1.Plan ahead. I cannot stress this enough. A little planning goes a long way. I hear it almost on a daily basis, “I would love to go to Germany, but I can’t walk on those cobblestones like the young people do.” “Maybe I’ll go when my kids are older- you just can’t take a baby to Europe.” “Those castles aren’t wheelchair accessible.” Well maybe you don’t feel able to climb to the battlements in Blarney to kiss that slutty stone, but she’s been around a bit much anyway. Instead, take a trip to the completely accessible Trinity College and see the Book of Kells and my personal favorite the Old Library. London is also becoming one of the most accessible cities in the world. Buses along the TFL network are fully accessible and with a bonus for wheelchair users: it’s FREE! Doing a little research can open a world of possibilities. Send an email or even call tourist offices and transit providers to verify information. They can provide the most up to date information, and alternatives to make your visits as comfortable and fun as possible. With a few adjustments, you can have that dream vacation to Italy or anywhere with fully accessible hotels and experiences that you just simply can’t get at home.
2.Don’t rush. Travel is tiring for everyone especially when you are not used to walking for hours, having sensory overload, or the trip is simply becoming too much. Stop. Sit on a park bench and rest. Have a picnic. One of my favorite travelers in the world Rick Steves once said, “Always assume you’ll return.” I love that. You’re excited, and you want to see it all. I get it, but you have to come to terms with the fact that even Parisians have never seen all of Paris. Heck, I’ve never even seen all of my tiny, little hometown. Pick one or two must-dos every day and use the rest of the day to live like a local. You can wander the shops, take a siesta to recover, or simply have an espresso and get to know a friendly face that you might otherwise never meet. Travel isn’t about ticking off a list of tourist sites; it’s about experiencing a new culture and different way of life. I promise it will be the most rewarding part of your vacation.
3. Book early and triple check. I say this from my own personal experiences. Most modern hotels will have a few accessible rooms, but you should also book early because everyone else is fighting to get those same few rooms that are available. People are often looking for more authentic hotels and B&Bs, but if the building is older or it is someone’s home, you may find there are many steps and few elevators. This was our experience during our first trip to Dublin. We stayed in a Georgian era hotel called The Albany House and in typical American fashion, we assumed there would be all of the modern comforts. Not even addressing the fact there was no air conditioning or hair dryer to be found, climbing almost five full flights of stairs to our room with luggage and at the end of very long days of walking can feel like you are trekking Mt. Everest. It was especially hard for my husband who has hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy. We were so happy to get to our next destination in Bristol because we knew that hotel had elevators at the very least. We learned immediately, even though we booked early, always email the hotel to verify that it is, in fact, accessible to your travel party.
4. Pack light. Again, this is something we learned during our first trip abroad. Chris and I both agreed to fit everything into carry-on bags. We actually succeeded with two carry-on suitcases and the biggest purse I could pass as a “personal item.” I think we did pretty good for first timers, but still carried way more than necessary. I have no idea why I thought I needed three pairs of shoes. We also brought too many “but what if” items. Lugging around a huge shoulder purse and suitcase was completely insane. Now I travel with just my backpack and camera bag. When traveling accessibly, less is more. Bring your prescriptions medications; but is it really necessary to bring that industrial size bottle of Imodium on the off chance you maybe, possibly, perhaps could get food poisoning? Do I really need to pack a big bottle of sunscreen if I only have one day on the Spanish coast and may or may not even get to the beach? Don’t bring what could “possibly” come in handy. Bring what you can’t do without. There are shops and pharmacies in every country, and they are fun to explore. Always see every opportunity as an adventure. We brought raincoats to Ireland but didn’t expect a heavy downpour, so we splurged on umbrellas in a local outdoor shop in Dublin. I use that umbrella at home all the time, and to be something so mundane, it brings back fond memories of being caught in a spring shower with my husband in a beautiful foreign city. Ok, enough mushy stuff. Packing light will always be one less thing to worry about when trying to navigate foreign countries with wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, small children, etc.
5.Be flexible and Have fun. It sounds easy enough, but seriously enjoy yourself. You are on the trip of a lifetime, and sure you may have to adjust your sails a bit, but that’s what life is. When you care for someone with a disability, special needs, or maybe you are that someone; you learn quickly that things won’t always go according to plan. That’s ok. That’s what travel is for. It’s getting out of your comfort zone. On every family road trip, my parents would stop every two hours to let my brother Austin (who has Down Syndrome) go to the bathroom because even though he normally had bladder-control, his nervous bladder would sometimes lead to accidents. Sure, it took much longer to get to the destination but being together and finding interesting stops along the way are what made the journey special. When my husband would get tired from walking, we would pop into any restaurant or pub for a meal, and it’s how we found the best places for local food. Those little adjustments make your trip memorable and unique to you. You don’t have to have a strict itinerary to vacation. You’ve done your research, now enjoy your adventure.