Advice From An Expert: Disabled Travel

A collection of pictures from various Sage Travelling trips. Photos from Sage Travelling website.
A collection of pictures from various Sage Travelling trips.

By: Brian Gage

In our modern world, countless locations can seem exceedingly difficult to visit for those with motor disabilities.

In many cases, cities or other places that may seem easy enough to navigate for some people can provide a huge barrier for those bound to wheelchairs, or with other motor impairments.

A tour group in London, England
A tour group in London, England

What many people who are lucky enough to have full use, and control, of their motor functions, never consider is the wide array of challenges that become apparent once one is no longer able to fully access their body's full functionality.

These challenges can cause seemingly everyday activities for some to become massive undertakings for others in different circumstances.

With this in mind, less regular pursuits, such as traveling the world, can seem out of reach or pose a huge challenge to a disabled person.

Fortunately, there are some companies whose sole mission is to provide the physically disabled with the opportunity to experience international travel without the struggle of having to plan an entirely accessible trip all by themselves.

Sage Traveling

I recently learned about John Sage, the founder of Sage Traveling "The European Disabled Travel Experts", and his efforts in making big trips more attainable for disabled people. John suffered a serious injury from a skiing accident in 2001, yet has since gone on to visit over 40 countries despite his predicament.

All of the locations that John Sage has traveled to in his wheelchair.
All of the locations that John Sage has traveled to in his wheelchair.

John sustained a T-4 incomplete spinal cord injury and while he still has some sensation, he finds it easier to get around with the use of his wheelchair.

However, John chose not to let this injury affect his outlook on life and has since visited Europe 16 times and seen over 140 cities.

Throughout his early travels, John discovered how difficult it can be to find information on the accessibility of many of his potential destinations, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and found Sage Traveling in an attempt to provide disabled or otherwise motor impaired people with a more streamlined choice when considering their prospective trips.

He has spent years researching the accessibility of all aspects of several popular locations, from lodging and museums to sightseeing opportunities, and has used his own experiences traveling to many of these places as guides for his research.

Now, Sage Traveling's main goal is to help plan fantastic trips to gorgeous and exotic destinations for people with disabilities.

A few days ago I had the exciting chance to ask John a few questions about his experiences and if he could offer any advice for people thinking about following in his footsteps. While he was on his way out the door to leave for a much-awaited excursion for Alaska, I was very thankful that he still took the time to answer me before his departure.

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Q&A

What have been the main challenges for you while traveling internationally?

Challenges vary depending on the destination. However, in general, these are the main challenges:

John's own take on the classic Thinker statue in Paris, France.
John's own take on the classic Thinker statue in Paris, France.
Europe: The age of many of the European capital cities brings about the most challenges. In many places cobblestones are inevitable.
Mild to moderate cobblestones are usually doable, however, severe cobblestones can bring about problems such as getting the small wheels stuck in between them, making it harder to navigate the wheelchair and needing someone to push with force.
Old historic buildings are generally challenging, too. Protection laws prevent them from being altered, which means that new permanent features such as elevators and ramps cannot be installed to help with accessibility.
Caribbean: The challenges in the Caribbean are different from Europe. The main ones are: The terrain -Most islands are very hilly and rough making it hard to get around without accessible vehicles. Unfortunately, there is a general lack of accessible vans (usually only 1-2 and in some places none).
Additionally, ramps, elevators and accessible restrooms with wide doors and grab bars can be hard to find.
What have been some of your favorite destinations?
My criteria for a favorite destination is “I loved visiting it once, I would love to visit it again, and I would love to live there if I could”. So far, out of the countless destinations I’ve visited, these three destinations have met the criteria: Florence, Barcelona, and Salzburg.
In your opinion, where are some of the best opportunities for newly disabled travelers to check out?
Rolling down the path of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Rolling down the path of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

The best destinations for people with new disabilities is somewhere within driving distance of home where they can put any mobility equipment (e.g. shower chair) into their vehicle.

When they're ready to travel abroad, London, Barcelona, and Berlin make for good first-time European destinations.

These three all have a good selection of accessible hotels with roll-in showers and grab bars in the bathrooms, are fairly flat and easy to navigate, and offer several popular tourist sights/highlights that are wheelchair accessible.

Cruising is a good option too but they will need a specialist to provide their accessible shore excursions to avoid getting stuck on the ship when in port.

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Are there any hard to reach places that you've traveled to which you would specifically recommend?
Jungfraujoch Glacier above Interlaken town in the Swiss Alps. It’s such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Definitely worth it.
What advice would you have for disabled prospective travelers when planning their trips?

Treat it as an adventure. It might not always be easy, but if you have the right information and the right support you'll be amazed at what is possible. Plan ahead to avoid spending your valuable time worrying and overcoming challenges when you’re traveling.

Be skeptical of search engines, outdated discussion forums etc. Accessibility information changes with time, and may not have been vetted sufficiently.

Kayaking under the Pont du Gard in Southern France.
Kayaking under the Pont du Gard in Southern France.
What are some of your favorite memories from your trips?
I have many! Some of them are: My wife Tiffany and I got engaged in Santorini. Another one would be watching Tour de France firsthand in a small town called Les Gets.
While I love visiting historic sites and popular landmarks and sights, my favorite memories usually are those made when meeting new people, immersing in the local culture and enjoy delicious local foods.
Whether you're interested in simply receiving more information about the accessibility of certain countries and advice from John himself, or are looking to book a personal or group tour, you can visit https://www.sagetraveling.com/ to discover the opportunities offered by the company.
“I encourage any individual that has an interest in European travel, no matter their mobility limitations, to go for it! I have had the best experiences of my life traveling the world and living out my dreams. Traveling is my passion and I look forward to making your dream accessible vacation a reality!”
– Founder & Owner John Sage
A group trip to Florence, Italy.
A group trip to Florence, Italy.

Brian Gage is a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts and a lover of all things outdoors. He enjoys traveling to exciting new locations, attempting to take in the most beautiful natural sites he can see. He is an avid hiker and climber and can be found at the Hadley Central Rock Gym on many of his free days.