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Traveling With a Disability: What You Need to Know

By Liza Weisstuch
November 21, 2018
Woman in wheel chair on boardwalk
Igor Akimov/Dreamstime
From shrinking airplane bathrooms to public transportation, disabled travelers face added layers of stress on the road.

Consumer Affairs recently reported that the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal watchdog agency, found that in the air travel industry, disability-related complaints doubled from 2005 to 2015, topping out at more 30,000 complaints for the most recent year that data was available. The situation for disabled travelers is never simple, but with growing public awareness and activists working for change, the future might hold and easier trip for everyone.

Shrinking aircrafts, growing problems

In airlines’ efforts to pack more passengers into each flight, one thing that’s been sacrificed is bathroom space. In the newer model planes that are flown by Delta, United, and American, bathrooms in coach are a meager 24 inches wide. While it’s a struggle for tall or obese people, the task of squeezing into such a compact space can be even more difficult for someone with a physical disability. But according to the aircraft manufacturer, the smaller restroom accommodates six more passenger seats. And that’s to say nothing of shrinking seats and less aisle space in newer-model jets.

Disabled passengers’ complaints on the rise

Maneuvering an aircraft is only one challenge that physically disabled travelers face. In addition to structural and design limitations, there are plenty of other issues that can be a hassle, if not a nightmare, for people with limited mobility. Earlier in November, Consumer Affairs reported that “customers with disabilities say that they are regularly mistreated during air travel, with one of the more common problems being airline staff that lose or break their personal wheelchairs—leaving passengers who can’t walk completely stranded and without a medical device worth thousands of dollars.” This is especially problematic because unlike lost or mishandled luggage, there are no reporting requirements under federal law for wheelchair damage. But being prepared can lead to a speedier solution should the worst case scenario come to fruition. The Department of Transportation recommends taking a photograph of your wheelchair or assistance device ahead of travel to capture its condition and providing written instructions detailing the disassembly, assembly, and stowage of your device.

The federal government’s protections

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, a disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that impacts a major life activity—such as walking, hearing, or breathing.” This applies to temporary disabilities, like a broken leg, as well as permanent ones. The DOT is responsible for enforcing the Air Carrier Access Act, the federal law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. Airlines are required to provide disabled passengers with various means of assistance, like wheelchairs or other guided help to board, deplane, or connect to another flight. They must also offer seating-accommodation assistance that meets passengers’ individual needs and help with loading and stowing assistive devices.

Further protections could be coming down the line. In 2016, the Obama administration said that by 2018, all US airlines would be required “to report on how often they mishandle wheelchairs so air travelers with disabilities can easily compare carriers and make informed travel decisions.” After initial agreement from the airline industry, companies requested the new rules be put on hold under the new administration.

Advice from disabled travelers

When it comes to planning a trip, accessibility concerns are first and foremost, from hotels and tourist attractions to public transportation and taxis. In interviews recently published by Healthline, a health and wellness website, disabled influencers offered their recommendations for dealing with travel’s many challenges. Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant, writer and activist who founded Ramp Your Voice (rampyourvoice.com), an organization focused on empowerment, notes that when planning a trip, she double-checks her flight reservation days before she flies to make sure her wheelchair use is noted, and she makes it a priority to figure out public transit and airport transfers ahead of time. Cory Lee Woodard, a prolific blogger (curbfreewithcorylee.com), notes that taking direct flights reduces the risk of his wheelchair being damaged. Australia-based blogger Stacey Christie (lovemoxieblog.com) says the best way for disabled passengers to negotiate travel challenges is via personal advice from the many disabled travel blogs on the web. Her own site is a great place to start.

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Travel Gear for Tech Addicts

