For me, last fortnight’s Clickability blog entry was perfectly timed. Although I have travelled extensively throughout Australia in recent years, the thought of travelling overseas often leaves me petrified.
In my twenties, I never understood why my contemporaries often considered journeys to other countries as a rite of passage. To me, I think there is so much to organise, so much can go wrong, and there are no support networks nearby. For me, travelling anywhere has felt like work even if it’s an hour away.
My fiancé, Kat proposed late last year, and we started planning our honeymoon for May 2018, soon after our wedding. Due to my reticence with travelling, Kat initially suggested Melbourne, because we both love the city, and the timing is in the middle of the footy season. We have been there so many times though, so it wasn’t really a unique destination for a trip as special as a honeymoon. Then, I assume out of hope more than anything else, she suggested going to the United States. Since we met we had both agreed that the US would be a perfect destination in an ideal world without my disability.
To her surprise, when she suggested the US I didn’t dismiss her suggestion out of hand. Instead, I said that I would need to be convinced that we could do this together, and that my many fears regarding overseas travel would have to be addressed one by one.
The big questions included:
- Could I survive a 13-hour flight to LA with minimal toilet stops?
- Could we afford to go, when I need to have a ‘rest day’ every third day so my body can recover after successive active days?
- Would I be able to navigate all the places that we wanted to visit with a minimum of fuss?
- Would we be able to find accessible accommodation that was both accessible for my needs, and in our price range?
- How would we be able to navigate travel between multiple US cities?
Kat and I set aside an entire day to answer these general questions to my satisfaction, and to be honest I never thought we would be able to. Throughout the course of research that the US has more far-reaching laws regarding accessibility then we do in Australia. Not only do hotels have accessible rooms, but these rooms are up to premium standards that include features like roll in showers, and are far superior to the generic standards of ‘accessibility’ that I’m used to.
I became come convinced that we had to go to the US, much to Kat’s amazement.
She and I then sought out a travel agent that we knew had experience booking holidays for other people with disabilities. We found the perfect one for us through contacts I work with, and gave her a list of requirements as well as activities that interested us both. When it comes to the requirements I need, I’m a very hard taskmaster, largely because I’m very conservative when it comes to trying new things. This is why our travel agent has been outstanding. Every time Kat and I communicate with her, I feel more confident that I can actually travel overseas with confidence.
One question remained unanswered until very recently though. Almost two years ago, I purchased a custom-made push wheelchair out of my own funds, specifically to travel interstate. I’m very fortunate that Kat has been able to accompany me on all these work trips so far, but pushing the chair around everywhere is very demanding on her, and reduces my independence. Despite this, I was adamant that I would leave my powerchair at home, and take the push one overseas instead.
Previously I’ve been witness to, and I’ve heard horror stories about how airlines treat power chairs. Consequently, my greatest fear has been landing on the other side of the world, only to discover my chair is broken and immobile from the flight. Kat understood my fears, but encouraged me to talk to more friends that require power chairs and have travelled to the US with them. These friends instructed me on how to avoid to basic pitfalls, whilst convincing me that even if things go wrong, there are plenty of contingencies to avoid my worst fears being realised.
Such conversations are really a microcosm of planning our honeymoon so far. Until the entire trip is over I will always feel fear that something cataclysmic will go wrong. However, with as many contingency plans possible, and with Kat by my side, I am looking forward to celebrating a once in a lifetime holiday.
Todd Winther lives in Brisbane. He has written for The Conversation, ABC Online, and the Brisbane Times. He works for Youngcare Australia as its Grants Administrator. To read Todd’s article on the initial obstacles he faced to move in with Kat, click here.
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