By Simon Spencer
I used to think I could never travel to places on my own, with my anxiety and sheer lack of confidence. I felt fortunate to live in Canada, as many of our country’s greatest tourist destinations are accessible.
You could say that when it comes to accessibility, we have it mainly figured out in almost every destination you can think of, save maybe cottage country!
But what if you’re travelling abroad? This presents another challenge entirely. You have to prepare for issues of accessibility on top of the usual international travel requirements, especially if you’re travelling alone. So with this in mind, here is my walk-through of some of the important lessons I have learned when travelling alone internationally and with a disability.
First things first: Research the accessibility standards for the country you’re planning to travel in. Many countries do not commonly have facilities that provide access to wheelchair users or those with hearing or vision loss. Visit wheelmap.org to see if the location you are going to is mapped.
Consider your flight options: Will you need a hand during the flight? Most airlines design their services in ways that can help you. All you should need to do is ask for the help you require and be on your way! Contact the airline in advance to let them know your needs and give them extra time to ensure your safe, speedy and comfortable travel. Pre-arrange ground transportation as well, so that you don’t end up wasting time (like I have done) trying to find an accessible cab or transit service to get to your destination.
Book your hotels in advance
How will you get to the hotel? Does it have elevators? Are there accessible rooms? If this is an option, make sure to book your accessible room as far in advance as possible. If you are going to Europe, for example, be aware that most hotels normally only have one or two accessible rooms—and those rooms are booked early. If you’re travelling in the summer, try to book by December or consider going in the off-season if possible.
Invite a travel assistant
When I was travelling with my girlfriend, she wasn’t able to ask for specific help herself. I was the only one who knew what she needed. It’s important to make sure that if you can’t do something on your own then you travel with someone who can advocate for you and ensure your safety.
Plan your route
If you know the physical landscape of your destination in advance then you will have a better chance of navigating it. For example, if you’re travelling to Paris then you might already know that many paths are built with cobblestones—which are nearly impossible for wheelchair users to travel on. You will have to plan around that fact, or even change your equipment or travel plans.
How to Build an Itinerary
Travel planning can be daunting so it’s important to stay organized, inspired and to focus on your goals. Try these helpful tips:
Create an inspiration board
Use Pinterest to collate all of your desired destinations and things you have collected on the web in one place, giving you access to a personalized research vault whenever you want it.
Add your travel essentials
Boarding passes, passports, hotel reservations, rental car confirmations, backup cash, medication, directions—cover your bases and don’t rely on there being an Internet connection.
Decide what to do
There are plenty of accessible places to visit when you’re on your travels. You just need to do your research! Look for sites and attractions that have ramps or elevators, and offer supervision or support from staff. Once you have come up with some ideas, add them to your itinerary and contact the sites. Viator is a great website for finding tours, shows and sightseeing adventures. And don’t forget to leave time for random adventures!
You can start saving ahead of time. How long you plan to be away and the amount of time you will spend at each destination will vary your costs. To really nail down budgets, research the exchange rate of each local destination and the cost of accommodation, food and transit. Of course, the style of travel you choose will make a difference to how much you spend. Are you a backpacker, a person who is comfortable with bed and breakfast, or do you prefer a 3, 4 or 5-star hotel?
Notify your credit card companies
Regardless of how long you’ll be away, it’s a good idea to let your credit card companies know you will be out of town; this way your transactions won’t be flagged as fraudulent and your card is less likely to be blocked. There’s nothing worse than having to sit on the phone with your credit card company instead of enjoying your vacation.
Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It can cover you when your camera is lost, your flight is cancelled or if something gets stolen.
Simon Spencer was an editorial intern with the Canadian Abilities Foundation. He is wide awake every morning and ready to take on the world.