Traveling with a Disability
The travel bug hit me early on. Born in Egypt, I took my first international trip at just 6 months to the US where I would continue to feed my travel itch with family trips around the world, then a career in international development, taking me further off the beaten path. It was during one of these work trips that my life would change forever.
A regular over-achiever, I found myself working 10+ hour days while on assignment in Kenya. I was nearing the end of my trip and found myself cramming to finish all my tasks before leaving. That morning, I suffered a blinding headache at work. Thank God I was awake and around people at work who could access the situation quickly and understand that I needed urgent medical care. Within minutes, I was being rushed to the hospital, all the while I knew I was unwell, but I kept insisting that I didn’t need to go to the hospital.
The pain was so severe, I just kept repeating to my Mom (who thankfully was in town) that I didn’t want to die, over and over again.
I had suffered a stroke that left me paralysed on one side. Two months in the hospital, locally and then back in the US, I quickly became aware of the new reality of living with one-sided paralysis. How this would dramatically change my life would continue to unfold before my eyes. In short, I quickly became introduced to the world of being a stroke survivor.
Fast forward two years later, my husband and I would finally take our first mini vacation post stroke. We always loved spending vacations beach side. I was looking forward to being back at the beach, perhaps taking a quick dip in the water and walking on the beach. At this point, I could walk with some effort with a cane.
We decided to revisit our favorite spot in Miami, Florida for its proximity to the beach.
Being a frequent traveler means securing upgrades at favorite hotels. Travelling with a disability means forgoing that opportunity in favor of getting a room that has an adaptive bathroom that I can use more easily.
Upon arrival, excitement quickly led to sadness and frustration when we arrived and set out to go to the beach. Till then, I had only been exposed to even, smooth surfaces. A sandy beach was never in the picture. My husband and I tried to walk gingerly, but my paralyzed foot kept dragging in the thick dense sand. Ever resourceful, we returned to the hotel and spotted a parked golf cart. A quick conversation with the restaurant owner translated into a speedy ride to the beach with offers of transportation help anytime.
After getting situated and warming up, I thought of taking a dip into the water. Walking barefoot to the shore was another challenge. Things I took for granted included just standing at the edge of the water, enjoying the laps of water on my feet. Unfortunately, my new reality meant that even the slightest currents could throw me off balance and cause a fall. Not the fun experience I was hoping for, in the slightest.
Several trips later, I can say I’m becoming a savvy traveler with a disability and have some tips to share.
- Sometimes you want to travel on your own, but it my case, it’s best to travel with someone.
- Request special seats on the plane. Each airline has a special needs department that can help you secure blocked seats that are closer to the front and are easier to get into.
- Request wheelchair assistance to/from the gate. This means you can breeze through security and avoid lines. Also, you can save your energy for other aspects of your travel.
- Request a room with an accessible bathroom- with grab bars around the toilet and the shower for safety.
Always an intrepid traveler, I now approach my travels with a bit more preparation to enjoy them as best as I can. You can slowly grow out of some of these suggestions, as I have, but it’s better to have them just in case.
I’ve been blessed to have this experience shape my future moving forward. My next challenge will be to take an international trip where the environment is less suited for those with disabilities.
More on how that goes next time!
In the meantime, push yourself to think, live, and travel beyond your boundaries!