If you have mobility restrictions of any kind, travelling can be a bit challenging. But with some extra planning and research, you can still see the world.
I always knew I was going to travel the world. I just wasn’t sure how, exactly. I have limited use of my arms and wear leg braces, but I’m determined, independent and have a positive attitude. What else would I need?
Turns out I needed a lot more than that. I needed to do a ton of research about how I would get from point A to point B, well before booking anything. Travelling with any physical limitations that necessitate the use of a mobility aid, be it a wheelchair or scooter, crutches or cane, can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating experience. The good news? I’m happy to report that travel is not only possible, but it’s just as spectacular as I imagined.
Perhaps the easiest way to plan a trip is to pass the heavy lifting on to a travel consultant. “Reaching out to an agent who specializes in travel for people with special needs would be a great step,” says Brenda Wheeler, a travel consultant with CAA in Cambridge, Ont. “CAA has a dedicated Find a Travel Consultant feature on our website that lists each agent’s area of specialty.”
Julie Rhodes, a travel consultant with CAA in Chatham, Ont., agrees. “Agents will take the time to discuss your trip in detail and will be available to offer alternatives if there is something within your trip that you cannot complete.”
First up, where to?
Deciding where to go is part of the fun, but make sure you set yourself up for success.
“Destination is really important,” Wheeler says. “Someone who uses a walker or wheelchair may want to rethink a coach tour through Italy, as there may be a lot of walking involved, and cobblestone streets can be a challenge for travellers who use these aids.”
“Having an agent available to assist with modifications and navigate the process can relieve much stress and confusion.”
Perhaps you want to sit oceanside on a Caribbean beach. Great idea, as many destinations, from Aruba to Martinique, offer accessible, all-inclusive accommodations. Or maybe a multi-city European trip is more your style. European cruises, and cruises in general, are known for being accessible and inclusive for those with mobility restrictions.
For me, it comes down to one word: research. I truly believe anyone can travel anywhere they want with the right travel consultant, research and planning.
If you’re like me, you need a little extra legroom for long flights. For others, proximity to the bathroom is most important. If you’re travelling with mobility aids, that adds another layer of planning. Wheeler recommends choosing major carriers, such as Air Canada, Qantas, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Emirates, as they have better accommodations than a low-cost carrier or charter flight. As well, she highly recommends booking an onboard wheelchair, seats with adjustable armrests or more legroom 48 hours in advance.
These can be requested free of charge, and Wheeler adds, “Booking these things ahead will also ensure you have the assistance of a dedicated staff member to help with arrival, check-in, baggage handling and gate transfers.”
However, a lot can change once you’re at the airport. “Planes can be changed, meaning what you originally made arrangements for is no longer an option,” Rhodes says. “Having an agent available to assist with these modifications and navigate the process can relieve much stress and confusion.”
One thing we all know is to give yourself lots of time. Airports can be stressful for everyone, but even more so when you have additional considerations. So getting there early can eliminate a lot of worry.
On my trip to Marrakesh in 2017, I booked an accessible room, but the entrance to the hotel required climbing up a high curb. On a trip to Italy with my sister, who uses a scooter, the hotel in Naples was accessible, but the lift to get in was in the back of the building and required an attendant to answer a buzzer. Neither scenario was ideal.
To be sure the accommodation will work for you, “Your agent can call ahead and ask questions on your behalf,” Wheeler says. She also suggests reading other traveller reviews or joining a travel blog or forum. Local tourism sites and travel podcasts offer loads of good advice, too.
My best tip? After my travel experiences, I learned to spend time on Google Street View. I use it to research the exact location of a hotel and its immediate area to get a lay of the land. This helps me see what the curbs are like, if there are restaurants within walking distance and if I might have any difficulty accessing them.
OK, you’ve made it to your desired destination, settled in to your accommodations and are ready to get out there and explore. The reality is that spontaneity and mobility needs don’t always go hand in hand. Day trips, tours and, most important, how to get there from your hotel all need to be mapped out in advance. Don’t just book your ticket to the Louvre and grab a pain au chocolat to go. Instead, plan how you’ll get there as well. Many historical sites are accessible, but getting there by local transit may not be.
“Plan as much as you possibly can with your agent. If you can’t take public transportation, then hiring a rental van might be an option,” Wheeler says.
I learned that lesson on the trip to Italy with my sister. We had booked accessible train tickets, but it turned out this wasn’t enough. My sister’s mobility scooter was one and a half inches too long to fit on the lift for our train from Rome to Naples. Our moment of panic—and disappointment—was quickly replaced with another solution: hiring a driver and renting an accessible van. We were soon back on our way again and learned a valuable travel tip.
Rhodes agrees that planning as much as possible is key: “It’s all in the research on both ends,” she says. “We may have to dig deep to get the necessary answers and solutions, but there is no task too challenging for our consultants to handle to ensure you have the trip you deserve.”
Making travel accessible
Make your travel dreams a reality with the help of a trusted CAA Travel Consultant. They will help plan your perfect trip, and make sure you have everything you need to travel your way. Visit online or call 1-800-267-8713 to speak to a Travel Consultant today.