Thanks to constant innovation and development, the tech world moves fast, but we've captured the goods that'll make your gadget-loving day, from fun and frivolous to strictly business—all for the cost of two Benjamins or less. 1. Add to Your Camera Collection (Courtesy GoPro) Ringing in right under our $200 cap, the entry-level Hero7 White is a great way to dip a toe in the GoPro waters with minimal investment. This tough little camera is waterproof to 33 feet, and it shoots steady, non-jittery video in full HD (1080 pixels at 60 frames per second, albeit with a minor fish-eye effect), thanks to a stabilization feature that eliminates the shakes, even during the bumpiest activities. Outdoor enthusiasts will want to attach it to a helmet and activate the voice controls for hands-free photography and videography, or use it with a tripod or selfie stick for an everyday point of view. For optimal social-media sharing, we like to use the time-lapse or slow-mo options in 30-second bursts, then add music, effects, and more via the connected app.GoPro Hero7 White, $199; gopro.com. 2. Make It Pop (Courtesy Popsockets.com) Who says tech accessories have to be straitlaced? Show some personality with a PopSocket, a sticker-backed button that attaches to a phone case and expands or collapses as needed. It serves as both a handle and a stand, so you can pop it out and prop up your phone to watch videos, or use it to ease that death grip while texting, emailing, or scrolling the timelines. And with plenty of opportunities for personalization and customization, not to mention hundreds of designs, from sports-team logos to cartoon characters to holiday themes to planetary patterns (we particularly love the mini breakfast set seen above), you're bound to find one that suits.PopSockets, from $10; popsockets.com. 3. Keep Tabs on Your Bags (Courtesy Away) Hate letting your checked bags out of your sight? This mashup, courtesy of the chic luggage line Away and the Bluetooth tracking gurus at Tile, will soothe your separation anxiety. The sleek black leather tag conceals a 2.4-millimeter-thick device that, when paired with the Tile app, can locate your belongings within a hundred-foot range. And if your suitcase has wandered further afield, you can tap into the Tile's user network to crowd-source its last-known location. Yes, the odds of losing luggage are getting slimmer every day, but this is an excellent way to cover your bases, just in case.Away x Tile luggage tag, $30; awaytravel.com. 4. Increase Your Security Detail (Courtesy BASU.COM) For that fearless traveler who boldly ventures through dark alleys and dodgy neighborhoods—or bear-infested woods—in search of the next adventure, stay safe with an itty-bitty personal alarm. Barely three inches long and under an ounce, Basu’s battery-operated eAlarm+ comes with a carabiner and clips to a daypack or keychain so you'll always have it close at hand. It’s easy to use too: Pulling out the black pin at the end unleashes a 130-decibel siren that will sound for half an hour, or until the pin goes back in. A reliable companion for late-night city strolls, you can also use it with cords to set a tripwire perimeter around a campsite, or string it up on a hotel-room door for extra protection against intruders.Basu eAlarm+, $19; basu.com. 5. Keep in Touch (Courtesy goTenna) When you're wandering off the grid but still want to keep in contact, hook yourself up with the tools you need to create your own signal. These handy goTenna Mesh devices pair with phones so you can communicate sans cell service or WiFi, relaying text messages and GPS locations through your own personal network. The nodes transmit on UHF frequencies within a four-mile radius in open areas and half a mile in dense ones, but they'll link up with fellow Mesh users as well, tapping into a worldwide peer-to-peer network to extend that reach even further. They're the perfect thing for crowded events, backcountry hiking, or overseas travel without the roaming charges.goTenna Mesh, $179; amazon.com. 6. Light Your Way (Courtesy Kikkerland Design) Bring a note of whimsy to your most mundane tasks with this fun little USB-powered lamp from Kikkerland Design. With a spaceman reminiscent of a classic LEGO astronaut and a flexible, nearly foot-long neck that lets you shine its 12 lumens in any direction you choose, you’ll be reaching new heights in no time. Simply plug it in and flip back the visor to shed some light on the situation.Kikkerland Design USB Light + Astronaut, $20; amazon.com. 7. Get Ready for Your Close-up (Courtesy SIRUI USA) For casual photographers looking to improve their Instagram feed and make those smartphone shots really pop, we highly recommend Sirui’s 60mm lens, a quality clip-on attachment that sharpens the details on close-up shots and portraits alike. Available on its own, it also comes as part of this travel-friendly set, along with an 18mm wide-angle—ideal for capturing those sweeping vistas—and a 170-degree fisheye lens, plus a clip and a hard-shell case that’ll keep it protected in their kit.3 Lens Mobile Phone Kit, $190; siruiusa.com. 8. Boom or Bust (Courtesy Polk Audio) A run or a bike ride through unfamiliar territory can be a good way to get the lay of the land, but exercising on the road can also be a nervy proposition, especially if you're relying on noise-canceling headphones to provide the soundtrack. A light, wearable alternative, Polk’s Boom Bit is a Bluetooth speaker that clips to your clothes, supplying tunes without sacrificing an awareness of your surroundings. For such a tiny device, the sound quality is remarkable, and it even has an integrated microphone for hands-free calling. With mid-range volume levels, it should get about three hours of battery life, but when they do need to recharge, the whole unit plugs directly into a USB port—no extra cables necessary. (Note, though, that the on/off function requires a bit of dexterity, so it might not be optimal for those with hand-mobility issues.)Polk Boom Bit, $20; amazon.com. 9. Tie Up Loose Ends (Courtesy Nomad Lane) With great gear comes a great amount of paraphernalia, and a professional-level organizer will help you get it all together. This well-constructed vegan-leather version from Nomad Lane has a place for pretty much everything: Small elastic loops for things like cords, cables, and earbuds, big elastic loops for larger items like power banks, a removable pouch for adapters and reading glasses, and slim plastic pockets for flash drives and the like, plus room for a tablet like an iPad Mini, a Galaxy Tab, or a Kindle to fit snugly inside. You'll never lose a charger to the depths of your bag again.Tech organization case, $88; nomadlane.com. 10. Give Yourself a Boost (Courtesy Anker) When you're traveling with multiple USB-powered devices, bringing a plug for each one is a waste of precious carry-on space. Anker's universally compatible wall chargers help multitask with speed and ease, thanks to an assortment of ports that’ll get those gadgets to full capacity in a hurry. At two inches square, the PowerPort II 2 is the most compact of the bunch, but with two ports boasting 24 watts, it packs a solid punch. Need more juice? The 43.5-watt PowerPort Speed 4 offers a petite but powerful footprint, with one port for Qualcomm QuickCharge-compatible devices and three with Anker’s proprietary fast-charging technology, all in a tidy package less than three inches square and an inch thick. And if you're looking to leave those bulky MacBook or Nintendo Switch adapters at home, the PowerPort II with Power Delivery is the best bet. With 30 watts of USB-C output, it’ll charge a MacBook in two-and-a-half hours, and it has a regular USB port as well. All three feature foldable plugs and surge protection, for peak portability and peace of mind.PowerPort II 2, $15; PowerPort Speed 4, $28; PowerPort II with Power Delivery, $30; anker.com.

