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Who says if you're in a wheelchair you can no longer travel? Individuals with all levels of mobility are on the move,
traveling like never before. Famous, not-to-be-missed sights around the globe are opening up to the physically challenged.
The positive news is over the past twenty years things have been changing, due to a new and heightened awareness
about the disabled. This awareness has extended into the wide realm of travel. Airlines, hotel chains and many package
tours can accommodate wheelchair travelers and do so routinely.
With thorough advance planning, most places in the world are accessible to those in wheelchairs. Anxiety can be
conquered with up-to-date information, becoming better organized and by taking a systematic approach to everything from
packing to sightseeing.
To begin, it might be wise to visit your doctor to discuss your plans and any problems which might arise due to your
particular condition. Ask your physician to write out a report stating your exact problems, along with a list of current
prescriptions, including generic names and doses. Make two copies of the statement and keep one with your passport and
one in your carry-on bag. Should you need medical assistance while out of the country, most larger hotel chains will keep a
list of doctors at the front desk. Or visit any U.S. consulate to find the names of English speaking physicians.
Always take enough medication to last several days longer than your trip, in case of delays. Though you can
probably get your prescription re-filled in a large city, this way is simpler and more convenient. If possible, take all
medications in the form of pills, rather than liquids or capsules and put them in your carry-on bag, just in case your suitcase is
misplaced.
If you're traveling in the U.S. or Canada, you'll find numerous cities and states have access guides, with valuable
information for disabled travelers. Try to find these publications during the early planning stages of your trip. Some, but not
all foreign destinations have similar guides and many are free of charge. Check with the tourist authority for the country or
countries you'll be visiting.
Packing light will be to your advantage. Unless it is absolutely necessary, leave the six-piece matching set of luggage
behind. No one enjoys lugging around heavy bags and no one is likely to notice if you wear the same pants or skirt twice. If
necessary, you can rinse out articles of clothing or have them sent to the hotel laundry for a small charge. Travel like Gandhi,
with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.
If you will be flying, be sure to prepare your wheelchair for placement in the baggage compartment. Clearly mark
your name and destination on the chair and remove any loose parts, such as cushions or bags which hang over the arm rest.
Lock all moveable parts in place and put on the brakes. Upon arrival, immediately check your chair for possible damage
and report any problems before leaving the terminal area.
As with any travel, trains arrive late, cabs get delayed in traffic and tour groups run behind schedule. Although no one
can plan for the unexpected, experienced travelers know that getting from point A to point B always takes longer than
planned. That's all the more reason for disabled travelers to pad extra time into their itinerary. Better to spend a few
additional minutes at the airport than to miss the plane. Plan to arrive at train or bus stations in time to arrange help in
boarding and verify schedules.
The same theory holds true for sightseeing. Cushion your itinerary with extra time. It's advisable to plan an easy
pace with only one or two major attractions per day. You can always prepare a list of backup sights to see if time and
energy allows. Keep in mind, access to tourist sites is constantly changing. If in doubt, call ahead to check, ramps may have
been added only recently.
In particular, resist the urge to over-do in the first few days, or you'll pay later. Allow yourself to rest and don't feel
guilty about it. One very important thing to remember is that a sightseeing itinerary is a guideline only. Inevitably it will have
to be altered due to your fatigue, weather, striking employees, little-known holidays or something. The ability to be
FLEXIBLE is crucial for all travelers.
When arranging overnight stays, try to use hotels/motels which have a restaurant on the premises. The added
convenience will pay off. After a long, tiring day of sightseeing, you won't want to travel across town for a sandwich and
coffee. Having room service available is also beneficial.
Outside the U.S. and Canada, you'll find the newer and more expensive the hotel, the more likely it is to be barrier-
free. In most places, large rooms and roomy, private bathrooms, won't come cheap. Those centuries old hotels, may be
charming, but they were never designed for disabled travelers and are costly to renovate, hence not all have done so. A
number of the bigger hotel chains have established accessibility criteria for their properties and publish a free directory
identifying which locations meet the standards.
Although policies on tipping vary from country to country, remember you'll require extra assistance, so be prepared
to be generous. Also, reward your helpers with a kind word and smile, it will go a long way.
Travel can be both a challenge and a rewarding adventure for everyone, in a wheelchair or not.