There are very few travel experiences, really, that are not accessible to wheelchair travelers. If you choose your tour company wisely, almost any destination is open to you. Of course some are easier than others, and some will present unique challenges. But many wheelchair accessible tours are available, making the world easier to see than you may think.
It will start with the mode of travel you’re looking for. A top consideration is cruising. We suggest a small ship or river cruise for the intimacy and personalized service they can provide. Another popular option is train journeys, where you can cover long distances among varying terrain, from mountainous to desert.
Small Ship or River Cruise with a Wheelchair
Physical Level: Very Easy
Top Operators: Croisi, Silversea, AMA Waterways, Cunard
By far, one of the most popular options will be a European River Cruise. Here you can relax, only unpacking once, and enjoying easy access between the boat sections, decks, dining areas, and staterooms. Imagine wonders of Europe drifting by as you enjoy delicious local wines and cuisines.
River cruise vessels by design are slim and low, which gives them the ability to traverse smaller tributaries and sail beneath low bridges. This does mean that not all will have elevators however, so while you may be able to travel in a wheelchair, your access to the upper viewing deck may be limited.
It is also highly recommended that wheelchair travelers have a travel companion who can help, especially in situations such as disembarking at ports, where gangways aren’t always the most sturdy.
If you’d like to travel farther afield than the classic European rivers, to say, the Amazon, this is possible, but remember that these trips will by definition be more rustic.
Small ship cruises are similar to river cruises in the intimate feel they provide, but may be a bit more comfortable and spacious. They will also have more room size options.
Custom or Luxury Safari with a Wheelchair
Physical Level: Easy
Top Operators: Ker & Downey, Abercrombie & Kent, Rothschild Safaris
Luxury safaris are a fantastic way to experience Africa while traveling in comfort. Many safari lodges have spas where after a long dusty day on the savannah, you can relax and become rejuvenated for the next day’s adventures. Rooms are spacious and you may have a private veranda where you can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail as the sun sets.
Game drives on safari are usually very bumpy and long. If this is not something you think you'll be able to manage as a wheelchair traveler, consider using a custom tour operator. They can work with the local guides to arrange shorter drives over more even terrain. These tours are designed to cater to your interests, so if wildlife viewing is important to you, they'll help craft an itinerary that uses the best possible routes for maximum enjoyment.
Train Journey with a Wheelchair
Physical Level: Very Easy
Top Operators: Rocky Mountaineer, Great Rail Journeys, Abercrombie & Kent
One of the best ways to see the world for wheelchair travelers, particularly older travelers, is by rail. Imagine climbing up the alps, or seeing the great Rocky Mountain range pass by through enormous windows, designed to give you the best, up close and personal viewing experience possible. Luxury travel by train, in private staterooms and with personal service, is a throwback to an era not yet completely bygone.
Something to keep in mind however is that train platforms around the world are not created equal. Many are very old and may not be entirely friendly to wheelchairs. For this reason, be sure to contact the tour company for the trip you’re considering to make sure the stops along the way will not be too difficult to navigate.
Other things to keep in mind when traveling in a wheelchair
Many European towns are difficult to traverse for wheelchair travelers, due to unevenly placed cobblestones. While not impossible, if constant bumps don't sound appealing, consider a tour or river cruise that travels smoother roads. Additionally, older cities and attractions are not always accessible.
Some of the best cities in Europe for wheelchairs, according to popular disability travel resource Sage Traveling, include Barcelona, Amsterdam, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, and London.
Don't assume that all hotels, attractions, and transportation options will be wheelchair accessible around the world. There are not as many legal requirements in place for destinations to be fully accessible world wide. So it will be a good idea to call ahead and speak with the tour operator and ask if the accommodations and transportation along the way will be wheelchair friendly. Also, especially in Europe, spaces such as restaurants, are smaller and not designed to accept wheelchairs.
This does not mean you shouldn't go on a river cruise or tour that happens to have excursions to certain places less friendly to wheelchairs. But you may need to opt out of certain activities, so balance how much of this you'd be willing to do against the travel experience as a whole.