Travel Tips for the Elderly and Disabled


traveling tips for the elderly and disabled

Traveling around the world is a truly life-changing experience, which should be available to everyone. Those with limited mobility or access, and certainly those who care for them, often struggle to navigate in a world contains a lot of barriers, either by way of understanding or infrastructure.

There are a lot of moving parts (sometimes literally) to consider before taking off on an adventure. Fortunately, we’ve put together some easy tips and tricks to remember and hopefully make your experience the best it can be!

Plan Ahead!

Planning is the first step in a long process of getting ready for a big trip. So be sure to give yourself extra time getting around.

  • Traveling is stressful enough without worrying about any extra help you or a friend might need. Take your time. The world can wait!
  • It’s always a good idea to take a statement from your doctor, preferably on an official letterhead, that explains your condition, any medications you need, any potential health complications, and other pertinent information. Be sure you know which phone number to call your doctor (or another medical professional) at, in case of an emergency situation at any time of the day.
  • Have your medical alert information on you at all times. Keep it in a place that a responder will find easily. These places could be in a wallet card, around your neck, close to your identification, like your passport. If you are going to a non-English speaking country, it’s also helpful to have these documents translated into the native languages.
  • Before leaving, be sure to practice and spend time with crowds, even if it’s just 15 minutes at a time. It’s important for those with noise sensitivity to slowly become more exposed to unfamiliar noises. This makes being in a new, alien place that much easier to process.

Additional Resources:

Individuals with Disabilities – Ready.gov
6 Reasons for Families to Plan Ahead for Travel
Plan Ahead for Illness or Injuries During Your Trip

traveling tips for the elderly

How Can You Get There?

If planning is the first step, it’s also probably the most important. Long before you actually land in your dream vacation, take the time to schedule your hotel plans, any tours, and definitely any needed transportation. It might seem a little tricky handling plans a month in advance, but when the time comes to see Big Ben, you’ll be grateful for the guided tour specifically for those with special needs.

  • Train companies request that you call 24 hours to let them know you need extra assistance. However, if you’re in a bind, we’ve heard it being done as quick as 5 minutes before departure.
  • There are tons of resources and travel agents (yes, those still exist!) that understand your condition and aim to give you the best traveling experience possible.
  • Understand your public transportation options. Does your city have a rail system? Do the rideshare drivers also offer space for wheelchair users? At certain attractions, what accessible options are there? If walking is a problem for you, don’t be discouraged: you can still get to the top of the Eiffel Tower!

Additional Resources:

Overcome Noise Sensitivity – Uncommon Help
7 Travel Agencies for special needs travel – Friendship Circle
Wheeled Mobility Device Services – Amtrak

Maneuvering Airports:

Lights. Loud noises. Lots of people. Airports are central hives for activity and for many with sensitivity disorders, they can be downright terrifying.

  • To avoid the big, long lines at passport control, look for a “disabled assistance” line for extra assistance.
  • Bring noise-canceling headphones for auditory sensitive individuals. Earplugs also will do wonders for calming down someone suffering from too much stimulation.
  • If you’re traveling domestically, write your name and address on your wheelchair and on all removable parts before traveling.
  • For many individuals, it is often easier to check-in for a flight over the phone. Ask the airline for “maximum assistance” at every airport terminals when speaking with an agent. Reconfirm your request for “maximum assistance” when you and your party arrive at the ticket counter.
  • Try to request an aisle seat. While it’s nicer to watch the clouds go by, having access to the aisle can ease much travel weariness and provide a smoother enter and exist.

Ryan Kincade with the Center for Human Development speaks from experience and offers excellent advice: “Arrive early to your gate as the gate attendants can help get you seats closer to the plane door and arrange for needed equipment such as isle chairs. Remember to be patient with the airline as they don’t know your abilities and needs. Go over your needs with them and they are usually happy to accommodate.”

Additional Resources:

Noise Control – Friendship Circle
Travel Assistance for Customers with Disabilities – Southwest Airlines
Autism and noise sensitivity – Soundzipper

traveling tips for the disabled

Plan B might turn to Place C, then D, then E . . .

Things will go wrong. That’s just life. For the elderly and disabled, a misstep here or there can actually be much more serious. So here’s how to build an effective backup plan.

  • ALWAYS bring extra medication. It’s very difficult to get medication that isn’t over-the-counter medicine while abroad. Travel with two complete packages of essential medication in case your luggage is misplaced or, in the worst case, lost. Keep medications and other necessary medical supplies as close to you as possible, such as in your carry-on bag.
  • If you are able, use a bariatric walker when traveling around. They can be used as grab bars in the bathroom if the room you’re in isn’t disabled-friendly.
  • Of course, carry a backup set of batteries for your electric wheelchair or scooter. It’s also recommended you travel with “gel cell” or “dry cell” batteries, as they are non-spill-able.

Dave Hughes of Retire Fabulously reminds us that crowds can be pretty difficult to navigate: “Mobility-challenged people and their caregivers might be attractive targets for pickpockets in large crowds, sadly,” he says. “I would think that large crowds could pose a challenge to people with walkers or wheelchairs. For places that might experience large crowds (e.g. the Vatican, the Louvre, most large, dense cities), a person with mobility concerns would probably do better planning their trip during off-seasons.”

Additional Resources:

Things That Can Go Wrong When Traveling With a Disability in Europe – Sage Traveling
4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents – Travel Insurance Review
4 practical tips for the new international traveler

You Made It! Now What?

Congratulations! You’ve landed in a brand new, beautiful city! Let the adventure begin!

  • Find accessible guided tours with travel agents or sites like Accessible Journeys. They are very much aware of all kinds of mobility limitations and can help you design a perfect vacation.
  • Check out what accessible housing exists for the city you’re staying in. Most hotel chains boast accessible options, but it’s always a good idea to check with locals or with your designated travel agent to be sure the accommodations are accurate.
  • If you use a wheelchair, consider replacing your casters before traveling. These front wheels are not designed to withstand the roughness of some older streets, specifically cobblestones.
  • If your wheelchair has pneumatic tires, don’t forget to bring along a small repair kit containing the items necessary to change a flat.
  • Older cities may provide some difficulty when trying to locate an accessible bathroom. Museums, hotel lobbies, McDonald’s (or other fast-food chains), and department stores usually have accessible bathrooms and tend to provide generally clean and easy-to-use environments.
  • Enjoy your trip! You’ve put in the work and effort to designing an amazing trip, so go have fun and remember not to sweat the little things!

Additional Resources:

Awesome Wheelchair Hotels Around the World
Accessible Travel Tour Operators
Is International Travel Accessible for Persons with a Disability?
Wheelchair-Accessible Transportation