You’re going about your day, minding your own business, when suddenly you feel it: that familiar itch. Sure enough, the travel bug has bitten you and you’re coming down with a serious case of wanderlust. Like chicken soup for a cold, you know that only a vacation to some far off place can make you feel better. But wait, you think, can I really do that? I’m disabled.

The answer is a resounding yes! For the fifty million Americans living with disabilities, their physical impairments need no longer hinder their ability to travel. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, most of the barriers to disabled travelers have come down, and the emergence of this untapped market is even beginning to effect attitudes and conditions abroad.

However, while this brave new world of disabled travel is governed by federal standards for accessibility, broad guidelines and cookie cutter regulations ensure that travel accommodations for the disabled are generally acceptable but never particularly ideal. You are not going to duplicate the ease of your home environment at a hotel. That being said, there are a number of steps you can take to make your first excursion a little easier.

There are three primary components of travel: the journey itself, hotel accommodations, and sightseeing. As a quadriplegic, electric wheelchair user, my firm advice is to put plenty of research and planning into all three. There are good resources on the internet, and several useful travel books aimed at the disabled traveler. Another option is to plan your trip through a travel agency that specializes in disabled travel.

For a first time traveler, try a major tourist destination. Places like Disney World, Las Vegas, New York, or even a cruise line, are used to catering to a wide variety of visitors and are likely to have more options that meet your needs.

Once you’ve decided where to go, the next trick is getting there. The current state of air travel with a disability is a lot like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; bring along the right tools and with enough determination you’ll somehow make it fit.

Every airline has it’s own policy for disabled flyers, but good luck finding out what it is. To fly successfully, you must make your own policy, based on your needs, and make sure that it is implemented from departure to arrival. Do not buy your ticket and show up at the airport assuming airline personnel will know what to do with you or your equipment.

Purchase your ticket in person. That way the ticket agent can see your situation and you can be sure that they enter your status into the computer. If at all possible, fly direct. Changing planes can be a real hassle for the mobility or visually impaired, especially if you’re late for your connection because of a delay. Finally, request a bulkhead seat. These seats are in the first row and provide extra room for transferring from the aisle chair.

On the day of your trip, be sure to get to the airport early. If you will be flying with your own wheelchair or scooter, make sure to get a gate check tag during check in. This tag, attached to your chair, lets the ground crew know to bring your wheelchair to the gate when your plane arrives, rather than to the baggage claim area. Also, make sure to bring some basic maintenance tools with you.

When you get to the gate, inform the gate agents that you need assistance transferring from your wheelchair, and that you will need an aisle chair (specially designed to fit down the narrow plane aisles) to get on the plane. If you are in an electric wheelchair, it is a good idea, at this point, to disconnect and remove any battery wires that might be visible to the ground crew. Electrical connections make them nervous and they have been known to remove them (read, rip them out) before putting the chair into the cargo hold. Also, airlines much prefer gel or dry cell batteries to traditional acid filled ones.

As far as the flight itself, you will be the first to board the plane and the last to debark. Check with the lead flight attendant to make sure that your chair got aboard, and upon arrival insist that your chair be waiting for you at the gate before you transfer into the tiny and uncomfortable aisle chair.

As with airline reservations, it is vitally important to find a suitable room for your stay. First, find something located near the attractions you want to see. All major hotels now have handicapped rooms, meaning a wider doorway, accessible bathroom, lowered sink, and a toilet with wall bars. Often times though, a standard hotel room is preferable, as they can be slightly larger, may have better views, and doorways are usually sufficient for a wheelchair. Determine what your needs are and call several hotels in advance, explaining your situation and getting real details about their various accommodations. Don’t forget to ask about the accessibility of their restaurants, pool and shops as well.

A good idea if you use a hospital bed is to rent one from a medical supply house in the city you’re visiting. I have yet to find a hotel that, with advance notice, refused to make room for the bed by removing extraneous furniture from my room. Also, if you are unable to access the bath or shower, be sure to ask the head of housekeeping for extra wash cloths and towels as needed.

Now you’re ready to get out and explore your vacation destination. Ideally, you’ll be within walking distance to all the activities and attractions. However, if driving is involved, you’ll find that most major cities have a number of accessible taxis. Often, the scarcity of accessible cabs requires a lengthy wait, so call ahead. Once you get a cab, be sure to ask the driver for his card or his cell number so that you can contact him directly in the future. Avoiding the dispatcher can save lots of time.

If you’d prefer to drive yourself, there are two nationwide wheelchair van rental companies, Accessible Vans of America and Wheelchair Getaways. Both require advance notice, so call before you take your trip.

As with everything else it is up to you to make sure that the theaters, museums, casinos, parks and beaches you want to visit can accommodate you. Don’t just ask if they’re accessible, get specifics; are there any stairs, are Braille menus available, which rides can you get on?

Travelling is definitely for everyone. Know what you need and want from a trip, plan your stay accordingly, and make everyone aware of your circumstance. You’ll be sure to have a great time. The more you travel the easier it gets, and the more people in the travel and tourism industries deal with the disabled public, the better they and their companies will become at accommodating us. Now go out and squash that travel bug.