Travel Tips

Insider's Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Budget Travel is based in New York City, and we get just as swept up in the city’s holiday lights, music, and energy as any visitor. With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade coming up (including appearances by Anika Noni Rose, Ally Brooke, Ashley Tisdale, Bad Bunny, and, of course, the one-and-only Santa Claus), we want to provide you with some of the best “live like a local” advice for getting the most out of this annual extravaganza. THE BEST WAY TO VISIT NYC ON PARADE DAY It's fun to be a “New Yorker for a day” and leave the car at home. If you’re approaching from the suburbs or beyond, hop on one of the metro area’s commuter rail trains or buses (options include New Jersey Transit buses and trains, Metro North trains, and the Long Island Railroad). (Traveling for the holiday? Check out our "Money-Saving Thanksgiving Travel Tips.") In town, purchase an MTA Metro Card (ideally, before the big day, to avoid long lines) and take the bus of subway to the parade. Or, if you absolutely must drive, park on either the far west or east side of Manhattan and take public transportation to the parade route. Of course, walking in Manhattan, with its busy avenues, eye-popping shop displays and world-famous skyscrapers, is always a good idea, and will help burn off some of the calories that you’ll be consuming later in the day. THE BIGGEST MISTAKE PARADE VIEWERS MAKE While everybody knows that the parade route leads to Macy’s, at Herald Square (the area around West 34th Street and Broadway), for televised performances from the parade’s stars, visitors should not stand below 38th Street. The area below 38th is the parade's “quiet zone,” where participants and performers prepare for their "closeup" on TV, and you will completely miss out on exciting parade music and performances in this area. WHERE AND WHEN THE PARADE BEGINS The parade will step-off at 9 a.m. at 77th Street and Central Park West. The procession will travel down to Columbus Circle, turn onto Central Park South, then march down 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) to Macy’s Herald Square on 34th Street.Want to know more about viewing the parade? The complete route can be found at macys.com/parade. THE BEST PLACE TO WATCH THE PARADE While most of us don’t have the option of enjoying the parade from a 6th-floor apartment on Central Park West like in the classic holiday film Miracle on 34th Street, we do recommend that you approach the route from the west along Central Park West or the south along Central Park South for a relatively close look at the parade’s opening energy and high spirits with the beautiful park as a backdrop. The parade should take about 90 minutes to pass you by from the opening band to Santa Claus’s sleigh. ENSURE PARADE SAFETY AND COMFORT The weather in NYC on Thanksgiving Day can range from below freezing and windy to sunny with temps in the 60s - and it can change quickly this time of year. Layer up, be prepared to keep hands and feet warm, bring rainproof jackets, and wear sensible shoes. The NYPD has a large presence to ensure a safe and happy morning for all, but follow your usual common-sense travel practices: Keep your valuables to a minimum; avoid carrying around oversize backpacks and luggage; always pay attention to your surroundings. And, as we always say here in NYC, “if you see something, say something.”

