Wheelchair travel in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Egypt
Part III in our Accessible Travel Series

Travel to Egypt isn’t recommended right now, but it’s in our thoughts as we watch current events on the news. It might surprise you to hear that our Claims Examiner, Tabassum, travelled a few years ago to Egypt and other atypical destinations that offer few accessible facilities. Here’s her story:

I’m Tabassum and I’ve been to some cool places in my wheelchair. This chair has even seen the pyramids! At first, it might seem intimidating for people with disabilities to travel to foreign countries: sometimes the climate or the infrastructure makes it difficult to get around and navigating language barriers and cultural differences can be challenging. I’d like to show you it can be done, if you keep a few points in mind.

Tabassum pyramids of Geza Cairo Egypt 2007
Tabassum at the pyramids of Geza, Cairo

Tip generously to overcome obstacles

When I travelled to Egypt, it was dry, hot and sandy. I managed just fine thanks to my excellent Egyptian tour guide. I tipped him generously at the end of every day. He ended up finding a helper to carry my chair through uneven stairs or difficult passages. I wouldn’t have seen such out-of-the way places or views without his help.

Remember to always show locals and service-providers respect, kindness and generosity in a foreign country. Remember that the CAD and USA dollars are much higher in value than their local currency.

Tabassum Saqqara Cairo 2007
Tabassum visiting Saqqara, Cairo

Get to know the locals

In Pakistan there are very few services for special needs travellers or people with mobility issues, but Pakistanis are very compassionate people. Locals in developing nations will appreciate a kind gesture, and in most cases, help in every way they can. When I was in Karachi, I had to take a taxi to the shopping mall. The driver folded my chair but it took him a second to figure out where to put it. He tied it with a rope on top of the taxi so it wouldn’t fly off as we drove away. It’s a good thing too, because he drove like a mad man! I was clutching my tummy and hanging on to my seat- I was so afraid. I’m used to driving myself in Canada, but we don’t drive like that here!

Don’t take no for an answer

In Egypt I was very excited to take a Nile River Cruise, but when I arrived at the port, I saw how was difficult it would be to board the ship. The cruise ship was triple docked: to get to our boat the passengers had to walk up a very narrow gang plank and walk across the first, then the second ship. Instead of giving up and turning around when I saw this, I had three people lift me up and along each boat yelling “make way for Cleopatra!”! I loved every second of it.

Tabassum with her Egyptian guides cruising the Nile Aswan Egypt 2007
Tabassum with her Egyptian guides cruising the Nile Aswan

Unfortunately, I have also encountered some adversity during my travels. When I was in Dubai, I wanted to take a 4×4 jeep tour of the dunes. It can really shake your bones, but it’s a lot of fun! When I went to sign up for the tour, the tour operator barked: “Why do you want this tour? You can’t even get into the jeep. Why not stay in your hotel and do other things?”

Sometimes you will encounter this kind of response, but the best way to deal with this situation is to stay cheerful and firm. I simply retorted: “No, I still want the tour. I will make sure that YOU help me make that possible.”

When he saw how much I wanted to go, he agreed with a chuckle. I was fine paying extra to make that happen. In the end, the people you meet on your trip help you make it work.

Tabassum’ Tips for accessible travel in foreign lands:

  • Be willing and able to spend money on your trip: always budget more than you think. Travellers with disabilities can’t always travel on a budget!
  • Be open to uncertainty and surprise: you don’t always know what to expect
  • Do your research; look for wheelchair friendly options, but don’t let it discourage you if there aren’t any
  • “Roll” with it, and you’ll have a great time!

Be safe, and have fun!
Tabassum