Reflecting on Travel

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Sydney Opera House

As I write this section I am sitting in my cabin on a cruise ship anchored in the harbor of Sydney, Australia. I just had a quick dinner while overlooking the famous Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge – probably the best view I’ve had while munching on salad. I can’t believe I used to get scared, nervous, and otherwise frightened into not traveling just a few years ago.

Prior to using an electric wheelchair fulltime, I wanted to travel but felt like I couldn’t do it unless someone else came along. I would struggle to walk through airports, get in and out of my seat on the plane, and then worry that the rental car I booked online would be configured well enough for me to be able to drive it.

I remember one trip I took to California just a few years after graduating from college. I was still walking – even without a cane – and flew into the San Francisco airport where I was going to rent a car and go visit some friends at my former campus. The plan was to sleep on beds or floors and save money whenever possible because I had to spend most of my money on a more expensive SUV rental so I could actually get in and out of the vehicle on my own. I remember it was a silver Isuzu Rodeo.

The entire flight out to San Francisco I was worried about how I would get to the car rental counter which was in a separate facility a few minutes from the airport. I knew they had a shuttle but I was not sure whether it had a lift or a ramp so I could get in and out of it. I also felt nervous because I hated explaining why I needed a special van or accommodations when I was standing there, apparently normal and healthy. If I wasn’t walking or trying to get up from a chair, you never knew I had anything physically wrong with me.

I arrived and got my rolling luggage and proceeded to the pickup area for the car rental facility. Once there, I was greeted by a rather robust lady with a walkie-talkie who was sitting half in and half out of her patrol vehicle. I went up to her and asked if there was a shuttle that was wheelchair accessible because I figured that would make it clear what sort of arrangement I was looking for. She proceeded to quiz me on who the shuttle was for and when I told her it was for me, it took a few minutes of explaining that I could not physically board the bus they had sitting there because there were steps in it.

Of course the act of pushing the button on her walkie-talkie and requesting the special van was probably the most strenuous thing she did that day – or at least she made it appear as such. But the van arrived a few minutes later and I was on my way. The rest of the trip after that was fine.

The point of this story is that there really wasn’t too much to worry about. But also, I have noticed that it is actually much less stressful traveling since I started using a wheelchair full time. There’s no need for explanation. It’s almost as if when I approach a counter and need assistance, the people behind the counter are already thinking about what they will have to do to help me out. In hindsight it may have helped to use a cane back when I was starting to have trouble walking, just so people knew I might need a little assistance.

Now, even as I boarded the cruise ship I am on today, I didn’t need to do anything special – the crew had it all figured out. I was clearly not the first person in a wheelchair to ever try and board a ferry boat that would take me to the cruise ship anchored in the middle of the harbor. Granted – it was a sketchy maneuver rolling over the thirty-inch wide walkway but I figured if they dropped me in the ocean, I’d probably travel free for the rest of my life!

I’ve been able to get over my fear of travel by doing just what scared me — traveling. I hope to post some of my travel tips here soon so it doesn’t seem like unexplored territory if you decide to travel yourself.

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