Travel Tips

5 Affordable Items That'll Transform Your Social Media Presence

In a world awash with social-media travel influencers and megastars, it can be difficult for the aspiring writer/photographer to stand out from the crowd. From revamping your Instagram feed to enhancing your YouTube channel’s production values, here’s how to take your show on the road—and make your voice heard. 1. A Reliable Microphone Sure, smartphones come with pretty good built-in mics these days, but if you’re serious about upping your social-media game, improving the sound quality of your broadcasts is a simple way to take things up a notch. For phones with headphone jacks, Rode’s VideoMic Me is a solid, affordable option: It’s a directional microphone, so it does have to be pointed toward the sound it’s recording, but it comes with a furry puff called a windshield that cuts down on background noise, which is especially handy for outdoor shoots. For newer iPhones, Shure’s MV88 iOS hooks up via the Lightning connector, rotates to pick up sound from all directions, and comes with a molded carrying case to boot. (You'll need to make sure your phone is fully charged, though, since you won’t be able to plug in while the mic is attached.) Both models are compact, light (less than an ounce and a half each), and easy to use. Rode VideoMic Me directional microphone, $54; amazon.com. Shure MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone, $129 (discounted through 12/31/18; regularly $149); amazon.com. 2. An External Light Source Some of the best things happen in dimly lit places, but that doesn’t mean you should keep your followers in the dark. For those cozy meals in candle-lit dining rooms, late nights in murky bars, or really, anytime natural light is in short supply, a little illumination goes a long way. Whether you’re snapping selfies or small plates, brighten things up with LuMee's combination LED light/battery charger, a small brick that comes in handy in more situations than you’d imagine. (Just watch out for the strobe function—you’ll want to save that one for the club.) As the kids say, pics or it didn’t happen. LuMee Power Light, $50; lumee.com. 3. A Flexible Tripod Anyone who’s attempted to take a few minutes of video with increasingly shaky hands can attest to the importance of a tripod. Fotopro's uFO2 has bendable legs that wrap around the nearest surface (a railing, a signpost, an arm rest) for stability, and a Bluetooth remote control for hitting that record button or capturing the perfect still shot. It includes a mount for a regular camera as well as adapters for phone and GoPro, and its legs are waterproof, so when you're conducting a rain-soaked interview or going whitewater rafting, you won’t have to worry about it failing. Not to mention that at twelve inches in length, it also works as a selfie stick—ideal for the solo traveler and aspiring Instagram star alike. Fotopro uFO2 tripod, $23; amazon.com. 4. An Emergency Power Boost Don’t get stuck in low-power mode in the middle of a key livestream or tweet storm. TravelCard's slim little charger will give you a quick 35 to 45 percent boost, and, at just under two ounces, it’s barely bigger than a credit card and will take up next to no room in your kit. Consider it an insurance policy, and keep one on hand at all times. TravelCard charger, $29; travelcardcharger.com. 5. Something to Stash It All In Once you’ve got the right equipment, you need to corral everything so it's easily accessible, and this pouch serves double duty, simultaneously organizing your gadgets and protecting them from the elements. Part of a collaboration between two Maine outfitters, New England stalwart L.L. Bean and Flowfold, a Portland-area brand that creates minimalist gear with high-performance fabrics, it’s made from a composite that’s tough, lightweight, and water-resistant, so it’ll keep your stuff safe and dry if unexpected weather conditions arise. And, with bright-orange loops on each end, it’ll never get lost in your bag. L.L.Bean x Flowfold Utility Organizer in olive, $50; llbean.com.

