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Tips for Traveling With Limited Mobility

By Samantha Scott
August 15, 2016

My grandmother loves to travel - she has traveled far and wide her entire life. She’s a spritely 90 years old, but nowadays, it’s difficult for her to approach a long walk through an airport.  

Travel should be available to everyone. But it can feel like a struggle if you have difficulty walking, use a wheelchair or cane, or are otherwise encumbered.  

If you or a family member are looking for tips on traveling with limited mobility, we’ve compiled a list to help you.  



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It’s not as difficult as it might seem to find accessible travel options today. Many resources exist, including tour companies that focus on senior travel, such as Road Scholar and Eldertreks, and travel for those who need special assistance, such as Sage Traveling and Accessible Journeys.  

Traveling in Europe with Limited Mobility

Europe

These days, most mainstream cities, airports, and tourist attractions are easier to access for those traveling with limited mobility. 

John Morris of WheelchairTravel.org notes: “While most assume that the United States is the gold standard of accessibility, many cities in Europe are welcoming to the wheelchair traveler. Germany in particular stands out, with the highly accessible cities of Berlin and Munich.” 

Those who have difficulty walking may want to think about if wandering through cobblestoned streets will put a strain on their feet and hips. Though the idyllic European village sounds lovely, do not underestimate the difficulty of walking around on uneven surfaces for extended periods.

Suggested Accessible Travel Destinations in Europe:   

1. Finland: Sleek and modern, yet charming, Finland is known for pristine beauty, off-beat art scenes, fascinating history and native traditions. Leaders in championing disability rights, their cities, public transportation, and attractions are almost all wheelchair friendly. Accessible Travel Information for Finland 

2. Vienna: Generally called one of the friendliest cities to disabled travelers, Vienna boasts wide sidewalks, is fairly flat, and has a multitude of beautiful open, airy squares. And it’s the epicenter for classical music. What could be better? Accessible Travel Information for Vienna 

3. Budapest: In the past few years, Budapest has burst onto the scene as a major tourist destination. They have good public transportation (though not all Trams are wheelchair accessible, a portion have been updated with more to come), and their famous thermal baths are a huge draw for rest, relaxation, and healing. Accessible Travel Information for Budapest 

Road Scholar Consider: Road Scholar

Road Scholar, previously Elderhostel, is geared toward the senior traveler looking to incorporate education into their travels. Tours often include in depth lectures given by scholars or professors.

Search for European vacation packages, very easy physical level »

Cruises

river cruise

Cruises are one popular option to consider. Specifically designed to have everything you could want available in close proximity, you have beautiful views, delicious food, and less ground to cover than on a larger cruise ship.

Imagine relaxing throughout the day on your balcony with a view of the sea - and you only have to unpack once! 

Cruises also dock in city centers meaning that it will be faster and easier to access key tourist attractions.  

Another great benefit to traveling by cruise is the ability to rent equipment that may be cumbersome to travel with otherwise. A great resource to keep in mind is Special Needs at Sea which specializes in making rentals available to cruisers. 

silversea Consider: Silversea 

Silversea’s sleek, comfortable small ships are the perfect choice for a cruise. Their patron is typically 50 + and all activities are geared to this. A great option for couples and singles, it can be a challenging trip for multi gen groups depending on age groups.

Other Types of Accessible Travel Options 

Train Journeys

If a cruise is not your style but you’re still looking for something requiring less movement, consider a train journey.  

This can be a great way to cover a lot of ground, and similar to a cruise you’ll pass by stunning scenery every day. Stops are typically spread far apart giving you time to relax, and enjoy the journey. Train platforms can be very busy, fast paced places however, so plan ahead for taking extra time to get where you need to go. 

abercrombie Consider: Abercrombie & Kent

UK based luxury tour operator, Abercrombie & Kent, operates tours all over the world. They offer several train journeys to such far reaching places as India and South Africa. 

Coach Tours

For some, a coach tour, while comfortable, might not be the best choice when considering the strain of continuous de-boarding and on-boarding down steep bus steps. 

But if that’s not an issue for you, this can be another excellent way to minimize over exertion and travel in comfort. Coach tours incorporate a lot of great guided visits to tourist attractions and local establishments for meals and accommodation. 

smartour Consider: SmarTours

SmarTours offers near full-inclusive tours, at reasonable prices. They go to exotic destinations as well as offering more classic trips in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Custom Tours

If you want a little more customization and involvement in your travel itinerary, look into finding a custom tour operator. They can help you find specific destinations and activities suitable to your physical condition.

myths & mountains Consider: Myths & Mountains

Myths & Mountains are well known for providing immersive tours in such locations as Nepal, India, and the Galapagos. And they give a lot of control over the itinerary to you, so you have the ability to plan as much or as little strenuous activitiy as you desire. 

See all tour operator reviews »

For the Adventurous

adventure

If you’re looking for something with a little more chutzpah, don’t despair. Many options are available. Consider a luxury safari tour - which may still include a bumpy jeep ride, but will allow you to rest in the evening with a lovely dinner, and get a spa treatment the next day. 

The benefit to a safari trip is there is very little walking involved, and it's possible to find extremely comfortable accomodations with a luxury tour. 

Even the adventure capital of the world, New Zealand, has its fair share of activities available to older and disabled travelers. If you want to go jetboating, parasailing, even bungee jumping, new Zealand crews are very accomodating to all creeds wanting an adventurous experience. Check out this article from Backpacker Guide for more information.

National Parks have made a huge effort in the past few decades to incorporate accessibility. So even if you travel on two wheels, you can venture deeper through the parks to marvel at the natural beauty. And now with the advent of "glamping" you can have all the benefits of sleeping outdoors without the bugs or tossing and turning in a sleeping bag on the hard ground.

General Tips

Requesting travel assistance in advance from your airline can vastly improve your flying experience. If you need wheelchair assistance, all airlines can have one waiting for you at the gate after a long flight.

Alison Gardner, Editor of popular site Travel With a Challenge recommends this service highly, saying “Stepping out the door of each plane at each airport connection, there was either a waiting driver and wheelchair or a golf cart with my name attached to it. This turned a usually slow, painful journey into pure bliss.”  

My grandmother, who recently went on a two month South America cruise, would liked to have known about this option! 

Travel Insurance and Medications

Your required medications may not be available in your country (or countries) of travel, so be sure to check in advance with your prescriber if you will be gone for an extended period. Keep your medications on your person (not in checked luggage) and make sure it is always in the original container with clearly marked labels.

Also keep in mind that in some rare cases, some medications are prohibited in certain countries. Always check beforehand, and if in doubt, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting. 

Not all travel insurance is created equal. If you are concerned an emergency may arise, MedJet is a good option, recommended by the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality. They assist with medical air transfer primarily, but have other services as well.

Additional Resources

AARP - with their own travel section including tips from experienced travelers like Samantha Brown, AARP is a great stop to make while preparing your vacation.  

Independent Traveler - A great resource for more independently minded travelers.

Disabled World - A wealth of information, tips, and articles not only travel related.

SATH - Founded in 1976, this organization helps provide helpful and extensive information to senior and disabled people looking to travel.

Sage Traveling - European specific information for disabled travelers. 

Wheelchair Traveling - A great website for all ages wheelchair travelers. They have a diverse offering from personal stories, videos, and advice columns.

Caring.com - Assisted living resources for seniors, encouraging an active lifestyle. This article has a lot of great tips for seniors looking for their next travel experience. 

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