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9 accessible travel tips for sightseers with disabilities

From inaccessible buildings and public transport to a lack of services and support, people with disabilities often face extra challenges when travelling. But if you or your travel companion has a disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel – it just means you’ll need to do some extra planning to ensure you have an amazing trip. From navigating airports to booking the right hotels, here are 9 accessible travel tips for people who travel with disabilities. 

1. Do your research

Research and planning are key for any travellers, particularly if you have a disability. Not only will you want to find out all the top tourist attractions and best places to visit, but you’ll also want to do your research on all things accessibility in your destination. For example, if you’re using a wheelchair, you’ll want to know if the public transport is accessible and if there are accessible accommodation and restaurant options at your destination. You’ll want to know if the city streets are prone to hazardous potholes, cobblestones or a lack of curb ramps.

There are plenty of resources all over the internet, from accessible filters when searching for accommodation to searching for specific spots on Google Earth and checking the condition of footpaths. You can also join travel forums to get accessible travel tips and talk to other travellers with disabilities. You’ll uncover all kinds of gems, like the fact that Herculaneum’s ruins are very similar to Pompeii but are wheelchair friendly, or that it is possible to avoid cobblestone bridges in Venice. 

You can also use a travel company like Trafalgar to help plan your trip, as they can offer tailored, in-depth travel advice and even create custom tours that work for you. While planning a trip can be daunting for anyone, you can reduce some of that stress by giving yourself lots of time to research, prepare, and ask for help from the experts.

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2. Ask lots of questions

The term ‘accessible’ can mean different things around the world, so be sure to ask specific questions to make sure you’re getting what you need. For example, if you need wheelchair accessibility make sure you ask for a photo of the bathroom before booking, as many hotel staff won’t know that a roll-in shower is not the same as a walk-in shower. It’s a good idea to ask for the door measurements of your room and bathroom, to make sure your wheelchair will fit easily. You can also ask ahead to make sure a shower chair will be available. Asking these types of specific questions before you leave will save you a lot of hassle while you’re on your trip.  

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3. See your doctor before you go

Everyone should get medical advice before visiting a new destination, including people with disabilities. You’ll need to organise things like health checks, vaccinations, and medication and supplies for your trip. Be sure to get a medical statement from your doctor outlining your medical needs and use it at hotels or airports if you need to explain your situation. 

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4. Keep your medication organised

One of the most important accessible travel tips is to bring enough medication to last your entire trip and keep it in your personal carry-on so you can easily access it. That way, you’ll also avoid losing it in the checked baggage. 

When travelling with medication, you must have everything clearly labelled and in its original packaging. If you get pulled up at the airport, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your medication is clearly identifiable and labelled as belonging to you.

5. Plan your transport months in advance

Depending on your destination, you’ll have a few different transport options to choose from. Whether you’re travelling by plane, train or coach, be sure to call the company before booking to ensure they can meet your needs. 

If you’re flying, by law, airlines should accommodate your needs. However, some airlines may have a limit on wheelchairs on each flight or there may be size restrictions on wheelchairs. You might need a hydraulic lift to get into the airplane or some medical equipment may be restricted on flights. At the very least, you’ll be required to fill out paperwork, especially when travelling with a service animal or bringing medical equipment like oxygen or a CPAP device. 

Your best bet is to call the airline months in advance so you can organise all your requirements before booking tickets. And be sure to get everything in writing and confirm with the airline again a few days before departure.

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6. Get in early to get the best hotel rooms

You’ll also want to book your accommodation months in advance, for a few reasons. You’ll need to get in early to ensure you get an accessible room, as many hotels usually have only a handful of accessible rooms and the best ones always book out early. It’s also usually cheaper to book far in advance and you’ll have time to shop around for a great deal.

7. Get travel insurance

One of our essential accessible travel tips is to get the right travel insurance. It’s best to call your travel insurance provider and tell them about your disability so they can select a policy that covers your specific needs. Insurers cannot deny you cover, however, if you don’t declare your disability, your insurer can deny any claims you make. Protect yourself by declaring any pre-existing conditions and shop around to find the policy that’s right for you.  

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8. Plan your airport strategies

If you’re taking a flight on your trip, it’s worth planning ahead to ensure the experience is as easy as possible. For example, many airports have separate priority lines for people with disabilities, so you can avoid those massive security lines. You can also get priority boarding so you can take your time getting settled on the plane. You’re often also entitled to a free additional carry-on bag for disability-related items. 

Airports can also be an overwhelming place for people with conditions like autism, anxiety or dementia. There are bright lights, strange smells, huge crowds, and constant loudspeakers. There are strategies you can use to try to ease the stress of air travel, such as wearing noise-cancelling headphones or carrying sensory items like fidget spinners.

Some airports also have great programs to help with issues like this. For example, Brisbane Airport and Melbourne Airport in Australia have introduced a program called Hidden Disabilities which provides additional support for travellers who need extra assistance.

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9. Ask for help

One of our top accessible travel tips is to always ask for help if you need it. Most people are happy to help out and many airlines, hotels and travel companies like Trafalgar will provide any extra assistance you need. So when in doubt, ask!

What are your favourite accessible travel destinations or top accessible travel tips for people who travel with disabilities?

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