Travel and especially long-term backpacking can be challenging at times. But if you have a disability, are neurodivergent or have other extra needs, it can be trickier to navigate. This shouldn’t deter you from seeing the world but means you might need to tailor your trip slightly to ensure you have the best time. Here, we’ll be sharing accessible travel tips for travellers with different needs, from disabilities to allergies.
Planning your trip
Booking your hostel
Travelling in hostels and meeting new like-minded friends is an experience unmatched, whether you have a disability or not. From backpacking in South America like?George to hopping across continents like?Javier and Maria José, hostels are brimming full of diverse people from countries you might not have even heard of.?
But when you’re booking your hostel, it’s important to pick one suited to you, especially if you’re a traveller with extra needs. On Hostelworld, you can filter by those that are wheelchair accessible, and find out more about the facilities in hostel descriptions and traveller reviews. For those with physical disabilities, choosing a hostel with rooms on the ground floor and curtains on the dorm beds could make all the difference. ??
Currently in Vietnam, backpacker and amputee Chris’ top tip is to explain your needs to the hostel before you arrive. He emails hostels to ask for a bottom bunk and rarely has any issues.?
Don’t forget, within two weeks of your trip, you’ll be given access to the hostel group Chat. Reach out to travellers who are already there to ask what the hostel’s like, so you can plan accordingly.
Communicating your needs
If you’re travelling with an allergy, disability, or other extra needs, it’s a good idea to tell those around you; at your accommodation, where you eat and on guided tours. Before your trip, jot down or save translations of your needs on your phone. For example, travelling with a nut allergy in Thailand? Saving a note to communicate to restaurants and street food vendors can help ensure you stay safe.
This can also be useful for those with non-visible disabilities too. For example,?Deaf solo traveller, Melisa, keeps notes to tell people that she’s Deaf and might need extra assistance understanding the details of guided tours.?
Hidden Disability Sunflower
The?Hidden Disability Sunflower?is an internationally recognised initiative for the public to show staff in airports, transport, and hospitality that they have a hidden disability or extra needs. Created for people with mental health conditions, neurodiversity, health conditions and more, staff are trained to know what the symbol means and provide extra help.?
With the option of a lanyard, pin, bracelet and more, you can send a discreet message to staff to let them know you might need extra assistance without having to ask for help or disclose why you’re wearing it.?
Starting in Gatwick Airport, the program has been adopted by thousands of businesses globally from railways and retail to theme parks. Businesses who opt-in commit to train their workforce to confidently support the person wearing it.?On their website, you can find a list of the 200 airports and other businesses that are part of the scheme.
Many airports that haven’t opted into the Sunflower initiative have their own schemes. Autistic researcher and Co-Director of AASPIRE, Dora Raymaker, found that in the US neurodivergent people are?often flagged by Transport Security agents?for suspicious behaviour, due to stimming, tapping, or lack of eye contact. Wearing something like the Sunflower can help prevent the added stress of being questioned.
Most airports have a special assistance desk to help you navigate your way around and access special assistance seating areas (designated areas in the departure lounge where it’s quieter and less overwhelming than the main terminal).?
For neurodivergent travellers, the airport can be overstimulating, so ensuring you’re prepared by bringing things like noise-cancelling headphones, fidget rings, blue light glasses, and comfortable clothing can help keep sensory overload at bay.?If you’d like extra support, in some airports, they have?sensory rooms?to prepare passengers for flights before take-off away from the noise of the terminal. These are purposefully designed for people with autism, cognitive issues, dementia, and other special needs.?
A main concern for travellers flying with physical disabilities is damage to their aids like wheelchairs and crutches. Wheelchair user,?Cory Lee, advises those travelling with a wheelchair to take removable parts on the plane with you. Disabled backpacker?Javier Urzúa, recommends bringing a wheelchair maintenance kit, especially if you’ll be travelling long term.?
Getting around once you’re there
For those with health conditions or for some LGBTQIA+ travellers, access to inclusive toilets is a necessity. When you’re out and about the last thing you want is to panic that you won’t find an accessible or gender-neutral bathroom. Luckily, these companies are working on it.
Google introduced a ‘transgender safe space’ and ‘gender-neutral restroom’ tag to their Google Business listings, but business owners must add it and they might not be aware of it. Most businesses do use the wheelchair-accessibility tag, but this isn’t always accurate.
To find more details on accessible and inclusive public toilets, the website and app?Refuge Restrooms?lists safe restrooms for transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming people, as well as wheelchair-accessibility. Anyone can submit new public bathrooms and it lists bathrooms from all over the world.
Travelling in Australia? Run by the Australian Government,?National Public Toilet Map?is an app listing 23,000 publicly available toilets and their accessibility details.?
Knowing your limits
Last but not least, it’s important to understand your own limits. While others may love to party for days on end, if it makes you feel drained, have a chilled evening at the hostel instead. That hike to a dreamy viewpoint might have been in your plans, but if you walked for miles the day before it might not be worth overdoing it. Knowing what works for you and choosing to travel slower, is a travel hack for all adventure lovers.
Javier and Maria José from Rueda Nómada
Travel is becoming more accessible but there’s still a lot of awareness needed and work to be done. Accessibility varies depending on the country you’re exploring, but there are always people happy to help and businesses willing to cater to meet you where you are. We hope this has shown you that regardless of your needs, you can still travel the world.
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