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Photo: Wishing won't get you where you want to go- but these ideas and tips certainly will help!
To build anything, you need a foundation. For the foundation of your trip, you must consider these important things:
Mistakes of Assuming. On a recent trip to Brazil, our local agent had made nearly superhuman arrangements for us to go to a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro, famous among locals in Copacabana for its fabulous music and dance. He even got us a table at the edge of the dance floor!
Unfortunately, he did not know Nancy needs a great deal of rest- she is usually bed by 9PM. The A-List night club did not even open until 11PM, and we would likely not get back to the hotel before 2 or 3 in the morning. No way we could do that- and the whole plan had to be eliminated!
Determine what your overall budget is going to be. Are you going to stay with friends or in a hotel? A five star hotel, or a pensione? Can you afford to hire professional guides, etc. When you know ahead of time what you can buy, you avoid the major disappointment of falling in love with plans that are simply too expensive for you. You will feel the whole trip has been compromised- and you haven't even left yet!
How long will your overall trip be? When you plan activities, can you leisurely explore the area, have time for multiple excursions, go to several countries, etc. Or will you only have time to hit the "high spots"? Most people over plan, rush through too many activities, and come back utterly exhausted.
What, exactly, can you do physically, and what, specifically, can you not do physically? Can you walk at all? Climb a small flight of stairs? Get over the edge of a bath tub? The more information you can supply to those assisting you in your planning, the fewer the possibilities you will run into problems once you get to the place of your dreams. Many times we have found that others come up with solutions for us we would never have considered ourselves. People everywhere love to help- they just don't know what to do. If you give them the information they need, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
What do you want to do or see when you get to your destination? Living life in the moment is fine for some people. We find that because of disabilities, it is better if we plan ahead rather than be too spontaneous. This does not mean we don't do things on the spur of the moment, just that we don't rely on such an approach for our overall activities.
We even make a list of the "must see" things, ranking them in order of their importance to us. This way, if we run out of time or energy, we will have satisfied our greatest desires. (See Tip #3 below.)
Traveling Disabled Tip #2- Negotiate prices. In most countries you are expected to haggle about the price of everything- and you should. It is fun, will save you money, and sometimes can lead to interesting social situations. But do it smartly, without insulting the intelligence of the merchant, and don't think of it as you beating the other guy. In Chapter 12 of the Disabled Travelers Guide to the World we'll give more tips for best results.
In Dubai, U.A.E., we saw a ring in the window of a jewelry store that interested us. We went into the shop. The shopkeeper offered us tea. A relative of his dropped in a few minutes sometime later, a cousin who had been to the United States. We chatted for quite awhile and left the store, with the ring, more than an hour later. We also had an invitation to dinner at the merchant's house. The purchasing experience was an event in itself! We would have missed it all if we had walked in and immediately demanded a discount; or offered 50% less than the asking price.
In another instance, in Ecuador, we had seen a wonderful coffee table, a diagonal slice of a large tree, fit atop a tree stump. We were also interested in getting a stool to go with the table. The owner stated a price of $100.00 for the table. I counter offered and we went back and forth, finally settling on $75.00. I gave him $85.00, actually more than we had agreed upon, telling him we were impressed with his craftsmanship and felt his work deserved more money.
He and his entire family, four generations in one little room, were all present during the negotiations. He and his wife were beaming with delight. They gave us the stool as a gift. We went back to the shop some months later to get a second stool. They gave it to us and refused to take money for it. They treated us as if we were royalty. Sometimes it just can't be only about money.
Traveling Disabled Tip #4.0- Difficult transfers indoors. Here is a great idea of what you can try if you can't get from the hallway into your stateroom, or from your hotel room into the bathroom because the passage is too narrow.
Usually the ship, hotel, hostel has access to a chair with little wheels sitting at a desk in the office. Borrow it. It involves a transfer from wheelchair to office chair, but the office chair will fit through the doorway where your wheelchair will not. We have also used this in very small, very crowded restaurants.
Depending on where we are going, I have sometimes carried a small piece of strong metal, as wide as your wheelchair or scooter and only six inches or so long. I put it into a suitcase for travel purposes, and get it out if there is a "lip" or high edge to get into a bathroom or step-in shower.
#Tip 4.5- Difficult transfers outdoors. Depending on your limitations, nearly every outdoor transfer when you are not at home, that is, in familiar surroundings, can be a challenge. We have found that we cannot pre- plan for all transfers, especially given the adventurous nature of the things we do on our trips. Most of the time, we have to come up with solutions on the spot.
We have become fearless, and we have promised ourselves not to be afraid to try! Determination is the hardest part of the bargain. Be willing to take a chance. Somehow, there will be a solution, though you may not know in advance what that will be.
One thing has always been true for us: Others who see what the problem is will help find a solution for you. They anticipate the difficulties ahead of you; they all admire you for attempting to do whatever it is you are about to do. All of them will make every effort to see that you are successful.
