Travel Tips for Seniors with Mobility Issues


As we get older, we might face issues with physical mobility. Limited mobility can be the result of a wide variety of reasons, from vision problems that make it tough to gauge distance to physical disabilities that impair our free movement or energy. While these issues can be accommodated while we are in our local area – for instance, you can use a walker at the grocery store or wear medical alert technology – traveling out of town may be daunting.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), 25.5 million Americans have a disability that can limit travel. That includes 11.2 million seniors over the age of 65. Unfortunately, those mobility issues can have a major impact, as 3.6 million of those Americans don’t leave their homes[1]. Being housebound can lead to less exercise, less opportunity for socialization, and loneliness. Even if those with mobility issues aren’t confined to their homes, 70% of those who responded to the BTS survey reduced their day-to-day travel due to their physical limitations.

But mobility issues don’t have to keep you stuck at home. Those who can get out and travel should definitely immerse themselves in the experience! And that is entirely possible thanks to cruise ships, airlines, travel agencies, and the like who offer solutions for traveling with a disability.

The Ins and Outs of Traveling with Mobility Issues

One of the most popular travel experiences for seniors is the voyage on a cruise ship. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most accessible ways to travel. Most major cruise lines have excellent access on board the ship, while a few of them – Holland America and Royal Caribbean, specifically – make it easy to bring passengers of all mobility levels to shore. This is done by small boats called tenders, which ferry the passengers from the ship to the shore and back every time the ship docks. Those cruise lines make it easy to transfer even larger electric wheelchairs from the ship to the tender. The accessibility on shore, of course, depends on where you are[2].  

When traveling by plane, you’re in luck: The United States Code of Federal Regulation prevents discrimination against passengers on the basis of disability[3]. That means that you can expect airports to have accessible spaces and to be accommodated on airplanes. And though you aren’t obligated to inform the airport or airline of any help you might need (in most cases), it’s always a good idea to contact them ahead of time and make your needs known. This might include anything from using a wheelchair all the way to the gate, then transferring to the wheelchair the airline uses for boarding, to carrying your own walker or cane through security.

Note that if you have very specific needs that might be difficult to navigate, such as the need to use therapeutic oxygen while on the aircraft, those should always be conveyed to the airport and airline prior to your arrival. Otherwise, they might not be able to accommodate those specific needs. Learn more about flying with a disability from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Overseas travel, including everything from touring architectural masterpieces to going on safari, can be achieved by those with limited mobility. However, remember that the protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act do not extend past the borders of the United States so good preparation is key. Though many countries have their own protections, it is entirely possible to wind up in a situation where you must go up a flight of stairs to enter a building, the train stations are not accessible, and all the doorways are too small to accommodate a wheelchair. A good example of accessibility issues are the cobblestone streets you might encounter in London, Paris, Rome, and other major cities – not only do they make it tough to use a wheelchair, they can pose serious trip hazards to even those who have no mobility problems!  

What about traveling short distances within the United States? If taking your personal vehicle is not an option, you can go with a rideshare service – but finding the right vehicle can be tough. You must do this by specifically requesting an accessible ride if you need one, such as if you are in an electric wheelchair. Uber and Lyft offer these options, but be aware that they might not have a proper vehicle in all locations. You might be able to take a typical vehicle if you have a walker, scooter, or folding wheelchair that can easily fit into the trunk of the car.

No matter where you are, always remember to wear a medical alert pendant. This provides peace of mind that you can reach out for help in any emergency. If you have limited mobility, you probably have a higher than usual fall risk as well, and you can use the panic button to get the help you need.

Tips for a Seamless Travel Experience

If you’re ready to get started on your next adventure, here are a few tips to make it an easier trip.

·         Get confirmations in writing. If you are booking a hotel with an accessible bathroom or specialized features for the hearing impaired, email the hotel and ask them to confirm that you will be booked into the type of room you want. When it’s in writing, you save yourself the hassle of arguing over what you actually booked.

·         Go to the source. Most reservation lines for hotels will send you to a central call center, where the agents helping you have no idea what each hotel actually offers. Instead of calling for your reservations, go online to the hotel’s website, book directly, and then follow up with the aforementioned email.

·         Book early. Keep in mind that in other countries or in very popular locations in the United States, accessible rooms might be quite scarce, and they are often snatched up by travelers just like you. Get ahead of the game by booking your room or transportation very early; for instance, if you intend to travel during the winter, make your reservations during the previous spring or summer.

·         Build in extra time. Those with limited mobility should never rush. If you have trouble walking, build in the time you’ll need to get to your gate at the airport. Even those who can walk easily and quickly often have trouble getting to their plane on time, so be sure to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to get around. Also consider that if you are in a wheelchair, you might need assistance, and it could take some time for an attendant to come and wheel you through the airport.

·         Travel with someone else. Though you might easily advocate for yourself while on a trip, having someone with you to help you move around can be helpful. This is especially true if you use a scooter, wheelchair, or other advanced mobility device that you might have to fold up or move around in order to get into a plane, train, or vehicle.

·         Look for accessible tours. If you want to visit a historic monument or take a tour of a small town, look for an accessible tour. Many organizations will offer this option with the goal of ensuring you see as much of the attraction as possible. Call the location you want to visit and ask about accessibility and tours that could accommodate you. 

·         Learn what to expect. No matter how much you read about a particular hotel, airline, or location, it’s impossible to garner all the information you might need. Take to the internet and ask questions of those seasoned travelers who have been there, done that. Look for discussion boards that focus on travel and ask detailed questions.

·         Speak up. The best advocate for yourself is you. If you need assistance, speak up. Ask for help and you might be surprised how quickly and eagerly someone wants to provide it. If you wind up in a situation where accommodations are not as promised, speak up! Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. At the very least, you will be making them aware of the problem and perhaps make travel easier for the next person.

·         Take care of yourself. When it’s harder to move around, you use more energy and can become exhausted. Remember to plan rest time into your trip, stay well-hydrated, and don’t push your limits. Be flexible about travel plans; if you just aren’t up to leaving the cruise ship that day, then don’t! You want to come back home refreshed, not stressed.

·         Wear an emergency response system. It is highly recommended that those with mobility issues have an on-the-go medical alert device on at all times. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems work in all 50 US states, as well as parts of Canada and Puerto Rico. We’ve got you covered with extra peace of mind!

Finally, reach out to those who have already paved the way for more comfortable travel. Here are some resources you can turn to when you are planning travel, whether you intend to stay close to home or venture to the other side of the planet.

·         Information specialists trained in assisting those with limited mobility are available via phone or message at The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

·         Special Needs Group provides equipment rentals that can be delivered to your location, such as before boarding a cruise ship or when attending an event at a convention center.

·         Mobility International USA offers a wealth of information as well as the potential to engage in an exchange program that would take you overseas.

·         For news on what’s accessible and what’s not, check out Emerging Horizons.

·         Road Scholar or Smithsonian Journeys can help you choose a trip based on your mobility and the location’s accessibility level.

·         Wheel the World helps those in wheelchairs navigate travel across the globe.

·         Know before you go! The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs offers a list of laws and regulations concerning accessibility in other countries.

As always, Alert1 wishes you safe and happy travels!