Tips for travelling with a disability

Many travellers like to take each day as it comes, however if you or your travelling companion has a disability then a little extra planning goes a long way towards having a fun and relaxed trip.

Do your research

As any seasoned traveller will tell you, the more research you do before you go, the more you’ll get out of your holiday. This is particularly true if you have a disability. Not only can you find out about cool landmarks and must-see tourist icons, but you’ll want to find out about accessibility and healthcare services at your travel destinations.

Today, all you need is internet connection to research holiday destinations. Hotel booking sites include filters for accessible accommodation, while airlines generally have websites dedicated to those travelling with specific needs.

Think about your needs and what you want from your holiday. For example, if you’re using a wheelchair, find out about public transport in the place you’re going – accessibility can be hit and miss in some countries. You may also want to get the low-down on navigating the streets if you’re planning on visiting a historic, cobblestoned town with endless steps and uneven footpaths. Many older towns have updated their infrastructure to be accessible; some haven’t. Google Earth is a great tool here.

It’s a good idea to ask for photos when researching accommodation options. Accessibility standards vary from country to country – you can ask for a picture of the bathroom, for example, to make sure that it’s suitable for you.

Plan your flights

By law, airlines should accommodate your needs. But it’s a good idea to book your flights well in advance, particularly if you are using a wheelchair. Some airlines have a limit of only two wheelchairs on each domestic flight (or one if it is an electric wheelchair), or there may be size restrictions if yours is an electric wheelchair that cannot collapse. Given that each airline has different rules, your best bet is to speak to the airline as early as you can to clarify your requirements before booking your tickets.

When you speak to the airline, find out if the flight connects to the airport via an aerobridge. If it doesn’t, you might need to organise a hydraulic lift to get you up into the cabin. Some airlines charge a fee for this.

Same is the case if you’re travelling with a guide dog or need to bring medical equipment like a CPAP device or oxygen onboard with you. Airlines may ask you to complete forms before you travel, so allow plenty of time to get this paperwork done.

When you book, speak to the airline to make sure they’re clear on your needs and can have everything ready to go before you fly. It’s a good idea to get your plans in writing, and then confirm them again at least 48 hours of departure.

If you can, try to fly direct to your destination. This saves you the hassle of boarding and disembarking multiple times, and potentially having to race through an airport to make a connecting flight. That said, if breaking up your air travel into manageable chunks is more comfortable for you, then by all means do so. Just make sure there is plenty of time between each flight to get from one gate to the next.

At the airport

 With their bright lights, loudspeakers, smells, and crowds, airports can be overwhelming for people with autism, dementia, or anxiety. To help overcome this, many airports are now introducing programs like Hidden Disabilities, which was first trialled in Australia at Brisbane Airport and now also available at Melbourne Airport. The program provides extra support for travellers who may need additional assistance.

Even if such a program is not available at the airport you’re going to, there are strategies you can try to help ease the stress of moving through a terminal. For example, wearing noise cancelling headphones or carrying specific sensory items like fidget items or tablet apps could help.

Don’t forget your travel insurance

To get the right level of travel insurance, make sure you provide your insurer with information about your disability. You might want to shop around – some insurers cover more pre-existing medical conditions than others.

Before you buy your insurance, just make sure that you’re comfortable with what’s covered and what’s not.

Getting ready for take-off

With all that preparation work done, it’s time to start packing! As well as your favourite holiday read, don’t forget things like an emergency repair kit for your wheelchair or mobility device; spare batteries if your device uses them; and extra supplies of any medications in case of flight delays. A letter from your doctor explaining your condition and your medications is a good idea, just in case something happens.

On the day of travel, arrive at the airport in plenty of time to get yourself checked in and ready to board. The airline should be ready for you and have people available to help.

Once you’ve landed at your destination and made it to your accommodation, it’s time to kick back and relax – or start exploring, if that’s your thing.

Enjoy your trip!