Take an Accessible Vacation: How to Travel with a Wheelchair or Scooter

February 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Living in the Land of the Mouse and enjoying all the parks, you quickly realize how many people need assistance or have mobility issues when they travel. Whether it’s someone who walks with a cane or walking stick, someone who needs some extra time getting around, or someone who uses a wheelchair or scooter just to get through their day-to-day.

Sylvia Longmire in Rome, taking her own accessible vacation

Sylvia in Rome, Italy on her Pride Mobility scooter

My good friend, Sylvia Longmire, brought this all home for me when she became an accessible travel agent — that is, someone who specializes in arranging travel for people with mobility issues. Sylvia has MS and uses a mobility scooter. And she travels like a maniac, jetting from international locale to international locale. Last year, she was in Ireland, Denmark, Greece, and The Netherlands, all on her scooter (or a rented wheelchair), so if anyone knows about finding and booking accessibility travel, it’s her.

If you or a family member has mobility and accessibility issues, there are plenty of ways to get around by plane, train, or automobile, and to get into almost any attraction, hotel, or restaurant you’d like. A lot of it depends on what kind of accommodations you need, and whether you do your research and ask the right questions beforehand.

Another thing to keep in mind, Sylvia says, is that while the United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve wheelchair access in public places, it’s not always perfect. But countries like the UK, Australia, and Germany have similar laws, so there are options if you’d like to travel outside the US.

So if you have any kind of disability, but still want to travel, you can always do it yourself, but I recommend using a travel agent like Sylvia because she knows what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask the various places you’ll be visiting and hotels you’ll be staying at. Still, if you want to do it yourself, here are the questions you need to answer before you go.

“Does your hotel have a wheelchair friendly room?” This means a door wide enough to accommodate a chair, space enough to roll around, and in some cases, a roll-in shower with a fold-down seat. I’ve heard plenty of stories from Sylvia where she asked the hotel clerk if they had accessible rooms, only to find out that only meant they had a couple bars in the shower and near the toilet. Ask the hotel manager if you really want to be sure. (And don’t be afraid to ask for a photo of the facilities.)

“Are there wheelchairs available for rent at my destination?”
There are plenty of stories about someone’s primary (or only) wheelchair getting damaged on a flight, rendering it unusable. While you don’t need to rent a chair every time you travel, you should at least make sure there’s a backup option at your destination. Keep their number in your phone in case the need comes up.

“Does your attraction have a wheelchair ramp or other options?”
Visiting the beach doesn’t have to mean sitting back on the road looking out at the ocean while everyone else is out on the sand. There are special wheelchairs with fat tires that can roll out on the beach (imagine if a wheelchair and a dune buggy had a baby), and wheelchair mats called Mobi-Mats, which are roll-up mats that can be unrolled on the sand and allow wheelchair users to get right out on the beach.

Make a list of all the places you want to visit and contact each of them to ask if they have a wheelchair ramp and/or elevator to get to other levels. Most museums, concert venues, theaters, restaurants, ballparks, and other attractions have access and special seating (when needed), but you still want to call and make sure. Again, if you’re not sure, ask. Call a couple times if you have to, because you may get contradicting information.

What are my best options?

Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night, part of another accessible vacation

Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night

Cruise ships are usually a good option, because many of them cater to older adults who are already dealing with mobility issues. (Sylvia loves cruises because they’re the easiest ways for wheelchair users to see the world.) The ships are built to be wheelchair friendly, have wider doors, large public spaces, and room between the tables and chairs in the dining room. Still, make sure you ask the cruise ship booking agent about any special arrangements you need to make.

Theme parks are also usually a great bet, especially the bigger ones. From what I’ve seen, Disney World and Universal Orlando are both very accessible and they have special cars, elevators, and ramps for people with mobility issues. They also rent scooters at each park.

Bottom line: if you have a disability and you want to travel, there’s a way to do it. If you’re not sure how you’re going to get it done, you can do a ton of research or you can call a travel agent and ask them for some help.

Do you have accessibility or mobility issues to consider when you travel and take vacations? If you’ve got any tips, suggestions, or ideas, please share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Sylvia Longmire (SpinTheGlobe.net, Used with permission)

Four Post-Holiday Return Travel Tips

December 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A month ago, you couldn’t swing a full Christmas stocking without hitting an article about pre-holiday travel plans, and what you were allowed to bring on a flight and what you couldn’t.

Things like “don’t pre-wrap gifts in case the TSA needs to check them” and “Pies are allowed through TSA security checkpoints” are very helpful to know.

But what about going home? What special things do you need to know about that?

If you’re like most people, going home usually sees less careful packing, a lot more chaos, and an increased chance of leaving something behind. You’ve got gifts to fit into your bags and you have to get to the airport on time, or you have to hit the highway while everyone else is heading home too.

Here are four ways to avoid stress at the airport or on the road during your post-holiday return travel trip.

