I’m a girl who loves to travel, it’s one of my absolutely favourite things. I love visiting other countries, seeing different cultures and eating new foods. But, like anyone with a disability or chronic illness, it can be very difficult and I do need to be extra careful! I’ve already had my share of exciting adventures that ended in foreign hospitals.
So from my many years of occasionally painful experience (at least it was always fun before it started hurting!), here are my top traveling tips:
1. Plan, plan, plan!
Always plan where are you going, who are you travelling with, what are you taking, even what you’ll be wearing. I realise this seems like a buzzkill because you want to be spontaneous… just like everyone else. Believe me, I understand, being carefree is very appealing but- bam!- suddenly you’re somewhere they can’t cater to your needs. Now you have nothing to eat and you’ve run out of meds and you don’t have enough water and you’re on a rock in a wheelchair surrounded by sinking sand! … Okay, that last one never happened. But that’s just because I haven’t been near sinking sand yet- it’s definitely a scrape I’d get myself into.
2. Take everything you could possibly need, especially medication
If there is a pill that you only take maybe once a month or so- take it! This will probably be the time you need it. Even if you’re only away for two days.
3. Check disabled provisions with your travel company
A surprising number of airlines will allow you to take an extra cabin bag for medication free of charge. Think about it: you’ve got your handbag, your carry on luggage, and an extra bag of medication. That’s at least space for another pair of natty shoes!
4. Always be honest about your limitations
It can seem embarrassing, especially if you are on a group holiday and don’t want your friends to know EVERYTHING… I understand the worry about others who might finding the embarrassing parts of your disability or condition ‘gross’. But it’s only you who will be hurting if you don’t share before something happens. Just be honest.
If you’re travelling in a group of lone friends and don’t want everyone to know your private life then choose one person and have a chat before you go. Pick that person based on their level of compassion, not how close a friend they are. You might be surprised by how helpful people can be. Some of my best friends now were people I didn’t know very well on the fringes of my social group but they stepped in when I was in need.
5. Know your own limitations
Know what you can and can’t do; be honest with yourself. Some people on holiday suddenly decide they are fitness fanatics and can walk everywhere, all day long. If you cannot do that then don’t convince yourself that you can. Just be honest: they’ll find it useful because if you don’t you might suddenly find yourself stuck at the bottom of a large hill sobbing: “Guys, I can’t actually go any further! Literally I can go no further. carry me!” Don’t be that person… (don’t be 18-year-old me).
6. Do not be embarrassed
This comes up a lot because sometimes it is embarrassing to have a disability, but do try to work through it. It’s very easy to say, very hard to do. I’ve been there. last year we went to Ibiza with a group of people that I didn’t really know that well. I wanted to make a good impression and not seem like a liability. One night at a restaurant I ordered something and the waitress said… something… back to me. That I completely didn’t understand. But I didn’t want to seem incompetent and they are all waiting to order… So I just nodded my head and said yes.
Never just say yes!
For goodness sake… in the end I was given a completely different meal because she had said “do you want this instead” and I said yes and I couldn’t really eat that much of it and it made me sick. Moral of the story: Don’t make yourself ill because you are so embarrassed.
7. Ask for help
Probably the biggest most important tip I can give you. Asking for help is vital. Always ask for help with a smile and people will be incredibly helpful. Everyone responds well to:
Hi, I don’t suppose you could do me a favour? I’ve got this really complicated thing that I need you to do, only you can do it. Because I know you are so good at this.
Even if your foot is literally hanging off the end of your leg, slap a smile on and butter up whomever you need to in order to get helped first. You mother was right, being nice gets you what you want… but flattery gets you everywhere.
8. Don’t let people eat your food
This one is especially important if you are sharing a kitchen with people you don’t normally. They might be your friends but they won’t necessarily remember that you have a special diet: you can only eat this, this and this and if they eat those 3 things from the fridge there is literally nothing that you can eat. Nothing! Tell them, be open, be honest, stick a label on it! It’s yours, don’t let them eat it. If they do then feel free to rage.
9. Explain your disability in words that make sense to everyone
Everyone who knows more medical terms than the average person is guilty of this but it especially relates to those who don’t speak your language as their first language. Even if you have to use terms you’d normally shy away from or even hate to attach to yourself… Push through! They need to know what you can and cannot do so they can help you.
10. Take a doctor’s name and number with you
If there is a possibility that you might need medical assistance whilst there, look up a local doctor. Preferably one who is familiar with your condition. It always helps to have a name if you are not travelling with someone who knows everything about you.
11. Consider travelling with a medical tag
I personally don’t like wearing medical ID tags… because I haven’t found one that is attractive looking. So yes, I’m going against my own advice here. But in the event that you are unconscious there has to be a way for your entire medical history and condition to be explained. So maybe I should start wearing one inside my clothes.
12. Avoid connecting flights
You are just asking for trouble. It is highly likely that the flight attendant will forget that you need help. Twice whilst I was wheelchair bound and traveling I was left on a plane when everyone else had left. The flight attendant came over with: “oh… Sorry I forgot there was someone that needed to use a wheelchair. But they can’t actually come and get you off the plane and also the plane really needs to go so you are gonna have to walk downstairs.” I went down on my bum.
Yes, true story!
Also the other way around: “All these people are on the plane right now and it really needs to take off, so can you walk up these stairs? Otherwise it will take an extra hour… ” I went up on my bum.
It’s surprising how strong my skinny little arms can be when needed!
And my last tip:
You are an awesome person! You are on holiday with these people because they like you, because they want to be on holiday with you. Please don’t feel like you are a burden. You’ve probably had some bad experiences… I know I have! Maybe you’ve had some dates with inconsiderate people, maybe you broke up with an ex and they blamed your disability… maybe it was even your parents or siblings who were rude? Possibly it was everyone at school. They likely told you some bad stuff, ok? Put it to one side, remember you are awesome, this is about you, this is your holiday. You have fun!
Fun! I order you!
Your personality is what is important and since you are reading my blog I can only assume it’s fantastic. So there we go, just a few hints and tips about travel I’m sure you got loads more, let me know in the comments and I will steal them.