Not only am I a wheelchair traveler; I’m an accessible travel agent who books things like hotel rooms, cruises, and tours for fellow wheelchair users. Before I started doing that, I spent years booking my own accessible travel. One of the most frustrating things I routinely come across when doing this is how incredibly expensive accessible tours and transportation can be! Sometimes, especially in smaller towns and ports of call, there is only one game in town and you have no choice but to pay a premium for these services. But in many cases, there are some ways you can save money when booking accessible tours and transportation.
1. Plan to invest time in conducting extensive research. As a travel agent, the main value I offer my clients is the time I save them. Finding accessible accommodations and tours in foreign countries can be extremely time consuming, and sometimes we just want to go with the easiest (i.e. quickest) option. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself after traveling somewhere, only to discover there were other accessible options that were cheaper. Google will be your best friend in this regard, as will accessible travel blogs and Facebook travel groups where you can ask about the experiences others have had.
2. Shop around and compare prices. Don’t just speak to one travel agency or tour provider and assume that’s the going rate. Sadly, there’s not a lot of competition in the accessible tour business to help bring down prices, but many tour operators don’t want to extort their clients, either. They want good reviews and returning clients. Smaller tour providers may not show up right away in Internet searches, so be patient and thorough. Send emails and make phone calls if necessary to get solid quotes for the kind of tour you’re looking for.
3. Reach out to “regular” tour operators and ask about modifications. There are tons of walking tours around the world that can easily be modified to accommodate wheelchair users, and some don’t need to be modified at all. These tours are so much cheaper than specialty accessible tours, and it’s a win-win situation for both you and the tour provider. Every time I’ve done this, the guides are so grateful for the feedback I provide them with regards to the routes we take and places we visit. I have also spoken with many guides on the Tours by Locals website who are more than happy to go through their existing routes with modifications or create new ones for you.
4. If possible, rent a manual chair or travel scooter for tours. I know not everyone can use a manual wheelchair or scooter and transfer into a sedan or regular minivan. However, if this is at all possible for you, it’s easily the best way to save money on airport transfers and tours. Wheelchairs can fold in half and travel scooters can be taken apart and stowed in a vehicle’s trunk in most developed countries, which means you don’t have to rely on a wheelchair accessible van. For a port stop in Rhodes, Greece, I was quoted US$750 for a 5-hour guided tour by a large accessible travel agency. Upon conducting further research, I found a local taxi company that provided similar tours to the same locations for only US$250. The driver was very knowledgeable and a great guide, and he was also very helpful with getting my rented wheelchair in and out of the trunk. I also used a taxi company this way in Galway, Ireland.
5. Don’t book shore excursions through the cruise line. I know this sounds counterintuitive. The biggest benefit to booking through the cruise line is that they won’t leave you behind if the tour runs late. Many larger cruise lines have increased their offerings of accessible tours, but often they just involve a coach bus with a lift and a 2-hour “windshield” tour of a city or area. Some accessible travel agencies specialize in accessible shore excursions, but again, these can be pricey. It’s a lot more work, but I recommend going port by port and researching tour and transport options at each stop. In some cases, you can roll right off the ship and into town. Many cruisers like exploring on their own, so finding out about a port city’s sidewalks and general accessibility may be enough, combined with a good guidebook. Lately, many local accessible guides have sprung up in popular ports of call after realizing the growing demand. Take advantage of their efforts to grow their business and help visiting wheelchair users.
6. Create your own tour using free city guides and public transportation. It’s always nicer to have a local talking to you about a destination’s history and character while you roll along, but as we’ve seen, this can be very expensive. In many cities around the world, public transportation is very wheelchair friendly–and cheap. Also, many destinations offer free city guides online in several languages through their tourism boards. Some, like Frankfurt and Vienna, offer full accessibility guides for the entire city. When I book travel for my clients, I offer to put these guides together for them for a small fee if they want to save the time.
It’s extremely unfortunate that equal access in travel rarely means equal cost. Sometimes we are stuck paying more than able-bodied travelers, but there are some ways around this. Hopefully these tips will help you save some money during your next trip!
Do you need help booking wheelchair accessible tours and transportation for an upcoming trip? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel and ask me how I can save you money!