It’s disappointing when you realize that you might not be physically able to travel in the way that you used to. No one wants to admit that an ailment or age might keep them from seeing, doing, and going. As painful as it may be, we should all think seriously about our fitness level and whether we can meet the challenges of the trip that lies before us.
If you are taking a group tour, talk with your operator about the physical challenges you’ll meet on the tour. They should be able to provide information about the lengths of walking tours and the types of terrain you’ll encounter. Ask about your accommodations as well. Is there an elevator? If you’re traveling abroad, does that elevator work? What is the shower/tub like? Use this information to decide whether a trip is right for you or not. Reputable operators will not push you into taking a trip that is outside your comfort zone. If you feel pressured, it might be a sign that the operator and itinerary aren’t right for you.
Be honest from the start. If you have a physical limitation or condition that requires special consideration, talk with your tour operator and/or traveling companions about it. Find out if accommodations can be made but understand that sometimes, there is nothing that can be done. Most attractions in the U.S. are very accessible to those with limited mobility. The same is not true for other parts of the world. Find out what’s involved with traveling to your dream destination.
Don’t forget the airports. If you’ll need a wheelchair for the airport, talk to your travel planner or airline in advance. Don’t feel bad about asking for this assistance. Some airports are massive. By pre-booking a wheelchair you ensure that you won’t overexert yourself before the trip even begins.
It’s more than just mobility, disclose other conditions too. A traveler waited until the week before departure to tell me that her traveling companion had hemophilia and required a refrigerator for his supply of clotting factor. We were able to arrange for a small fridge to be put in their room but it involved a lot of last-minute effort on everyone’s part. This is the kind of thing that you need to tell your travel planner from the beginning. It’s much easier to solve these problems in advance.
Many travel companies will ask passengers to complete a passenger information form that asks lots of questions, including some related to health and fitness. Answer those questions completely and honestly.
Group tours are not a babysitting service. I have encountered a few instances where adult-children knowingly sent their parents on a group tour despite physical or mental limitations. You can’t expect that someone will take care of your loved one. Tour leaders have to take care of logistics for the whole group and do not have the time or training to be an aide for travelers with special needs.
With anything else in life, honesty is the best policy. By honestly assessing your fitness level and asking questions in advance, you should be able to select the right trip. Once you’ve selected a trip, be sure to share health-related information with your traveling companions and/or travel planner.