1. Remember, the 3-1-1 rule always applies, even on sealed bottles.

If you got a bottle of Scotch, wine, or even a bottle of perfume, even if it’s sealed up, you can’t carry it onto the flight with you. You are allowed to check it in your luggage though, but you want to make very sure it’s well-padded.

Fodor’s Travel Guide recommends you wrap a bottle in clothing a couple of times to protect it:

One method involves putting the wine bottle in a sock, wrapping a piece of clothing around the bottle’s neck until it’s as wide as the bottom of the bottle, and then wrapping the bottle with additional clothing pieces (like shirts). You can add a watertight plastic bag for some extra security. Travelers can also use bubble wrap, instead of clothing, to wrap the bottle, which adds some additional protection for the journey.

2. Ship your gifts home instead of carrying them.

I hope you left plenty of room in your suitcase for the return trip home for all the gifts you got. If you didn’t, you can fill up another suitcase and check it, paying the checked bag fee.

Better yet, you can ship your gifts via UPS or USPS and not have to deal with them until you get home. If you send them the day before you leave, you can also make sure you get home before the gifts arrive. While the costs will vary, there’s a decent chance it will be less than the checked luggage costs, and you won’t have to horse that suitcase around the airport and back to your car.

3. You can bring back leftovers, but they need to be frozen solid.

The TSA will allow frozen eggnog to be taken onto flights during your holiday return travel trip. The TSA will allow things like eggnog or Grandma’s famous wildebeest gravy, but it must be frozen solid and in a cooler. You can also use those freezer packs to keep everything cold, but they must also be frozen solid.

Also, keep in mind that if you carry on a cooler, that counts as one of your carry-on items: you still get a carry-on bag and a personal item that’s small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you. So if your cooler is a third item, check the carry-on bag or pack the personal bag in the carry-on. Don’t try to cheat and bring on the third item.

(And just ask Grandma for the gravy recipe in the future.)

4. Get the travel apps for your travel method.

I’ve harped again and again on having the right apps on your phone for travel: your airline’s mobile app (which lets you check in 24 hours before your flight) and/or Waze, the real-time GPS app that shows you traffic jams and accidents.

No matter what other apps you get, you need a GPS app and your airline app if you want to avoid the travel hassles our parents dealt with when we were kids.

If you don’t have those installed yet, install them and set them up before you head home. Take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with them, and try to do it a day or two before you leave. You can always use Waze to help you get back to the airport on January 2nd, because you can avoid any traffic delays and get there on time. And of course, the app will help you check in faster and avoid the whole check-in line.

And if you still have to check bags, check them at the porter stand outside the airport and then use the app to check in. Just don’t forget to get to the airport two hours early.

What are some of your post-holiday return travel tips? How do you reduce your headaches when you’re heading back home? Share your best tips in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Konstantin RyabitsevM/small>

Travel Tech to Make Your Trips A Little Easier in 2017

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Every year, there are new gadgets and apps to that promise to make our traveling life a little easier. Whether it’s a cell phone attachment that works as a digital scale and a battery charger, or a coffee shop guide app that shows you all the coffee houses in the world’s major cities, there are lots of new things that can help you make your next trip much easier and enjoyable.

These are a few of the different gadgets, gizmos, and gewgaws to consider getting before your next family vacation.

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I'm on the road

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I’m on the road


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Should You Drive or Should You Fly? A Vacation Formula

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When heading out on vacation, the biggest decision you’ll make is how to get there. Do you drive or fly? If you fly, you can get there sooner and spend more time at your destination. Driving is more budget friendly, but it takes a couple of extra days out of your vacation time.

In my travels, I’ve driven and flown to dozens of destinations. On some airplane trips, I would have been satisfied with driving, and on some car trips, I wish I’d been born with wings. But for the most part, we made the best decision we could with the information and resources we had. If you’re trying to decide, here’s a handy 3-step formula you can use to help make your decision.

How far is your destination?

Kids on a planeI typically won’t fly anywhere if I can make the drive in less than six hours. If I fly, I get to the airport two hours early, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to drive, park, and get inside. My flight will take at least one hour. Then I have to disembark, walk to the rental car counter, get my car, and drive to the hotel, all about two hours after the plane touches down. And if I take the hotel shuttle, then I’m without ground transportation.

This all takes at least 5.5 hours.

But if I drive, I can take the same amount of time, and have my car with me in a new city, which lets me explore on my own. I’m in control of my progress and circumstances.
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What Happens to Lost Luggage?

December 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you ever wondered where lost luggage goes? Contrary to stories you may have heard, it doesn’t get landfilled, and the airline staff don’t divvy up their findings at the office holiday party.

They have all kinds of items recovered from lost luggage at the Unclaimed Baggage CenterWhile only 2% of all checked luggage is ever truly “lost,” that’s still quite a lot of stuff that never finds its original owner.