These are acts of human kindness and compassion- not something anybody owes you. Don't take it for granted; be respectful and appreciative.
I always think to myself, "God did not bring you all this way just to leave you stranded." Have a little faith.
Traveling Disabled Tip #6- Hire a tour guide in any city or town important enough for you to visit. It doesn't have to be a formal guide from the top agency. In Kyoto Japan, we hired a university student who was out of school and writing his Master's thesis on Japanese architecture. He took us around Kyoto for several days- for the cost of gas for his car and a good lunch each day (we also tipped him appropriately). A high end travel agency wanted $1,200.00 for an English speaking guide whom, we are sure, would not have been half as entertaining or as knowledgeable as our student.
We have a chapter in our book, Disabled Travelers Guide to the World that goes into this subject in great detail. Most people miss so much when they travel because they don't realize what they are looking at, where to look, or what to look beyond. Certainly guidebooks help, but of all places to try and save money, don't do it here. Cut your trip shorter by one day, skip the meal at that fancy restaurant, do whatever you can to save, and use the money to hire a good guide.
We delight in going places "off the beaten path". We had a guide in Northern Thailand, an ex-monk, who took us to a 'factory' somewhere outside Chang Mei where they made sesame oil. You see what we saw: an ox, tethered to a grinding wheel. The fellow working there would throw sesame seeds under the wheel, and as the ox hauled the wheel round and round, the seeds were pressed and oil flowed out, caught in the red plastic bucket, which was emptied into jars when it was full. The jars were labeled, then taken by other workers to a farm market in the next town. We visited the town as well. None of this was in a guidebook.
Also not in the guidebook was the fact that in this part of the country, cock fighting is a popular sport, though banned by the government. The person who owned the sesame mill kept a number of fighting cocks in large individual cages that reminded us of a cake dome. We declined to see a fight, but learned lots about it, spared the gory details by our guide who showed great sensitivity to our gentler view of things.
Traveling Disabled Tip #8- About tipping. In many countries, tipping is not expected, and we recommend you check first with the money changers at the airport or someone at the front desk of your hotel once you arrive in country. In Ecuador, 10% tip for service and 12% tax is automatically added to the cost of the meal in all restaurants. Tipping is totally unnecessary, though you can leave an addition quarter or half dollar if the service was especially good.
We had taken friends to an excellent up-scale restaurant in Quito. There were six of us, and the bill came to a little over $80.00 and change, including the 10% service and 12% tax. Asking our guests, native Ecuadorians, about an additional tip, they suggested $3.00, or 50 cents for each person in our party.
If you do tip, do it modestly and in keeping with the local economy. We prefer to give the tip directly to the server with a word or two of our appreciation, rather than leave it impersonally on the table.
We have seen Western Europeans and Americans give tips for service that nearly equal a day's pay for the receiver. This is not smart. Others are watching and a large tip 'marks' you for possible mayhem after you leave the restaurant.
Travel Disabled Tip #10- Dealing with taxis. Never get into a taxi without first discussing the fare, even if it is just a trip of a few short blocks. Without this understanding, you can get taken advantage of badly.
Because Nancy cannot climb steps or transit without a wheelchair, we cannot board busses and are forced to take cabs often. Many small towns do not have good accessible public transport, and outside the larger cities handicap accessibility is severely limited or non existent.
If we are to travel in a city or country where little English is spoken and we do not speak or understand the local language, I will pre-print little slips of paper before we leave the United States. Use Google Translate or any number of online instant translators. You type in your language and it is translated into whatever language you choose. Type, "What will I have to pay you to go to (Fill in name of place)?" "If I want you to wait for (fill in amount of time) or come back in (fill in time ) and return us here, what will I have to pay you for all of that?" "If you come tomorrow morning to the hotel at 10 in the morning and take us around your city until 5 in the afternoon, what will I have to pay you? Are there going to be any added charges?" You get the idea.
Once we have established the price, we always have the driver fill in the amount and sign the paper , which I keep in my pocket. If later there is a dispute- which happens far more frequently than you might suppose- I don't argue with the driver, merely ask for a policeman. Everyone, everywhere, recognizes "Police". Usually that will be enough and the driver will relent. If not, should an officer actually arrive, show the paper to him. This avoids giving the driver the opportunity to tell the officer what he says you agreed to pay, speaking in a language you do not understand.
Perhaps it is not possible to get a policeman. If we have to, we have gone into a nearby shop and asked for help. The shopkeeper will come with me back to the cab, holding the signed agreement in his hand, and argue for us with the driver. Many people identify with- and are protective of- people with challenges.
By the way- if you are staying at a hotel, get a card with the name and address of the hotel printed on it. Show this to any taxi when you want to go back to the hotel after shopping or sightseeing. Get the price first.
Please go to our Disabled Travelers Guide to the World for many additional tips on arranging tours, transport and other details. See, especially, Chapter 8 of the Disabled Travelers Guide. There is also valuable information in Chapter 12 of the Disabled Travelers Guide .
Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.