The Highs and Lows of Travelling with a Disability

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” –  John Steinbeck

I have had a brief hiatus from writing my blog because I went away with my husband on a much needed vacation.  We decided to travel to Cabo San Lucas to spend 10 days with my family for some sunshine and rest.  I love travelling.  Before my MS became more progressive, I travelled extensively, even living in Asia for three years.  Travelling is something that I feel that everyone needs in their lives.  We live in such a big world and can get locked into our point of view that is formed from looking out our own windows.  I always find it refreshing and expanding to explore other parts of the world.

However, seeing as my mobility is quite affected by having MS, there is always a level of anxiety about travelling abroad.  It takes a high level of planning for me to make sure everything will be as smooth as possible when I go on holidays.  I need to travel with a mobility scooter.  I can walk, but not for long distances.  The heat also affects me and causes me to have something called drop foot.  It is basically exactly what it sounds like.  My right foot stops lifting and I begin to trip.  For this reason, my scooter is needed to travel.  I have to get that all sorted out with the airline I am flying with so that I can bring it on the plane with me.  I also have a plan with Westjet that allows me to sit in medical seating.  My legs cramp up when on long flights and my muscles spasm, so I require a seat with extra leg room.  That has to be arranged for as well.  Our flight left really early in the morning and we do not live in the same city as the airport.  For that reason, we stayed at a hotel close to the airport the night before.  That requires booking a room that is accessible and making sure the shuttle that will take us to the airport will also be able to transport my scooter.  All of that is certainly possible, just requires extra time and energy to make the required calls.

All of that went off well.  The day came and we were seated early in row 4 which was great.  Another symptom of my illness is that I always need to be close to a bathroom.  I do not get a lot of advance notice when I have to go.  Being close to the washroom is a priority.  When we got on board, the airline now has a curtain that separates first class (rows 1-3) from everyone else (rows 4 through the end of the plane).  I was worried and asked the stewardess about the bathroom situation.  She told me no problem, and to just peek my head in the curtain and she would help me up to the front of the plane to use the bathroom.  Problem averted.  The flight was smooth and the Uber driver we had pre-arranged for us was there to pick us up once we got off the plane.

One thing I have had to come to terms with, is that things will be difficult for me at times when travelling.  The condo we were staying in with my mom was on the second floor with no elevator.  I made the decision that I was going to be ok with that.  And I was.  It was tiring but I still want to try to push myself in some areas around mobility.  I did the stairs and walked to the pool everyday.  The pool was great.  I feel way more able bodied in the water.  I can walk well in the water and don’t worry about falling.  It also keeps my core temperature cooler which is helpful for me.  I paced myself with scheduling my days.  One day I walked to Costco.  I knew that would tire me out so for the rest of the day, I hung out by the pool.  I have learned over the years that I can do what I want on holidays as long as I plan ahead of times and strategically plan my outings that will take more energy.  We went to the Marina several days which was great.  In order to be able to enjoy my time, I found an Uber driver that would take my scooter for me so that I didn’t have to worry about my mobility in the heat.  I am not longer shy or embarrassed about being a 45 year old women who requires a cane and a scooter.  If I want to still travel, I have to do what works for me.

We went on a boat ride to go whale watching one day.  In advance, we had to scope out a boat that would work for me.  It had to be easy to get on to and had to have a washroom on board.  Problem averted and we found an awesome boat that met all of the criteria.  Everyone had a blast on the boat trip, except me who spent the entire trip with my head in a bucket.  Some things you can’t plan for!  We also were dropped off at the wrong end of the pier by our driver so I had to walk the entire marina to make it to the boat.  It was really tough and I had to take a lot of breaks, but I did it and felt proud of myself for walking that far.

The rest of our trip was great.  Lots of time with family, lots of great food and lots of memories were created.  One other hurdle happened on the flight home.  We got to the airport and on to our flight.  We had the same seats as we had on the way down.  I got up about 2 hours into our flight to use the washroom.  I went through the curtain like I was told to, only to be met with the stewardess who told me I was not allowed to use the washroom at the front of the plane.  I knew she had seen me drive my scooter to the door of the plane, and I was walking with my cane.  However, I told her that I was sitting in medical seating in case she wasn’t aware.  She sarcastically said “Oh, I guess I didn’t get the memo.” and told me to use the bathroom at the back of the plane.  She then changed her mind and opened the door and told me to go ahead and use it.  I told her no, that I would use the other one if that is what I was supposed to do.  Sometimes I do let my pride get in the way of common sense.  On the way back through the 30 or so rows of seats, I almost fell a couple of times but managed to make it.  I was so mad and embarrassed at being singled out when I was only doing what I was told to 10 days before by another stewardess.  I called our attendant and discussed my concern.  Why would they sit me in medical seating that is as far away as you can get from the washroom?  This would definitely not work for me.  Our attendant was lovely and very apologetic about what was said to me.  She said it is a new policy that they are trying to limit the front washroom use for first class, but said it was the flight attendants discretion as to make exceptions.  She said I should definitely have been allowed to use that washroom.  She also asked me if I would call their main office to issue a formal complaint which I will do.  Sometimes, you can make all of the advanced plans that you want and hiccups still happen.

All in all, it was a successful trip.  There were some ups and downs and some things that did not go as planned.  However, I reflected on the reason that I enjoy travelling.  I love meeting new people.  I love learning about new cultures and new ways of life.  For this reason, it was a huge success.  We met a great Uber driver while we were down there named Roger.  He was basically a chauffeur for us while we were there.  We were staying at a condo on the highway.  It was really busy and I could not cross it.  There was a great taco place right across it from us.  He offered to come pick me up and drive me across the street and then come back in a couple of hours to take me back.  So kind.  When we went to pay him, he did not want to take any money from us because it was so close.  We of course paid him anyways, but so kind none the less.  We ended up talking a lot about politics in Mexico, and I found out that he went to school in Galway Ireland for a year.  Galway is one of my favorite cities from the times that I travelled.  Such a small world.  There were also two really nice couples from Canada that were staying in the same complex as us.  We chatted with them a lot in the pool and it turns out one of them has property near the very small town where my husband is from.  Such a small world.  On the shuttle ride back to the hotel after our long day of travel, we met a lovely man who drove the shuttle.  He told us about his family and a very interesting story about a time he took a bus of Dutch tourists through our town and had a tour of our fire department.  Such a small world and such lovely people in it.

Travel is a great thing to get out and do, with or without a disability.  There may be problems, but try to roll with them and keep your eyes peeled for some of the magical people you may meet on your journey.

Much love,

Christine

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s