Everybody has specific needs. Especially when travelling, it can be more challenging to cater for them. You go out of your comfort zone and you might find unexpected situations. However, everybody should have the possibility to participate in DiscoverEU, on an equal basis and without discrimination.
To help you get started, we’re sharing accessible travel tips and practical advice for young people with specific access needs. In this document, you can find some advice on accessible travelling in the European Union.
But of course, you are the expert of your own life! There are many types of disabilities and every person is different. Feel free to personalise the following tips and find your own way in accommodating your own needs.
- Plan ahead! This reduces the chance of surprises. If possible, try to book your trip in advance so you have time to research accessibility in and around the place you want to visit. The more organised and prepared you are for your trip, the less stressful it will be because you’ll know what to expect. Have a plan B ready just in case.
The website Pantou offers a reliable and comprehensive international guide to all kinds of accessible tourism services. The information on this site might help you in planning your journey. Of course that’s not the only website with information on accessible tourism and, as no webpage has everything, you should always search on the web and check different sources.
- Ask lots of questions about accessibility and express your needs. Not everyone has the same idea of what “wheelchair accessible” means, for example. Logo’s and labels indicating accessible routes, venues or services might differ in different countries. Maybe you have already been in many situations where you thought that a place would be accessible, only to find that it was not accessible for you.
Call the reception staff of the accommodation you are considering before booking it and be specific about the things you need. It’s much easier to explain what assistance you require when speaking to a person who’s working there. You might even ask them to send you pictures, if you’re not sure whether the accommodation is suitable for you.
- Find out what the public transportation situation is before you travel. Are you able to get around the destination easily? Can you use all modes of transport or only certain modes of transport?
If you plan to take the train (or any other mode of public transport), it is a good idea to call the public transport company one or two days in advance, so that they know what kind of assistance they need to provide.
For people who are partially sighted or blind, you might be surprised by the options the local travel company has to offer. In London, for example, they have large print maps, developed by the Royal National Institute of the Blind. And in Paris, they designed a website for everyone, clearly having blind people in mind. Ask the local transport company and find out the options they have for you.
In case you travel in a wheelchair, you can find for example wheelchair accessibility travel guides online about Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Gibraltar, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris and Prague. But there are other websites as well. Always do your research.
- Always bring along a folder containing important medical documents. Like everyone, you have to make sure that you’re covered. So do not forget to apply for a European Health Insurance Card and take it with you. All EU states recognise it and in case of emergency it is useful.
Moreover, you can also consider bringing a doctor’s letter which summarises your conditions and medications and travel insurance policy. Paper documents as well as a digital back up might be needed in case of an emergency.
- Give your travel companion instructions before you set off, so that they know what they should do if something happens (for example an epilepsy attack).
- Prepare a few sentences about your needs in the local language. For example, if you have any kind of food allergy, it might be good to write down the ingredients you cannot eat in the local language (or how about making a voice message). You can ask someone at the reception of the hostel/hotel if what you’ve written/said is understandable. You may find the (free) Accessible Travel Phrasebook useful.
- If you bring your assistance dog, be aware that not all service providers in EU countries are aware of the European legislation concerning assistance dogs. You may sometimes find yourself in embarrassing situation and may not be allowed to take your dog as they see it as a pet. Be aware that this is not correct. Your assistance dog is not a pet and has the right to assist you wherever you are.
Do your research and print out a copy of the EU law, preferably in the language of your hosting country. And when you book your accommodation, make sure that the reservation staff are aware of this as well.
- If you need to bring some assistive technologies, make sure you place them in your hand luggage and take them out when you pass though the security check, and tell the staff in advance. You will save some time.
- Bring your Disability Card. In some European counties, people with a disability have a “Disability Card”, with which they enjoy some benefits in museums, accommodation, and cultural events etcetera. Bring yours and maybe you’ll receive some discounts!
- The best information on accessible travelling comes from people who have travelled before you. On the internet, there are many bloggers who share their personal experiences and give practical tips. Get inspired by them! Accessible Travel Club group on Facebook has thousands of travelling members with a disability. There you will find all kinds of information by just asking a question!
- Share your experiences! Moreover, it is also important to share your own experience with others! Future DiscoverEU youth will greatly benefit from your experiences if you share them online (for example in our Facebook Group).
- Be flexible and stay positive! You probably have to deal with unexpected things. Use your energy to find solutions to problems you might find on the way.
- Accept your own limits. It’s OK to have different needs. You have to see and decide for yourself what your trip should be like, within your own possibilities and limitations.
- Be aware of your rights as a passenger in Europe. As a person with a disability or “Person with Reduced Mobility” (PRM), you are entitled to travel and to be assisted when travelling in Europe by air, rail, ship, bus and coach. (Information about your rights is available from the European Commission Passenger Rights webpage, and right here).