Options for travelers with mobility issues

By: Ron Carlson
This article appears on page 27 of the February 2018 issue.

One of my hobbies is answering questions in ITN’s “Person to Person” column. I usually average one each month, enjoying sharing my intel even for an audience of one or two travelers, but my answer to a recent info request — about traveling with limited mobility (Nov. ’17, pg. 60) — covered a lot of ground, and I thought it might interest many travelers in the senior category.

The subscriber wrote, “My wife has recently developed a condition that requires her to walk slowly with a cane, meaning she cannot keep up with a group of normal-paced walkers. We would like information about tour providers willing to accommodate her so that we can continue to travel.” 

My wife, Joy, and I face the same issue. Joy has peripheral artery disease, which causes her severe leg pain after she walks for only a few minutes. (A recent medical intervention seems to have made a big improvement, so we are optimistic.) For the last couple of years, we have had to find travel opportunities within her limits. Here are a few options we found.

Culinary trips — One of our nicest recent trips ever was a culinary week in Italy in winter 2016. Such outings are available all over the world, and one booking site on which a comprehensive sampling can be found is that of Edible Destinations by Epitoureanwww.epitourean.com. The offers all look appealing, but there are important differences, especially in the actual cooking lessons. 

Though the trips all seem to be way overpriced, in the range of $500 to $600 per person per night, the good news is that they are routinely discounted heavily, up to as much as 60% off. Some nice discounted offers have appeared on Edible Destinations’ website.

Discounted offers also appear occasionally on the Groupon booking site www.groupon.com/getaways, and it was there that we found and booked the culinary trip “A Taste of the Roman Countryside,” offered by Casa Gregorio’s Cooking Holidays (www.italyculinaryholiday.com), which we took in 2016. It was just about perfect.

(In November 2017, the cost of this 7-day, 6-night trip was $3,796 per person, double occupancy, but I happened to check on the website www.epitourean.com, and it had a special promotion offering a 58% discount, cutting the cost to $1,598 per person, or $267 per night.)

Casa Gregorio had delicious food and good wine in a superb setting; the place was just beautiful (there were some stairs to climb). The program was heavy on cooking classes and easy local touring. Our group of 12 was congenial, interesting and fun-loving. The special thing about this trip was the personal, high-quality attention from the owner/host, Gregory (an American expatriate).

We added a 4-day rental-car drive in nearby Abruzzo province, a good choice for more good food, fine scenery and stimulating mountain driving, all with little strain on Joy’s bad leg.

Driving tours — Self-drive is possibly our favorite mode of travel. We’ve done it together for 50 years in over 80 countries, so it’s become easy. We can tailor the itinerary to suit our capabilities — more important now than ever.

A recent trip to Sicily is a good example. We flew into Palermo late and were transferred to our overnight B&B by the host. Dinner at a local restaurant we truly loved would have been a bit of a hike on a narrow roadway, but the host insisted on driving us there and back.

We were off in our rental car early the next morning for nine days of touring. It was a great trip — fine weather, super scenery, fab food, ridiculously low prices, fun driving in safe conditions on good roads, and walking as much or as little as Joy could comfortably handle. It was a real winner. There were some stairs to climb in B&Bs.

River cruises — Although we have not done one recently, the many river cruises we have enjoyed in Europe and elsewhere have shown that they could be a good choice for those with restricted mobility. Move in once, relax and enjoy good care and company.

Some shore excursions require keeping up with a walking group, but, of course, they are optional and alternatives exist.

Small river ships have no elevators, so there is that challenge, but typically there is no hurry (unless the ship is afire or sinking). 

We have especially enjoyed cruises with Grand Circle Cruise Line (www.gct.com) for their relatively good value and high standards. They seem to be pricing themselves out of our bracket, though.

We’ve never been aboard a giant cruise ship.

African safaris — We have done many safaris in several countries in Africa and found them to be quite relaxing, except for the occasional marauding monkey or curious elephant. 

Touring is all by vehicle, the lodges and camps are typically on one level, and the living is very easy.

Take your pick of providers, but we’ve been very happy with Roy Safaris (Arusha, Tanzania; phone +255 27 250 2115, fax +255 27 254 8892, www.roysafaris.com). Roy’s boutique hotel in Arusha, The African Tulip (fax +255 27 2543006, www.theafricantulip.com), is wonderful, and Roy’s safari guests get an attractive rate.

India — The above-mentioned subscriber stated that they were especially interested in India. We’ve been planning another trip to India for a couple of years. We would go from Srinagar overland to Leh, then into the far north on our own arrangements. With rough roads at very high altitudes, it is not an easy trip, but there would not be a lot of walking.

(We have had to cancel twice because of health issues, Joy’s and mine. We managed to keep our advance commitments to a minimum, so we suffered no big financial losses. We hope to get back to that plan in fall 2018.)

Other factors — Getting through airports can be a mobility challenge. I almost lost Joy in the Z├╝rich airport running for a tight connection. Of course, there are aids available if one is not too proud to use them.

As for dealing with aging, our travel philosophy has always been to take on the hard stuff when you can and, when you can’t, then do some easy travel. So no regrets. In the future, we’ll stay a little closer to home if we have to and maybe enjoy our mini-motor home touring North America. 

If you would like more information on any of the possibilities I’ve mentioned, just send an email (traveler.ron@gmail.com).

RON CARLSON

Lakeland, MN