Traveling is stressful for everyone, but when you have the added complications that come with a disability, it can be even more of a headache. I travel a lot. Because I cannot yet drive, and I am terrified of airplanes, I do most of my traveling by train. Over the years I have taken dozens of trips by myself; most to Illinois and Indiana, but also all the way to Colorado. Over time I have learned how to make my trips as painless as possible; below is a list of things that I have found helpful when traveling by train.
- Book your tickets online, if possible. I know this seems backwards. Wouldn’t you want to talk to a real person so you can make sure necessary accommodations will be made? In theory, that makes perfect sense. In reality, humans make mistakes. I cannot tell you how many times I have booked an accessible ticket over the phone, only to get to the station and have the people at the counter scrambling because my reservation didn’t state that I used a wheelchair and needed the lift. Ever since Amtrak has implemented a way for passengers with disabilities to book online, this is no longer an issue because I am personally checking all the boxes, not relying on someone else to do it for me.
- Get there early. This is crucial. If you want to have a successful trip, you should always plan for the worst and hope for the best. I always get to the train station about a half an hour early, minimal. I let the employees know that I have arrived, that I will need the lift as well as staff assistance when the train comes in. The staff at the train station will be incredibly busy when that train rolls in, so establishing your needs early ensures you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
- Bring your own drinks and snacks. Long distance trains often have snack cars that sell drinks and snacks to passengers, but you are much better off bringing your own. This is true for two reasons. First, you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a soda; and second, although the snack car should technically be accessible for you, the aisles on a train are just big enough for a wheelchair. This makes it awkward when you have people trying to get back to their seats. The conductor will sometimes stop by and ask if you need anything, but that doesn’t happen very often. If you bring your own snacks, you can avoid a traffic jam and a growling stomach.
These are just a few things I do to make traveling easier. Obviously, you will want to be sure that the form of transport you chose can accommodate your needs. Accessibility information for these services can be found on their webpages. Amtrak is a great service, they offer many accommodations and even discounted ticket prices to passengers with disabilities, but not every station is accessible, so make sure to do some research before you book your trip.