Chronic pain doesn't have to keep you confined at home. With a little planning and a few precautions, it's possible to plan a trip that's both smooth and enjoyable.
A doctor's visit first
Before traveling, the best place to start is your doctor's office. Before making arrangements, talk to your doctor about your trip. Ask your doctor's opinion about:
- Possible activities
- Your physical condition and any limitations
- Which medicines to take with you
- What medical equipment to bring
- How to find medical help at your destination
- Best methods of travel to use
Find a travel expert
Some travel agencies specialize in helping physically challenged travelers. Travel agents can arrange to have wheelchairs and other equipment for you. They can also make sure that you have proper access at airports or other terminals.
Ask travel agents about:
- Transportation and travel services to meet your physical needs. Even people who don't use wheelchairs may need to avoid extra steps and obstacles.
- Special arrangements for car rentals, transportation within the airport, and special seating or meals.
- The timing of a trip to reduce your chance of getting overtired.
- Travel insurance.
Choose flights that are nonstop or direct (letting passengers stay on board during stops). Changing planes can be stressful and tiring.
By law, domestic carriers must accept people with disabilities, although many require advance notice. This rule also applies to foreign airlines entering or leaving American airspace. If you choose to fly abroad, however, you may not have the same protections.
You'll also find that various airlines offer different levels of assistance. But for certain situations, such as using the bathroom, you may need a traveling companion or personal aide.
U.S. companies that run cruise ship tours must provide access for travelers with disabilities, even when the ship is traveling to or from a foreign port. Still, it is best to check with a cruise line about accommodations before you book your trip. Be sure to ask:
- How wheelchair accessible are cabins, bathrooms, and public facilities?
- Are all public levels of the ship accessible?
- Are there grab bars next to toilets and in showers?
- How accessible are ports on the trip?
Amtrak trains in the United States have at least one car specially designed for travelers with disabilities. Other train lines may not, so be sure to check ahead of time.
Policies vary by carrier. The nationwide U.S. carrier, Greyhound, provides a lot of help. But its buses do not have wheelchair lifts. Greyhound asks that passengers needing extra help give them 48 hours advance notice.
Do a maintenance check on medical equipment you take to make sure that everything works before you leave. Packing basic tools and extra parts also helps.
Replace the batteries in an electric wheelchair or scooter before your trip. Look for battery models that are gel or won't spill. Lead/acid batteries need special handling that may require you to check in 3 hours before flights and remain in the airport after arrival.
Label a wheelchair or scooter with your name, address, and the destination airport. Avoid delays by requesting that it be loaded last on and first off. Take crutches or canes onboard.
People who don't usually use wheelchairs, but have trouble walking or tire easily, might rent a wheelchair to bring as checked baggage. This may be easier than renting one later.
As for the trip itself, make sure you don't overdo it. Follow your doctor's orders and get plenty of rest, even if it means you don't get to see everything. Remember, you can always come back at a later date. In the meantime, have fun and enjoy yourself.
Created on 07/30/2008
Updated on 04/27/2011
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality. How to travel with arthritis.
- Albert Einstein Healthcare Network. Accessible travel.
- Transportation Security Administration. Mobility disabilities: travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.
- American Pain Foundation. Top ten tips: pain-free tips for travelers.