Lessons learned from traveling with a disability

I was riding a bus in Ecuador many years ago when the woman sitting next to me quietly pulled out some kind of pen, fiddled with it a little bit, then pulled up the hem of her skirt a few inches and gave herself a shot.

“Insulin,” she said. “I’m diabetic and need to give myself insulin or I’ll die.”

I admired her guts. Many others with severe diabetes would choose to stay at home; or at the very least travel to “developed” areas. This woman chose not to go there – she preferred to live life on her own terms and deal with the consequences.

She’s a lot like Jessie Voigts, who has refused to allow her disabilities to prevent her from living life to the fullest. Here’s Jessie to tell you about lessons she’s learned the hard way.

Voigts and Forteau family, County Kerry, IrelandTraveling with a disability has proved to be quite a learning experience.  The challenges that pop up in travel will not only surprise you, but will require new ways of thinking to get you through.  Remember that no two disabilities (or disabled people) are alike. Some travelers with disabilities cope with chronic pain, while others have hidden disabilities; some are in a wheelchair, while others might be deaf or blind. Each disability requires different coping skills.

I have several disabilities, including a mobility disability, chronic pain, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They have impacted my travels since I was 18. The following tips are my own hard-earned lessons, for my particular disabilities. Your experience will be different – but some things stay the same.

Your body comes first. When you travel, either with companions or by yourself, pay attention to your body’s needs. Put your body first – you’ll be able to enjoy your travels more if you are as healthy and pain-free as possible.

Only you know what you need. While others that love you may try to judge your capabilities, only YOU know what you need. Maybe on a day when you’ve bought tickets to an attraction, you just don’t feel well enough to head out. Either reschedule the tickets or count the money spent as a loss. Your health is much too important to waste. As well, only you know when you might be able to push a bit more to do something.

The highest hurdle might be your expectations and desires. You WANT to go do something, especially if you’ve saved money and planned for this dream trip. If your body doesn’t cooperate, it’s extremely frustrating. Rest up if you can, and plan for the next day. It’s not giving in to your body – it’s recognizing that your health is more important than your desires.

People are very kind and generous. When a location isn’t accessible or you need assistance, you’ll find that people are both kind and generous. They might help lift your wheelchair up stairs, or find a bench for you to sit and rest upon. Strangers might help you navigate unfamiliar terrain, or help find gluten-free items in the grocery store or market. Which leads to the next point…

Learn to accept help. It goes against my grain – I’m very independent. But especially when I travel, I need more help than I do at home, where everything is easier and perfectly set up for my disabilities. Swallowing my pride or discomfort at asking for help not only helps ME, but helps locals make their location accessible to me and other visitors with disabilities. And that’s what travel is all about – getting to know a place and its people.

Jessie VoightsWhat tips do you have to share for traveling with disabilities?

 Jessie Voigts works tirelessly at wanderingeducators.com. She also runs a fabulous internship for traveling teens who want to learn to be travel writers.




books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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5 Responses to Lessons learned from traveling with a disability

  1. Rick July 3, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Nancy, how about an update on your boys on the Colorado Trail. I was wondering if they were having a good time and if the forest fires were affecting their travels. Thanks.

  2. Nancy July 3, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Hi Rick! Sorry for the lack of communication here – we just got home a few days ago and I’ve been swamped with everything after not having access to internet for so long. The boys decided to bail from the trail last Thursday and are now home in Idaho. There were many reasons for that decision, and the fires were most certainly one of them. I am working on a post that will explain more.

    • Rick July 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm #


      Thanks, Nancy. It is great knowing they are safe and sound. I bet they have some great stories and photos to share with you.

      Thanks for your hard work.

  3. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home July 28, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    I think these tips apply to everyone 🙂 regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Thanks for sharing and kudos for traveling even though it’s maybe a little harder for you.

  4. Sebastian August 29, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    Thought provoking and truly valuable.

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