A little while ago I wrote a blog post answering what was then the most popular question posed to me; “why are you in a wheelchair?”. If you’d like to see my answer, you can do so by clicking HERE!
There’s now a new question which is possibly overtaken the previous as my new most frequently asked question and that is, “how do you manage with travelling in a wheelchair?” – so I thought I’d write a little piece giving some explanation as to how I get around on my travels whilst being in a wheelchair!
Step 1: PACKING LIGHT
The first point I’d like to raise is that I am the KING of packing light. When your travelling around somewhere like Australia or South East Asia you can spot a fellow ‘traveller’ from a mile off – they’re usually sweating their ass off and braking their backs trying to lug a backpack around that’s almost as big as they are. I just couldn’t do that. Not just because it would be physically impossible for me to do that but also because I just wouldn’t want to. I mean, imagine trying to unpack and repack that every night? I opt for a regular backpack… just 30 ltrs, the type you’d take to University. Seven t-shirts, two pairs of trousers, one pair of shorts and enough underpants and socks for a week, plus my laptop, passport, wallet and camera – that’s all I need and it all fits into my North Face backpack that hangs on the back of my wheelchair. I find peoples insistence to over pack a bit bizarre. I travelled with the same small backpack for almost a year!
Step 2: LIGHTWEIGHT WHEELCHAIR
It wasn’t until my friend jokingly put my wheelchair onto the baggage scales at the airport that I realised how light my wheelchair actually is. 8 kg to be precise. Having a lightweight wheelchair is perfect for situations where you need to lift it. For example, getting onto a train that only has steps? No problem – 8 kg isn’t to heavy to carry.
Step 3: NO MEDICAL SUPPLIES NEEDED
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is also in a wheelchair and our conversation reminded me of just how fortunate I am. He told me that he would have loved to have done the things that I’m doing now when he was a bit younger, but then he went on to say that he’d need a whole suitcase just for his medical supplies – i.e. catheters, sanitizing gel, medication etc. Thankfully I don’t need any of that – the only thing I occasionally carry are some allergy tablets! Quite lucky really.
Step 4: HAVING AMAZING FRIENDS
Despite being able to overcome most things on my own, it has to be said having a friend travel with you is such a blessing. You end up helping each other equal amounts, but travelling with someone like my friend Emilija (for example) just makes things ten times easier. When I’m clambering onto a bus or a train and shuffling towards a seat whilst carrying my backpack, I know she’s got my wheelchair covered and it’s already dismantled and ready to be bundled on board behind me. We work well as a team when travelling – probably better than with any other person I’ve travelled with in the past. To Emilija and to all my other friends I’ve had the pleasure of travelling with – I owe a big thank you!
Step 5: ABLE TO ADMIT DEFEAT
It rarely happens, but sometimes there are situations where I just can’t do something, and it’s important to learn to accept when these situations arise. I’m happy to say that these moments are very rare – but to give an example; there was once a time in Taiwan where a bus driver pulled up, looked at me, shook his head and then drove away. It would be easy to get frustrated over this and I’d understand anyone who didn’t take too kindly to that sort of situation – but in my opinion, getting angry is just wasted energy, especially if the person you’re angry with is long gone.
Step 6: YEAR’S OF BEING TOLD TO ‘GET ON WITH IT’
When in my late teens my mother had our family home adapted and modified to make it more accessible. Everyone assumed it was for me and my wheelchair… Wrong! As my dad got older and his health began to decline, certain changes to our home’s layout needed to be made. All my life I’ve lived in houses that had stairs. When I lived in Taiwan I had an apartment on the 3rd floor and their was no lift. In New Zealand the lady I lived with had 18 steps up to her front door. I spend more time out of my wheelchair than I do in it. I might not be able to walk, and it might all look rather unconventional when I’m out of my chair, but the point is, I’m incredibly adaptable and can get by in almost any situation. I do feel blessed in this respect. I know that for many others the luxury of being able to hop out your wheelchair, shimmy down some stairs on your ass faster than most people walk, whilst dangling the wheelchair in front of you, just isn’t a viable option.
To try and answer the question with a summary I’d like to say this – I manage because I manage. I can’t remember the last time I felt unable to do something. There’s not a day goes by where I don’t remind myself of how fortunate I am and how my disability could be so much more limiting. To many of you who read my blog I am seen as some form of inspiration, and that’s lovely that you can take that away from my stories. To me my life is just normal and although I’m walking a dangerous tightrope by saying this, I really don’t find the things that that I do to be in any way remarkable. Having the opportunity to amaze people is a privilege though and I will of course continue to write about my adventures. I just wanted to clear up a few things from my perspective and explain how I deal with travelling with my wheelchair.