We really are lucky. We live in an age where there is very little holding us back from realizing our dreams, attacking our bucket lists, and experiencing the best life has to offer at any age.
So readers, what prompts this attitude of gratitude today? Well, I received a question from TWAP follower Shirley Fargo asking “is an African safari safe to take my 92-year-old mother along?” The answer is a guarded yes Shirley, providing three things occur:
- Her regular physician feels she is healthy enough to make the long plane ride (I understand it is grueling).
- She is adequately vaccinated for possible exposure to illnesses not typically found in the U.S.
- She passes advanced wild animal wrangling lessons (kidding).
To prepare for item #2 above, it is critical to take your Mom to a travel medicine specialist who can advise on any vaccines needed before the trip and verify her childhood immunizations are up to date (this is also important for you, but for your Mom it is critical). Your first visit should be 10 – 12 weeks before your departure date as several vaccines take multiple shots and time to ramp up to their full dosage. For more information on medical preparations before you go, check out my two part interview with my travel medicine specialist Dr. Douglas Zeiger (Part 1, Part 2). Before you go see a travel doctor, know exactly where you’re traveling in-country and have a complete list of your Mom’s medications and allergies.
The G-R-E-A-A-A-A-A-T-T-T-T NEWS!
Once you get the green light from both sets of doctors, it’s allllllll goodness from here! There are many companies these days that offer safari experiences for people with disabilities, which in many cases will address the same issues as for the elderly. From wheelchairs, to oxygen, to dialysis requirements (!), to hearing impairment, there are tour companies that handle almost every physical challenge.
We’ve listed below some websites to help you choose the best safari for you and your parent’s needs. You’ll find that many operators offer safari vehicles fitted with hydraulic lifts and wheelchair locking systems to allow the intrepid tourist to stay in their chair and avoid any issues transferring back and forth from the vehicle. The key is to discuss with the safari company what assistance you’ll need.
Preparing for a Safari with Mom
As any good Boy or Girl Scout knows, being prepared is rule #1. To help with this endeavor, here are a few of the most important and timely recommendations before booking your tour:
- I’m guessing you’ve already planned on hanging with your Mom, but tour companies request a family member or caretaker accompany a disabled or older person at all times. However, if you wanted to do separate activities, some tour companies can assist with hiring professional nurses who can step in and help. All of this must be arranged ahead of time, of course.
- Know that restrooms on safari haven’t come up to ADA standards yet, so you may have to be a little creative and flexible both at rest stops and for showering in your room. Ask about the facilities before booking!
- Confirm with the safari company in advance that your guide speaks English (other languages outside of English were somewhat limited although we did see one or two that offered Spanish and German).
- You should also discuss/research the accessibility for wheelchairs and/or walkers in the specific places you’ll be touring. You wouldn’t want to fly that many hours to Africa only to find your particular viewing points aren’t reachable by wheelchair.
- The accommodations vary from the most rustic of rustic to the most elegant of elegant! Your choice will depend on mom’s sense of adventure and her (or your) need for creature comforts. Tents to open-air thatched roofed huts, to fancy hotel rooms are offered by the many companies vying to quench your safari thirst. Be sure and find out exact specifics on the accommodations you’ll be in. I also highly recommend checking out the reviews on Tripadvisor as you’ll read what actual visitors thought of the accommodations. If there aren’t reviews online, know you’ll be taking a chance as many companies overstate the accessibility of rooms.
- Don’t wing it when it comes to transportation upon arriving in country. Book transportation in advance either through the hotel or your safari company. Although we use a wheelchair getting around in airports, my Mom is able to stand and step into a cab or car. That said, excessive heat is a real problem for her and it’s no guarantee that local taxis will have air conditioning. So instead of taking my chances, I arrange with the hotel for a private car service to pick us up from the airport. Yes it’s more expensive, but it’s so nice to walk outside customs and have someone waiting to assist with luggage and pushing mom (particularly when I’m exhausted from long-haul flights!).
It seems that the companies offering disabled touring are willing to work with each individual to maximize their comfort and enjoyment of the trip. If your parent is hard of hearing, for instance, companies find translators and/or equipment to help with that. If your parent has mobility issues, tour companies will work with you. The key when booking your vacation is to let everyone in the safari company know of your mom or dad’s specific needs.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to transport medical equipment, prescriptions and supplies in your carry-on luggage in case your bags are “misdirected.”
One idea Shirley is you might want to look at a safari in the U.S. There are actually several companies you can try if you’re concerned Africa is too far or too difficult to manage once you’re in-country.
Websites specifically addressing African Safaris for the Disabled (and elderly):
Websites addressing general information for the Disabled Traveler:
So, friends, we are indeed lucky to be able to travel almost anywhere we want to these days, no matter our age! Has anyone taken their elderly parent on a safari? We would love to hear about your experience and any recommendations you have. Meanwhile, keep us posted Shirley! I’m excited about your impending adventure!