Last updated on March 20th, 2022
by Elizabeth Bingham, Guest writer
Tips for Accessible Travel in Europe
In 2020, I received an email from Elizabeth Bingham, a travel writer who has written multiple foreign language and culture books for travellers to Europe, as well as two travel memoirs.
Elizabeth had just launched her new book Easy-Walking Europe: Tips and Suggested Tours for the (Somewhat) Mobility Impaired, which is specifically for people who “still get around fine but can’t walk as far or as fast as they used to, and stairs can take a while.” The book features specifics for nine European cities — Edinburgh, Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Vienna, and Munich — including a detailed sample itinerary and sections on arrival, transportation, sightseeing passes, day trips, lodging, and other base cities.
Elizabeth wrote the book after her mother found herself repeatedly exhausted during a group tour the two were taking in England. When her mom said later that she’d like to visit Scotland next, Bingham researched how to make a visit abroad less taxing and then tested her ideas with people who are no longer as fit or mobile as they used to be, including her mother. Her modified approach to travel worked wonderfully, other people wanted to know how to do it, and thus a new travel book was born.
Below are some of her tips to help women of all ages travel safely and well.
Ten tips to make travel easier
Do you love to travel but you feel a twinge here, maybe a pang there, and those little warnings are giving you second thoughts?
Aches and pains eventually catch up with all of us, even the most enthusiastic traveller. A new travel guide addresses this reality head-on with advice for making a visit to Europe easy and doable for the slower-moving set.
With the world reopening after widespread shutdowns, women want to travel again, including those who aren’t as young or as mobile as they used to be. Here are 10 tips from my latest book to help you make the most of any holiday:
- First and foremost, plan ahead. Spontaneity has its place, but if you want to snag the most comfortable, convenient options (especially with hotels and pre-booked tours), you need to get in early, particularly during high tourist season. If you are more than somewhat mobility impaired, then it’s even more important that you do your research and plan ahead.
- Be willing to compromise. You may need to give up a quaint and charming hotel in favour of a modern one with easy accessibility. The area around the train station may not be the romantic quarter you were hoping for, but if it is the hub of city and regional transportation (as is often the case), that weighs heavily in its favour.
- Lower the bar. There’s nothing wrong with planning your visit around what’s easiest to get to. If you want to see or do particular things despite their difficulty, make sure that the rest of that day is easy, so you have a chance to recuperate. There are no extra tourist points for making things hard.
- Slow down in general and take breaks. If you push, push, push yourself all the time (even at a slower speed), you’ll have a harder time enjoying what you do. That’s a good point for all visitors, but especially those with physical challenges. Downtime is important. It’s always good to have time to catch your breath when travelling. This can be time in a coffee shop, in your hotel room, in a park, sitting on a tour bus. Most of us benefit from recharging our batteries a bit during the day, but that’s especially so when we have physical limitations.
- This is, again, true for all travellers, but travel as lightly as you can. Large suitcases are less of a problem if you stay based in one or two hotels, but even then, hauling them from the airport to the hotel and back is never fun. If you plan to travel with your luggage on trains and buses, you will be grateful for every unnecessary pound you left at home.
- If you take the train, look into ordering tickets online ahead of time. You can usually save considerably on train fare if you book early. You will also know exactly where your reserved seat is and can save yourself wandering through the train cars looking for open seats. In addition, by ordering in advance, you can secure yourself a place on popular trains, where seats can sell out.
- Consider packing a collapsible walking stick or hiking pole for additional support and stability on the inevitable stairs and inclines (and cobblestones!). A $25 investment could save your knees and help you get through the day more easily. Just make sure that the smallest-size pole will fit in your checked luggage, to make sure you’ll be able to transport it easily. Of course, if you use it to get on the plane itself, a flight attendant will probably find a home for it during the flight, but check with your airline’s rules before relying on that. If you use trekking poles that have a sharp metal point under a rubber cover, the poles may need to go in checked luggage.
- If standing (say, during a city tour or while waiting for the bus) exhausts or pains you, you may want to pack a collapsible 3-legged stool in your day bag. Some collapse up to only 15 inches long and weigh less than 2 pounds (while supporting hundreds of pounds). A company called Walkstool, for example, offers various collapsible models with telescoping legs. Check the sitting height before buying, to make sure it’s not a camping chair that you essentially squat in and may struggle to stand up from. (For comparison, a standard dining chair seat is around 18 inches from the floor.) Also look at maximum supportable weight, of course. You probably can’t use a collapsible stool everywhere, such as when touring a palace, but one could ward off pain and exhaustion outside, at least, if standing in place is a problem for you.
- You may already be a packing cube convert, or perhaps you’ve never even heard of them, but they can be a traveller’s best friend. Packing cubes aren’t actually cube-shaped, but they are squared-off zippered bags of various sizes helpful for organizing items in your luggage. Some people use them to compress their clothes into a carry-on and avoid checking bags entirely, but they are also helpful for organizing a checked bag.
- There’s a good chance that your hotel room (small European rooms, after all) will not have a dresser or even shelves and you will have to live out of your suitcase during your stay. Packing cubes can help out here, too. They can serve rather like dresser drawers, keeping all your shirts together, your pants together, socks and underwear, etc. If kneeling next to your suitcase is a problem, you can snag the bags you want and use them at bed level. Using packing cubes really does work well to keep items compartmentalized and prevent them from getting all mixed up in your suitcase, and they could save your knees some wear and tear, as well.
Elizabeth includes links to helpful Web sites throughout the book, including resources specifically for accessible travel. Here are some of her favourites:
- For general travel with disabilities in Europe (including accessible hotels)— www.sagetraveling.com
- For guided tours, with an option to select Trip Type according to physical level (including Very Easy)— www.travelstride.com/guide/europe-tours
- For hotel searches, with a filter for “Wheelchair access” under “Amenities—www.tripadvisor.com
- For lightweight, collapsible stools—www.walkstool.com (Walkstool products are also available at Amazon.com.)
- For Elizabeth’s Facebook page—www.facebook.com/Elizabeth-Bingham-Author-681013812044922
- For Elizabeth’s Facebook travel page—www.facebook.com/groups/217964862571628/
More on Accessible Travel
How digging into history inspires Wendy Brooks to travel to archaeology sites around the world.
The JourneyWoman team selects their favourite off-the-beaten path travel destinations every woman should experience, from Ethiopia to Thailand.
Guest Writer Karen Gershowitz shares her story of traveling with chronic pain to Iceland, and shows us how it might slow you down, but doesn’t have to permanently ground you.