Travel Tips

Read This Before You Travel Solo

Have you ever thought, “It might be nice to go on vacation by myself”? If so, you’re not alone. Roughly one in four Americans say they will travel solo this year, according to an annual survey by marketing firm MMGY Global. One of the benefits of vacationing by yourself, of course, is the freedom. “You can do what you want, when you want,” says Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook and founder of the online resource Solo Traveler. Want to eat lunch at 4 p.m.? Go for it! Have no desire to see, for instance, that world-famous boardwalk? Just drive right by and on to your next destination. Solo travel can also make you more resilient. “It’s a huge confidence builder,” says Waugh. “When you’re on the road by yourself, you’re managing everything. You’re navigating new territory. You’re getting to know yourself better.” Furthermore, a recent survey of 2,000 American travelers by the tour company Intrepid Travel found that 57 percent of respondents said they enjoy traveling alone because there’s no pressure to take part in certain activities, 45 percent said it’s more relaxing, 31 percent said it makes for a better learning experience, 27 percent said it makes it easier to meet new people, and 20 percent said they do it because it's difficult to coordinate the same vacation time with friends. Planning your first journey for a party of one? Follow these five steps to make your inaugural solo vacation special. 1. PICK A SOLO-FRIENDLY DESTINATION Waugh recommends that first-time solo travelers stay relatively close to home. “Travel within your own country,” she says. “That way you know how to navigate the area and the culture and you know the language.” For U.S. travelers, Waugh particularly recommends Nashville—“it’s interesting, it’s safe, and it’s easy to get around,” she says. We echo that sentiment, and,of course, have tons of other awesome and affordable U.S. destinations to recommend. Feeling more adventurous? Consider taking a trip to Canada or Western Europe. In addition to obvious English-speaking choices such as Ireland and the U.K., Waugh says, “I’d suggest Paris or Amsterdam, because you’ll find English speakers in both cities easily.” 2. GET TO KNOW LOCALS AND OTHER TRAVELERS Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Indeed, there are a number of ways you can immerse yourself with locals. Waugh recommends searching MeetUp (meetup.com) for a local group that matches your interests. “When I went to Hong Kong, the most popular MeetUp group was a hiking group,” she says. “I joined them for a hike and met a lot of people, and it showed me parts of the city that I never would have seen.” Similarly, mobile apps like MealSharing (mealsharing.com) and EatWith (eatwith.com) let you dine with locals in the area. Another way to meet people is through the Global Greeter Network, a group of volunteers in cities around the world that have offered to show visitors the sites and their favorite places. (You can search for greeters at your destination at globalgreeternetwork.info/location.) Connecting with other travelers can also be a great way to enhance your trip. You can meet these people by staying at hostels, taking free walking tours, booking a one-day group tour of a city, or searching for a travel buddy on a site like Trip Giraffe (tripgiraffe.com) or an app like Tourlina (tourlina.com), which is tailored specifically for solo female travelers.   3. AVOID PAYING THE DREADED “SINGLE SUPPLEMENT” Solo travelers often get hit with a “single supplement” (often abbreviated as “s.s.”) for hotel rooms, tours, and cruises. Single supplements range anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of the double occupancy rate—meaning they can drive up your travel expenses significantly.   One way to avoid single supplements is by being flexible with when you travel. “If you travel during the shoulder season, you might be more successful in negotiating the single supplement,” says Waugh. In addition, some tour companies, including Abercrombie and Kent, Classic Journeys, and U.K.-based Solos Vacations, cater exclusively to singletons and offer supplement-free pricing. (You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter from Waugh’s Solo Traveler to receive deals on tours, cruises, and other travel products with no or low single supplements.) 4. FOLLOW THESE SAFETY TIPS Of course, safety is a top concern for solo travelers—men and women alike. Taking some common-sense measures can help you stay safe while traveling alone, including: Book accommodations in advance “You don’t want to arrive in town without knowing where you’re staying,” especially on your first night, Waugh says. Arrive during the daytime Waugh advises getting to your destination before dark. “If you get there and realize that it’s not a place you want to stay, you have time to make a change before it’s late at night,” she says. Book a room above the first floor Perpetrators have easier access to ground floor units, Waugh says, so reserve a room on an upper level. Share your itinerary Keep friends and family updated on your whereabouts. Also, consider scheduling a daily check-in with one of your emergency contacts. Stay in public spaces Meeting new people—whether they’re locals or other travelers—is one of the best aspects of traveling solo. But stick to public spaces like museums, coffee shops, restaurants, or bars when hanging out with your new pals. “If you just met someone, don’t go to that person’s house or some other private space,” Waugh cautions. 5. REVEL IN YOUR SOLO-NESS! A solo journey is often the perfect opportunity to focus on you. That’s not selfishness, that’s self-care, which is an essential ingredient to living a happier, healthier life. You can relax as much as you want, de-stress, do the things you’d never be able to do if you had the kids in tow. You have complete and total freedom. You have our permission to have a blast.

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