Plans & Tips for Disabled Travelers
Photo: Wishing won't get you where you want to go- but these Guidelines and the information in the following chapters will certainly will help!
To build anything, you need a foundation. For the foundation of your trip, you must consider these important things:
- Assume the people you deal with know nothing about your condition and what you need. Be patient, but thoroughly educate them about yourself. Overlook nothing. Everything is important.
- How much do you plan to spend?
- How much time do you have?
- What do you want to see?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How much physical ability do you have? How much help will you need getting around? How dependent are you on others?
- Are there items or medications you need which may not be available where you are planning to go?
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.)
Do you know enough about where you want to go to ask intelligent questions of anyone you contact to help you? The search engines (Google/Yahoo) can provide you with all the detail you need to make choices. Use them liberally and don't skimp on your own research.
Do you have something specific you want to accomplish? Kiss the Blarney Stone (Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland), view the Mona Lisa (Musée du Louvre in Paris, France), marvel at the Faberge Eggs (Ten are in the Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow; five are in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia; others in various places around the World)? The time to find out you could have done- or should have done- this or that is not after the trip is over.
Is there special equipment you need but would rather not carry from home? Will you be needing to purchase disposable supplies, rent a lift-equipped van, etc.? Small towns or villages in developed countries often have nothing in stock that you will need. Even large cities in less developed countries can be most challenging. If they carry disposable underwear, for example, they may have a single package of 6 on the shelf, but invariably the wrong size- and they won't be getting any more until next ?????
When we went to the Amazon, we packed a fold-up hemi- walker to help with transfers into and out of bed. It was not heavy, but bulky and difficult to fit into our luggage. Before we left the U.S., I had checked with the hospital in Manaus, the only large city in the area where we were going, and they told us not to rely on them for any "hard" equipment. We took them at their word, and it saved us a lot of grief!
Generally, when we travel, we carry very few clothes and no extra pairs of shoes. The overwhelming majority of what we bring along is "stuff" we have to have- but might have trouble finding away from home.
To help you find equipment at your destination, use Google Search. Let's say you want to rent an electric wheelchair or scooter in Copenhagen, Denmark. From your browser, search the words Mobility Scooter Rental Copenhagen and see what comes up. Vary the search words according to your needs.
For other items of a medical equipment nature, we suggest another idea in Chapter 8 of the Disabled Travelers Guide: call the largest local hospital nearest your most important destination and discuss issues of equipment and supplies with them. Use Google Translate to type out a "script" so you can ask for help in their language. If there is no hospital or facility for dealing with people of special needs, you are not likely to find anything you need, and must either bring such with you, do without it, or go somewhere else.
Traveling Disabled Tip #
1- About documentation. Get official documentation of your "special needs". Your physician should give you a letter stating you are disabled and in what way you are disabled. If you need special equipment of any kind, oxygen, a walker, paper disposables such as underpants, have this included. Also have your doctor include the medications prescribed for you. Be sure the medication or drugs you carry on your person or in your luggage match what is on the list.
If possible, have them add the statement that you have been checked and found free of any communicable disease, particularly HIV Aids.
In some countries, if you have no documentation for the medications you are carrying, they may be confiscated (and later sold on the black market). We saw this happen to a British couple in Burma,
where there was zero possibility of replacing the medications. The officials could not have cared less.
Many doctors are now using a rubber stamp to prevent forgery of their signatures. Be sure the document you get from your doctor receives this stamp to assure everyone your letter is authentic. Make several copies of the letter and carry the original with you at all times. Treat this letter as you would your passport. There are times having the letter may prove critical to you.
If you have an extensive file of medical records, consider going to the expense of having a certified copy made of these records. The further you get away from modern cities, the greater their value should anything happen to you.
We cannot stress enough the value of being over-prepared for these situations. Most of the people who will be checking you through security, or for whatever purpose, generally have little or no authority to make changes in rules- rules which are often arbitrary and non- sensible. They are more worried about keeping their job than they are about your needs. If there is a problem, and you can show them authoritative directions and instructions, then they and their supervisors feel safe in permitting you to do what you need to do, knowing they will not be held responsible.
If your doctor does not have the anti-forgery stamp, go to a notary or similar official in your country. In the presence of the notary, write (print) across the top of the letter, "This is a true statement from my personal physician testifying to my disabilities". Sign it and have the document notarized, stamped and sealed. Be certain what you have looks professional, official, and genuine. Even if it is a true copy, but it is wrinkled, soiled, has misspellings or erasures on it, it may be rejected. DO NOT CHEAT ON ANY DOCUMENTS!
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 #3- Do a little research. Check out available information before you decide where you want to travel. Once you have chosen a place, research a little more to get specific ideas.
Certainly feel free to write us using the Contact Page. We love getting your letters.
Nancy and I started traveling before there was general use of computers and the Internet. Now it is easy to find out so much of what you need to know by just doing a little homework online. Go to the top of your browser page, use Google, or the search engine your browser is set to, and type in 'taxi copenhagen', 'tickets sydney opera', or whatever it is you are looking for. Follow up some of the links. If you don't find what you want, change the search words, say, 'transportation around copenhagen', or 'upcoming performances opera sydney'.
Usually you will come up with answers in direct proportion to the effort you put into the discovery process. And while you are browsing, you will learn much that you didn't even know to ask.
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 #5- Take "little rewards" for the locals. Put packs of sugarless chewing gum or brightly colored ball point pens into your luggage before you leave home. Give these as gifts to children you meet on your travels. The pens that contain several different colors of ink are always a great hit!
You can also give these to people who help you in some meaningful, unexpected way along your journey. We have been so many places where people have so little. A package of gum may not seem important to you, but they treasure anything you give them. In their minds, it helps create a good image of people from your country. You become a sort of 'Goodwill Ambassador', and it feels good. Again, it can't always be just about money.
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 #7- About handicapped parking. If you have a government issued permit for special parking, have it copied and bring it with you. We routinely carry such a permit with us and place it on the dashboard of any vehicle we use. In all our years, we have never had anyone challenge this in any country we have visited. Not only does it allow you to park closer to historic sites, it also earns you extra attention and assistance from guards and other people at attractions like museums and castles.
When we visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia, most traffic around the royal complex was restricted. We would have had to park some distance away, then walk to the building.
We put our handicap parking placard on the front dash board. Not only did they permit us to pull directly up to the entry stairs, several of the guards came down from their post and helped carry Nancy up and into the famous building. They directed us to a special elevator so Nancy could see the collection on the upper floor. Our professional guide knew nothing of this elevator.
In the early Eighties, we went to Windsor Castle outside London. The car park was full, and the guard directed us to park outside the castle walls. I showed him the placard and he hesitated. Still, he said, there was no place for us and we would have to walk. "Do you think the Queen would be pleased if she were to discover you made someone in a wheelchair walk for blocks just to be a guest in her home?"
He showed us around back of the castle and we were led inside by a uniformed officer of Her Majesty's Private Guards. We felt like visiting monarchs, and they nearly treated us as such.
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 #9- Read The Disabled Travelers Guide to the World. It is full of tips and other valuable information. It is free and can be downloaded or read online.
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.
Go to next section of Travel Tips- Airlines
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- About Tour Guides. There is also valuable information in Chapter 12- About Bargaining and Negotiating.
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.
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