Holliday & FischerHolliday & Fischer | Article published October 13, 2002
Preparation is key for disabled traveler

We love the letter that we're answering this week, because it's all about courage and a can-do attitude.

A longtime reader from Findlay is about to embark on her first overseas trip. She's signed up for a popular package tour to Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan, and is going despite some physical challenges. She wears two leg braces, and has total knee replacements somewhere in her future.

Most people in a similar condition wouldn't think of traveling anywhere, let alone Europe, but "Faithful from Findlay" has already purchased her collapsible cane and a backpack, and is currently breaking in a new pair of tennis shoes. Good for her.

Her question is: Can a physically challenged person find true happiness on a package tour of Italy, and what should she and her husband do or be aware of prior to the trip?

Well, the very fact she's going despite her disability means she'll almost certainly have a grand time, but there are a few things that might smooth the way. (Many of our answers, incidentally, apply to just about anyone traveling abroad with some kind of physical disability.)

Make sure that the company you're traveling with is fully aware of your situation prior to departure. If they know of your disability ahead of time there are several things they can do to help you, while ensuring that the group movements are not impeded.

If the tour organizer hasn't already done so, contact the airline you're flying with and alert them to the fact you have leg braces and a cane. There may be special steps that can be taken to get you through all those checks and controls without setting off alarms and also allow you onto the plane with that dangerous collapsible cane!

We would also recommend you ask for wheelchair service at all airports. It's not wimpish at all. Just practical. And despite the fact you say you can "walk with ease with the braces," there will still be endless airport corridors to navigate and long waits in line that present any traveler with plenty of physical challenges. You don't want to arrive in Europe totally exhausted.

Also, try to get bulkhead or exit-row seats assigned before you leave. They offer much more leg room. If that doesn't work, ask again when you check in for the flights. Tell them about your problem.

It's also doubly important that you do solid pre-trip research and determine what YOU really want to do and see on the trip. Get yourself a good guidebook for Italy - and don't rely just on skimpy tour handouts. And as the tour appears to be quite fast-paced, there will be times when you need to slow down. You don't have to visit one more church or museum just because it's on the tour itinerary.

Ask your local tour guide each day how much actual walking will be involved Remember that many of the streets in Rome, Florence, and Venice are old, cobbled, and uneven. Then decide whether you're up to that day's activities. Or you might prefer to do your own thing, like spending more time in a particular art museum, sitting at a roadside cafe watching the people, or window shopping.

And if any of the hotels don't have elevators, make sure you're assigned a room on the ground floor.

The main thing is to keep your sense of humor, and don't overdo. And one day you may return there to see it all again ... with two brand new knees! We hope so.