What You Should Know About Traveling with a Disability

young man in wheelchair with female campaign behind him_traveling with disabilitiesTraveling with a disability, whether visible or invisible, can be challenging and frustrating in ways that others might not be able to imagine. From things like showing up to the airport extra early to make sure there’s an attendant to wheel you through security or figuring out how to keep medication refrigerated in-flight to requiring accessible forms of transportation once you reach your destination, it takes planning and foresight the entire time.

We highlighted some tips for traveling with a disability to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip. If you don’t have a disability, but you’re interested in knowing what travel can be like for disabled persons, we like this article that highlights some of the obstacles and what’s being done to create systematic change.

Communicate Your Travel Plan

The best way to make sure your travel is as seamless as possible is to coordinate as much as you can ahead of time. Get in touch with your airline when you book or a few days before your trip to let them know of any kind of accommodations you’ll need to make your flight easier. You can request assistance going through security, getting to your gate, and arriving at your destination; you can even request access to a wheelchair if you need one. Most airlines allow guide dogs for visually impaired passengers at no cost. Just make sure you let the airline know at least 48 hours ahead of time. You should also arrive at the airport two hours before your flight (three for international flights) to go make time for the appropriate animal screening.

The same communication is essential for your hotel stay. Most hotels are able to accommodate travelers with disabilities, and they can provide any information you might need about your stay, including room and door measurements to ensure a wheelchair will fit. Many rooms will label themselves ADA (American Disability Act) compliant, but don’t be afraid to ask for specific details like bed height, toilet and shower specifications, and anything else that could be an obstacle. Hotel concierges are also helpful resources when planning transportation, easy-to-access restaurants, and other activities during your stay.

It can be helpful to keep a written record of your contacts at hotels and businesses and the accommodations they’ve secured for you. That way, if you run into any problems or pushback, the employees know who to call. It shouldn’t be necessary to provide a record or to explain the full extent of your disability, but don’t shy away from sharing your details. The more employees, flight attendants, or hospitality staff who understand how best to make your trip comfortable, the more likely they are to do their best to accommodate you.

Consider a Travel Agent

Many travel agents specialize in working with disabled travelers, and they can be a great resource for booking flights and activities, as well as communicating your needs to those businesses. The thought of a travel agent might make dollar signs spring to your eyes, but this isn’t necessarily cost-prohibitive. Some travel agents earn a commission with the businesses and restaurants they make arrangements with instead of charging a fee to the traveler. With this model, your trip is planned at no cost to you.

Plan Ahead

If you want to steel yourself against disaster scenarios, check out Sage Traveling’s “25 Things That Can Go Wrong When Traveling with a Disability in Europe.” Reading through the mishaps other travelers have experienced will help you learn from their mistakes, but they mostly boil down to a common solution: Plan ahead and be prepared.

Knowing where you’re going, how accessible it is, and what to expect will save you from most bad scenarios. Even cities that have a reputation for being hard to reach or not accessible can be perfectly accommodating if you do your research. Having a backup plan in place for faulty equipment (including spare tires, extra charging packs, or anything else you need) can help you avoid a trip interruption.

For international travelers traveling with equipment that needs to be plugged in to operate or charge, make sure to check if your device will be compliant with the outlets in your destination country. This goes beyond just buying an adapter for the outlet prongs. European outlets put out higher voltage than US outlets do, which can fry your device if you try to operate it with a basic adapter. To keep your device from breaking mid-trip, you’ll need a power converter such as this one from Foval which sells for around $35 on Amazon.

Traveling with Medication

Physicians recommend that you bring twice as much medication as you expect to need on a trip, so you’re prepared in the unlikely event that your trip is delayed or some of the medication is lost or damaged. If you’re bringing prescription medication, be sure to pack it in your carry-on luggage in its original bottles instead of a pill carrier—the bottle serves as a record of your prescription and identification if that is ever needed.

Although the TSA restricts liquids that are more than three ounces in your carry-on luggage, this rule does not apply for liquid medications. You may take medically necessary liquid medications in excess of 3 ounces with you on the plane. Just be sure to notify the TSA agents that you have it with you before going through security at the airport. If your medications must be refrigerated, pack them in an insulated container (such as a small ice chest or lunch bag) with an ice pack. You can bring this with you through security and onto the plane.

Some countries have different drug laws or don’t allow you to bring medical equipment into the country. Depending on your needs, you may need to communicate with the local embassy or fill out extra forms. If necessary, consult with your doctor before your trip about any special circumstances.

Many travelers also bring a detailed list of procedures and medications, including doctor contact info in case of emergency. If you’re traveling abroad, your regular health insurance won’t cover hospital stays or doctor visits, so you might consider buying trip health insurance.

Know Your Rights

If you’re traveling in America, you’re protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination based on disability. Unfortunately, it isn’t always fully observed. Here, The Points Guy gives a perspective on living under this law and how it hasn’t always done everything it claims to do. However, under the ADA and the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act), it’s illegal for anyone to discriminate against you while traveling.

Pick the Right Hotel

If you’re traveling with a disability, it’s especially beneficial to book your stay in advance. According to John Sage at Sage Traveling, many hotels in European cities only have a few accessible rooms and they usually book up quickly. Booking in advance is the best way to make sure you get the room you need. We also recommend following up with the hotel a few days before your stay to remind them you’re coming and which room you need. Travelers have been bumped from their accessible room to another room because staff didn’t realize they needed that room. Avoid that hassle and confirm in advance.

Location can make all the difference in your vacation experience if you’re using a wheelchair or a cane or if you tire quickly, but it can be hard to tell what the area is like from afar. Use tools like Google Maps and TripAdvisor to get the lay of the land, or ask your hotel what the neighborhood is like. Choosing a place with easy access to transportation and clear and wide sidewalks will make it much easier to enjoy yourself without having to focus on cumbersome transportation.

Once you have a good idea of what part of town to stay in, our map search feature makes it easy for you to find and book an ADA-compliant room with one of our partner hotels exactly where you want to be. When you search for hotels on roomkey.com, we’ll transfer you directly to the hotel’s website once you find a room that’s right for you. This way, you can rest assured that your booking is secure and you can make sure they’re aware of any accommodations you’ll need during your stay. That’s just one way we put your best first. With Roomkey, there are no tricks. Just travel.