Flying around the globe on a round-the-world ticket, diving into foreign cultures and going on exciting adventures is a valuable life experience – and not one that’s limited to young graduates taking a gap year before leaping into the world of paid work.
Disabled people can experience life as a traveller too. There are more obstacles to overcome, such as arranging suitable accommodation, finding disabled travel insurance to fit your needs, and navigating transport effectively – but these are all solvable problems.
And so is finding a travel adventure to suit you.
Whether you have limited limb or motor function, are in a wheelchair, or have a sensory or other disability, you don’t have to settle for another generic cruise, a trip to a ‘safe’ country, or worse – a staycation.
It’s true that many Asian, African and Latin American countries don’t have accessibility laws that cater to people with disabilities, but there are still plenty of experiences to be had for the disabled traveller:
1. Experience Other Cultures
Experiencing another country’s culture is a quintessential part of the backpacker lifestyle, and is something the disabled traveller can easily partake in.
Whether it’s visiting the local museums, galleries and theatres and drinking in the knowledge found within, or roaming the bustling streets and enjoying the culture on a closer level, experiencing a new culture is something all travellers can do.
2. Adventure Activities
From skydiving to scuba diving, adventure activities are one of the most thrilling parts of travelling. They’re also things that, at first glance, seem impossible for the disabled backpacker. But that doesn’t mean they are; there are plenty of exhilarating options available:
From the jump, to the parachute release, to the landing, skydiving is controlled by the instructor, so it’s perfectly possible for a disabled person to give it a shot. Likewise, disabled scuba divers can be accompanied by a dive buddy, and wheelchair accessible trails mean even those with limited mobility can enjoy hiking.
3. Go On Safari
Safari operators are more open to the needs of disabled people than ever before: special vehicles with hydraulic lifts for wheelchairs aren’t unusual, sign language interpreters can be arranged to accompany deaf and hearing impaired travellers, and some tours are designed to incorporate touch, taste, smell and sound for blind and visually impaired people.
4. Sailing and Rowing
Many sailing organisations now have facilities to aid disabled people in a wide range of vessels, opening up all kinds of sailing opportunities and giving disabled people the chance to experience life as a sailor. If you’d rather get closer to the water, rowing may be more to your liking. Specially adapted rowing boats have been designed with high-backed seats and strategically positioned straps to allow the disabled person to participate.
It may come as a surprise to learn that skiing is an activity almost any disabled person can enjoy. There are multiple adaptations of skiing to suit varying levels of disability, such as: three-track skiing, which involves a single ski and two outriggers (hand-held poles with ski tips on the base) and allows people with only one strong leg to ski; mono-skiing, which uses a single ski with a specially designed seat fitted to it, and two outriggers, which allows people with conditions such as spina bifida, MS, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy to ski.
Horse-riding is another surprising adventure activity that disabled people can enjoy. It may be a case of riding side-saddle if you’d just have difficulty sitting astride a horse. If you’re more severely disabled, carriage driving may be more suitable; not only does carriage driving allow you to sit in a more comfortable and stable position, but you’re also able to sit alongside somebody who could offer assistance if need be.
7. Visit Tourist Hot Spots
Many hardcore backpackers shun the idea of visiting the more popular tourist destinations, claiming them to be too crowded and expensive – but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth visiting. In fact, due to their status as popular tourist destinations, they’re more likely to cater to disabled travellers. More popular tourist destinations are picking up this trend year on year – for example, the Taj Mahal has been fitted with ramps, and specially planned circuits of Machu Picchu are offered by several tour guides.
Whatever activities you want to incorporate into your adventures, it’s crucial to carry out proper planning and ensure your needs will be met at every stage of the journey. For more information and advice on planning your trip, see the disabled traveller’s section of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.