Tips for Travelling with Physical Challenges

Canadians with “disabilities” and physical challenges may struggle to plan vacations and other travel. While this includes those with permanent physical challenges, such as paralysis, the truth is that many other people have physical problems that make travel intimidating and scary. Seniors and those suffering from less visible challenges like arthritis, can also struggle with having a fun, safe trip.

Know Your Rights

In Canada, there are regulations, codes of practice and guidelines that transportation companies must comply with. The Canada Transportation Act specifies that the transportation system must be accessible, “…without undue obstacle to the mobility of persons, including persons with disabilities.”

It pays to familiarize yourself with this information and know your rights. Details can be found on the Government of Canada website under Special Needs.

Tips for Travelling with Physical Challenges

Learning about accessible travel is a good start, but there’s so much more you can do to ensure your trip is enjoyable. The following tips have been provided by a physically-challenged friend who travels frequently.  Your doctor may be able to provide more tips that are specific to your condition, so pay her a visit before you travel.

Tips for Travelers Who Have Physical Challenges

Dress for Success

Wearing the wrong outfit while travelling can add an unnecessary amount of stress and discomfort to your trip, so be sure to choose super-comfortable clothing when travelling.

  • Wear a shirt that is long enough not to bare your midriff when reaching up, doesn’t slide off your shoulders or bind your arms, and has a reasonably high neckline so you aren’t worried about showing your bosom to the world if you move wrong.
  • Choose stretchy, comfortable pants and underwear, and don’t forget bladder protection if there’s any chance you will need it.
  • Opt for shoes that are soft and comfortable and have a little extra room to accommodate the swollen feet that always result from flying, worn with socks that have no tight band at the top. Compression stockings are often recommended for flights, but before you decide to wear them you should try them out for a day or two at home before you fly, just to be sure you can tolerate them.
  • Wear a light jacket or sweater with pockets that you can keep on for the whole trip and don’t have to keep putting on and taking off. Don’t wear or carry heavy boots or coats unless absolutely necessary (those can be put in your checked luggage if you will need them at your destination). Don’t wear a hat unless you plan to keep it on for the whole trip.
  • Don’t wear scarves or jewelry that can fall off or catch on things.


Put the things you might need during the flight in your pockets. For example, painkillers won’t help you if they are in your carry-on luggage and you can’t reach it easily.

Pocket items may include:

  • A small packet of tissues
  • Lip balm
  • Pressure-balancing earplugs
  • Any medications you might need during the flight
  • Reading glasses
  • Eye drops
  • Toothpicks
  • A protein bar if you need to eat with your medication
  • Set of earbuds so you can watch an inflight movie if you want to

Consider what you might need during the flight ahead of time. Put it all in your pockets so you won’t have to struggle to access it, and you won’t have to try to manage without it.

Additionally, you can use the seat pocket to hold a bottle of water so you can reach it easily.

Mobility Aids

If you are travelling with mobility aids of any kind, you will need to take precautions to prevent loss or damage to your equipment. If you check your walker or wheelchair at the same time as your checked luggage, most airlines will shrink wrap your equipment. That should prevent the loss of detachable parts.

However, if you take a walker or wheelchair right to the door of the plane it will be put in the luggage hold as is. That means that any detachable parts can come off and disappear, so remove anything that could come off and put in your carry-on. Take off any detachable parts (baskets, cushions, drink holders, cane clips etc.) and keep them with you during the flight.  If possible, consider taking spare parts and basic tools you’ll need if repairs are necessary.

It’s a really good idea to take a picture of your equipment before entrusting it to the airline, and take another picture of it when you get it back. If there’s any damage you’ll have proof of what happened and when it happened.

Consider investing in mobility aids designed for travel. They feature lightweight and compact designs and usually come with a carrying case. You’ll also appreciate the convenience of a folding cane if you need one.

Travel Light

Pare down your clothing needs, and don’t take one single thing that you don’t think you’ll need. Most of us with mobility issues already have a big load of medications, equipment, and other needed items that we can’t leave behind, and bringing extra things only adds to the difficulty of travelling. Put everything you possibly can in your checked luggage, use a folding cane instead of a regular one, and keep your carry-on luggage as small and light as possible.

Accessible Seating

Choose a seat that you can get in and out of easily. An aisle seat often works best for those who have difficulty moving. Don’t hesitate to talk to airline staff about getting a seat that accommodates your needs – they’re often able to change seating arrangements to help you out.

Accept Help!

Use the wheelchair service at the airport. You will need to factor in extra time for this not only at the initial airport, but at every airport throughout your trip. This may make your trip a little longer, but it is worth it if it prevents you from ending your trip exhausted. Remember that the airport will usually send one person to push you in a wheelchair, which can cause some logistical problems with what to do with your luggage if you are travelling alone.

Reduce Stress

Book a taxi the day before so you don’t find that all the taxi companies are booked and you’ll have to wait, then hurry (and worry) at the airport.

Mentally go through the trip. Check that you have calculated your medication and other necessities correctly, so you can make it through a delay of 48 hours or more.

Make sure you have a list of phone numbers for things like airport assistance, wheelchair taxis at your destination, your hotel, the Canadian Consulate in whatever country you are traveling to, the credit card company in case there is a problem with your card, and the phone numbers of relatives and friends at your destination and at home. Don’t just program these numbers into your phone – have a written list in case your phone is lost.  Remember to include the contact information of your doctor, along with a list of all medications you’re on.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can be tricky for those with pre-existing conditions. Be aware that the goal of insurance companies is to receive money, not hand it out. Carefully read the conditions of your travel insurance. Always check with any extended health company that you deal with, since you may be better off buying your travel insurance through them.

Expedia Canada also provides travelers with the information they need to book a worry-free trip with a Best Price Guarantee, no Expedia change/cancel fees, and trip insurance. Plus, with the Expedia Rewards loyalty program, travelers earn points for FREE travel (and no blackout dates).

??? Do you have any travel tips for people with “disabilities” or physical challenges? Do you have a story to share?

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Not sure I remember how to travel at all but this will make sure I don’t forget anything important. Many many thanks!
XO Marissa


We have tons of traveling planned for our retirement but one of us already has mobility issues. Thanks so very much for reassuring us that travel is still possible!!!! I was starting to think it wasn’t going to happen. 🙁

Anamika Patel

Incredible Article, Thank you for Sharing.

Adele Bernard

I’ve had mobility problems for decades but it hasn’t stopped me from travelling. I can tell your friend has personal experience with it because some of these ideas can only come from experience. I hope she keeps travelling too. Thanks for thinking of people that don’t want to just go away & die just because they have some physical problems. We want to live too!!!


Ah here it is! I’ve been looking for helpful info before my holiday cruise and you nailed it here. I’ve only been physically disabled for a couple of years so it’s a whole new learning experience for me to travel. The simplest things can be a challenge now. I’m learning as I go along though and people like you sharing your experience is so helpful.