Instead, all the lost luggage in the United States is taken to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. There the bags are opened, and their contents are sorted, tagged and sold to interested consumers for anywhere from 50 – 80% off. The Center processes roughly 1 million items per year. Items like jewelry, electronics, and even wedding gowns are sold in the Center. The rest is either thrown away or donated to charities.
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How to Travel with Your Pet

December 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For many people, pets are a part of the family. They would no sooner be left behind on vacation than one of the children.

But if you want to travel with your pet, whether by car or by plane, there are a few things I recommend you do to make sure your furry companion is comfortable and less stressed.

Use a pet carrier when you travel with your pet by plane, or if they hate car travel.

Make sure your pet carrier is large enough for your cat or dog to turn around.

Traveling By Car

If you’re traveling by car, pack a pet carrier, whether a collapsible soft-sided or hard-sided model. Depending your pet’s size, the right carrier may not fit into your car, so make sure you test this out before purchasing one. You may not want to keep your pet in her carrier the entire trip, but if you do, there are a few things you need to remember.

  • Keep your pet in the back seat. Air bags can cause serious injury in case of an accident.
  • There are special “sky boxes” for small dogs, and I’ve seen seat belt harnesses for larger dogs. Cats should ride in enclosed carriers, however.
  • Make several stops so your pet can have a bathroom break. They may be nervous about riding in a car, and may have to go more often than they do at home. Also, be sure to clean up after your animal. Don’t leave “anything” behind. Read more

Luggage Buying Guide for Teenagers

November 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When you travel with children, you long for the day that they’re old enough to have their own luggage and carry it or pull it behind them. When my kids were 4 or 5, we got them their own suitcase, complete with favorite cartoon character on it. It didn’t hold much, although we could fit a week’s worth of clothes into the tiny bag, and they could pull it behind them.

Now that they’re older, they’re responsible for packing their own suitcases when we travel. The only problem is, my 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be seen with a Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase anymore. Ditto for my daughters and their Hello Kitty bags.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

When they were old enough, they wanted new suitcases to reflect their individuality and personal style. But as their father the travel writer, I got them bags that were functional and practical instead, without all the screened print designs. Here was my reasoning.

1. Your luggage will last for years. Your personal style will change.

I got my first suitcase when I was 27, and I carried it on flights for about 15 years. Then I got my first Travelpro bag and I was a convert. It was so much lighter and roomier. And because I took good care of it, I’m still carting it around with me.
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The World’s Most Family-Friendly Airlines

August 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

How important is the family friendliness of an airline to you? For some family travelers, they see the plane as a means of getting from point A to point B. For others, vacation begins the moment they lock the front door, and flying is a part of the experience.

EVA Air is one of a few family-friendly airlines, with its Hello Kitty themed airplanes.Either way, if you’ve only got a limited number of days to travel, there’s no reason to make even a few hours miserable. And as everyone knows, if Mama the kids aren’t happy, then nobody’s happy.

Some airlines have figured this out. They’re working to be as family friendly and fun as possible, as a way to attract more vacationing families.

I saw a recent article on the Huffington Post about some family-friendly airlines around the world. They’re offering reduced child fares, children’s food menus, and even child-oriented entertainment, all geared toward infants, toddlers, and children under 12. Here are a few airlines to consider for your next family vacation.
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How to Fly With a Baby

July 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

I remember the first time I ever flew with any of my kids. We had just adopted our oldest daughter, Madison, at a year old, and were flying home from Bolivia with her. She had been such a good child during our month in Santa Cruz, so we assumed she would be fine on the airplane.

It's tough to fly with a baby, but it's possible.We may have overestimated her patience and goodwill just a little. Not too badly, but enough that we knew we needed to prepare next time.

I dodged that bullet when my wife, Toni, brought our second oldest daughter, Emma, home from Haiti five years later. She took that trip by herself, while I stayed home with Maddie.

But we had learned enough those times, so when Toni brought our son, Ben, back from Haiti two years later, his flight was about what you’d expect: some crying, some drama, but nothing she couldn’t handle. I, of course, stayed home to be with our girls, so I missed out on all the fun.
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Five Family Travel Gadgets to Get Before Your Next Trip

May 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to technology, there are all new kinds of travel gadgets you can use to make your life easier on your next vacation. But this article isn’t yet another regurgitation of the same old “get a cheap tablet” advice. We all know those:

Erik Decker's EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad, one of his most important travel gadgets

My EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad. Note the awesome Tpro Bold 2 backpack in the background!

  • A cheap tablet that uses wifi only.
  • A portable DVD player for backseat video viewing.
  • Better yet, a small laptop for DVD viewing; it can double as your travel laptop at the hotel.

Those are all great gadgets, and I highly recommend them. But there are are a few gadgets that you may not have considered. At the very least, they’ll make life easier, and maybe even save you some money.
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