If you’re thinking about traveling to Europe as an older adult or with an older adult, it’s important to understand the physical environment you’ll experience—cobblestone streets, lots of stairs, and at times, a lack of elevators. Don’t let these things scare you away from traveling: instead, be prepared for them. You may not be able to climb the stairs to the top of Notre Dame or the Duomo in Florence, but you will still be able to see sights of a lifetime.
Twenty-four years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to make sure that people with disabilities have equal access to public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. As a result, it’s easier now for persons with disabilities to get around in the U.S. than it was then.
The EU began addressing barriers facing those with disabilities in 2004 with the Disability Action Plan. In the U.S., most of our buildings are relatively new. In Europe, buildings and sites can be hundreds if not thousands of years old. Making those public places more accessible can be quite challenging. As a result, it’s not always as easy to get around there. Travel for older adults can be a challenge.
While in Italy, my mother and I stayed in a medieval castle. The walkways were rough cobblestone and there was no elevator. How can a place like that be made accessible for someone with a walker or in a wheelchair? For now at least, there are certain places like this that will require a traveler to have a certain amount of mobility.
Know the details of the place you will be staying. What floor will your room be on? Is there an elevator? Ask these questions when you are booking. Even if there is an elevator, most of the elevators in European countries are much smaller than the ones in the U.S. Consider how you will be able to access your room if the one elevator available is out of service.
Another thing that you’ll find smaller in Europe is the bathroom. Most are not designed to be handicapped accessible. In one particular hotel we visited, the toilet area was barely any wider than the toilet, and I almost had to sit in the bidet to use the sink. I do exaggerate a little – but only a little. My advice is to ask detailed questions, and get confirmation in writing when you book your room.
Many of the train and subway stations will have small elevators available to help you get to your train track. In the city though, the best way for someone with a physical challenge to get around may be by taxi. Learn how the taxi system works in the country you are visiting, and make sure that you only use official taxis. They are regulated and safer, unlike drivers who operate outside the system.
Check out reidsguides.com to see a listing of organizations providing information about traveling with physical disabilities. The site also has a list of tour providers as well. In addition, read guidebooks like Rick Steve’s, and learn all you can about the area you will be visiting.
Have you faced challenges in traveling? What were they and how did you overcome them?