Sunday, January 20, 2008

Travel Time

I recently returned from a 3 week trip to Scotland to see friends. One thing I ended up thinking about quite a bit during the trip is how I travel differently from my those I know without disabilities and compared to how I travelled with my family as a child.

My father loves to travel. Specifically, he loves long trips that fit in as much distance as possible. We would do five hour drives for days in a row to go somewhere. Once we were there often there was hiking or something else. Even as a kid, this was problematic for me, but because I was supposedly completely healthy and able, I wasn't given much choice. A good example is the last family trip I went on in 2003. In 17 days we stayed in 12 different places. We went as far south as Salisbury, east as Norfolk, west as (I think) Bangor, and north as Inverness. We did this all driving. I remember days of my just being curled up in the back seat exhausted because it was all I could manage. I was very poorly at the point that we got home.

These days, my type of travel is slow. In 3 weeks in Glasgow, I spent most of it curled up on my friends' couch. And, honestly, I liked it that way. I like staying with people and getting a sense of how they live rather than being a tourist. I like going out shopping and to pubs rather than seeing every sight possible. Plus, I just can't do the tourist thing anymore. We'd go out for a few hours and I'd need at least a day of rest. Luckily, one of the friends I was staying with I knew due to disability and so this was less of a problem. He understood that I was perfectly fine watching television or movies rather than going out and doing things. I had a marvelous time, in fact. In a lot of ways, the trip couldn't have gone better.

Of course, on this trip, I also discovered that I really do have increased limitations. One of my friends offered to push me around a bunch. Not only did I let him, but I realized that if I hadn't, I wouldn't have managed half of what I did. This is very different from the last time I travelled on my own. Then I was fiercely independent, especially about things such as pushing myself. I can't do that anymore and while it's not a huge problem, it does mean that I'm probably not going to be able to travel on my own as much. My friends did a lot to take care of me and, unfortunately, it was needed, no matter how much I'm loathed to admit it.

This trip, luckily, only had one disability travel related "surprise" in that on boarding my flight to Glasgow from Amsterdam, where I had a layover, it turned out I had to use the stairchair. Honestly, it wasn't as scary as I expected. What was more frightening was when the guy assisting me (I was too exhausted to self-propel between gates) looked at me and said "You can't climb stairs, right?" as if this was something they hadn't thought of despite the fact that I'd made it very clear that stairs were not a possibility for me as far as boarding and deplaning went. While in general I can manage a few stairs, when I've been sitting for hours and am exhausted in the middle of travel is not a time when it's possible. Also, I think it was closer to 20 stairs to get into the plane (it certainly felt that way). I can't do 20 stairs like that ever.

In good news, my wheelchair made it through 4 flights with no damage. Also, Glasgow had an amazing number of taxis with ramps. When planning the trip, one of my friends had said that it was true, but I really didn't believe it until I saw it. They also really weren't very expensive which was also nice. (That is, of course, relative, but I'm used to taking taxis in NYC and Philly so it seemed cheap to me) Also, I'm always impressed by the way people I encounter in the UK seem to be much more willing to work with me to make things accessible than places in the US. In the US I tend to get ignored, but I had people helping me with doors and getting my wheelchair up steps, etc. As well, people respected me in the times I said I didn't need help. While I've had several people in the US ignore me when I tell them that I can make it up a hill without a push or something similar, I've not had that problem in the UK. People asked, but respected my answer. If anyone has any ideas on the reasoning behind the difference, I'd be interested to hear them.