Accessible travel: a guide to travelling with a disability

Preparing for a holiday can require quite a lot of time and effort. Now imagine having to plan your travels with a disability in mind. You want to experience the wonders of the world but have to always factor in accessibility. Feel exhausted already? Don’t despair!

Disabled travel blogger and avid explorer Jay Abdullahi provides handy tips for those travelling with a disability – and for those accompanying a friend or family member with a disability.

Plan your trip well in advance

Plan your trip well in advance, so you're familiar with the local transport systems before you arrive

This might be a no-brainer, but researching and planning ahead really is key to getting the most from your travels. Deciding where you want to go, and what you would like to see is only part one.

If you are flying to your destination, be sure to select the appropriate special assistance you require. Let the airline know well in advance (usually up to 48 hours before departure), and make sure to check how accessible transportation to and from both the arrival and departure airport is. Safely arrived at your destination, the last thing you want to be doing is spending a large chunk of your time waiting for a potentially non-accessible train or bus. So if the metro, bus or rail services don’t meet your needs – book a taxi.

A great place to find out this information is on the official tourist sites for the place(s) you will be visiting. Another option would be to check the website of the transport provider, such as TfL for London. They will have more detailed and specific information for you, and provide contact details for further assistance should you need it.

Find suitable accommodation

A good night’s sleep is important whether you’re home or away, so avoid surprises and ensure that your accommodation is accessible for your specific needs. The rule of thumb is that hotels are likely to be more accessible than hostels. They come with a higher price tag, but it’s money well spent, as they are used to catering to specific and special needs.

momondo accessibility hotel filter disabled traveler

momondo is one of the few travel-metasearch websites that has pre-selectable filters, such as “increased accessibility” or “lift”, on its hotel search which can help you whittle down to a few realistic options that would be suitable for your needs. With this information at hand, you can contact the place directly to make sure it is the right place for you.

Discuss expectations

Young woman in a wheel chair visiting Canon Beach in Oregon, USA.

Whether you’re disabled or not, discussing expectations of your forthcoming trip is essential. Have the conversation, talk to your travel companion(s) about what you want to do and what you can do. It might be a little awkward to begin with, but it will save you both headaches and possible embarrassment further down the line.

If your disability or condition has flare-ups or is not stable, discuss this. Have plans in place so your trip need not get affected by it. You don’t want to be thousands of miles away from home and not have had “the real talk”.

If you are able-bodied and travelling with someone that has specific needs, be sure to listen. If your disabled friend is going on a trip with you, chances are, they trust you and know you pretty well. Listen to them and feel free to ask them questions – it is, after all, a two-way street.

Be completely honest with each other when discussing expectations of the trip. If their disability is not always constant, be ready to roll with the punches and go with the flow – sometimes you get the best stories from such moments!

Be mindful of your limitations

It would be a shame to miss out on those must-see attractions on your holiday, and most times, you won’t have to – if only you do a little research before you go. Make a list of the particular tourist spots you’re interested in, and do some digging. Can you get there easily? Can you get the full experience? And can you do it without breaking the bank? Platforms such as It’s Accessible are there to help you.

For general information on a particular city and its neighbourhoods, download the momondo app for city guides and to read local’s recommendation to the best sights and attractions. For more specific accessibility queries, you can check The Lonely Planet’s Travel for All forum on Google+. Most of the information provided there is by travellers with disabilities. This can help give you an idea of what to expect at specific destinations.

Practice makes perfect

Travelling abroad for the first time? Consider practising with a short staycation to get a feel of what's waiting on the horizon

If you are going abroad for the first time, consider taking short-term staycations before the big trip. This will give you an idea of how it will be abroad, and how you will need to prepare. You can get a feel of how you may react to being a little far away from home, and if it is feasible.

If you’ve decided to travel with a friend, then take your companion with you on these mini vacations. Travelling with a disability or not, some friendships don’t fare well for longer periods of time, and you don’t want to commit to a lengthy far-away trip with someone you don’t get along with for more than three days at a time. Don’t compromise a friendship with assumptions – practice makes perfect.

Stay on the safe side

You’ve also heard this one before, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Safety is absolutely paramount when travelling, so make sure you are well covered! When should you get insurance? Keeping both your disability and outside factors in mind, get it from the minute you book your trip. You want to be covered in case you have to cancel.

To make sure you get specific insurance for your disability or “pre-existing condition”, it may be worth going through a specialist insurer. There are many out there, such as All Clear, Fish, & OK to Travel Insurance. Spend some time on this ensuring that you have a peace of mind while enjoying yourself.

Another important factor is to make sure you take enough medication (should you need it) for longer than your travel period, in the case of delays. If you use equipment, such as walking aids, take them and spares with you. You do not want to get caught out so far away from home. Medical equipment abroad may be much more expensive than you are used to, so be on the safe side.

Read more: How to buy the best travel insurance for your next trip

Have fun – it’s a holiday

Disability or not, travelling is all about having fun. Dive in the deep end, cherish the moment and stay curious

At last, the time has come. You’ve researched, planned, practised and packed, and now you’re ready for your long-awaited adventure. While having a disability can be frustrating at the best of times, it also comes with perks!

You always get to board the plane before most of the other passengers, so you have time to get nice and comfy. Take proof of your disability with you, and enjoy the fact that quite a few tourist attractions give priority to travellers with a disability and/or sometimes provide a free or discounted ticket to their +1.

And last but not least, have fun – this is a holiday after all! Take lots of photos, enjoy yourself and stay curious.

Read more about Jay and her travels on Jayonlife.