility or a wheelchair, impaired eyesight and oxygen tanks or special batteries. Ask every question you can think of so there are no surprises along the way.
Accommodation: check in advance to be sure you can…
- Navigate a wheelchair or walker.
- Plug in life-saving batteries.
- Make your way safely with a white cane or guide dog. Are guide dogs allowed?
- Manage the elevators. Do they have Braille markers?
- Gain access to medical clinics, hospitals or pharmacies near your accommodation.
Transportation: If you move with a wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches or require other assistive devices, be sure…
- To book a handicapped-accessible rental van, taxi service or special transportation.
- There are storage places for your items while you’re seated and they are not in use.
- There are ramps where needed and assistance along the way.
- They can accommodate your needs for extra batteries, extra oxygen, or anything else you must have for a medical condition.
Vision-impaired travelers are permitted to take service dogs and white canes anywhere. You know best how the dog should be identified – with a vest, kerchief or small pack bags lettered appropriately.
For extra assurance, sit down with a travel agent and hammer out all your specific desires and requirements. Let him or her make and confirm your travel agenda to take some of the pressure away from you. They’ll know where to look and who to ask.
Details: there are a few more travel details to address.
Once you know where you want to go, you need to think about when. If it’s your first solo trip, you might go off season when crowds are down. We also recommend that people with disabilities fly on the slowest days of the week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Depending on your needs, it is good to check weather forecasts for your destination and route, so you don’t get caught out. This is especially important if you’re traveling in the height of summer or the depth of winter – extremes of temperature are never ideal travel conditions anyway so should be avoided if possible. These days it’s even possible to check the weather on the go with mobile apps for your smartphone or tablet.
Discussion: talk with family and friends about your plans.
When talking to friends and family about your plans, let them express ideas and concerns that perhaps you had not considered. They may come up with questions for the airline, hotel or car rental company that you hadn’t thought of.
The day before your departure, double check all your plans, then double check all your packing. Beyond the clothes, toothbrush and everyday essentials pack cords for cell phone, camera, medical devices and other powered apparatus. It is also wise to take double batteries and prescription medicines just in case you get stranded somewhere due to unforeseen circumstances. Keep your prescription medication in their original bottle with the pharmacy information so that customs can’t mistake your meds for illicit drugs.
Know where along your journey you can get extra oxygen, medical attention, dog food (if you have a guide dog) and special items only you may require. Fortunately, this kind of thing can generally be checked online before you leave.
As you travel, never hesitate to ask for help. Remember that people with and without disabilities drop things, move slowly, get temporarily confused in large airports and like to have a map to navigate trails or downtown streets. You’re no different – you’ll often find people are more than happy to help.
Hopefully, during this step, all of your previous planning and preparation will come into its own!
There you have it…
So, whether the door in front of you is real, as in a museum or airport, or figurative, as in a trailhead or boat ride, step up and step through. Not only will you be stronger and more self-reliant, but you will leave a lasting, inspirational impression on others and be an encouragement to everyone whose heart you touch along the way.