Disability and Travel

Me and travel have a complicated relationship; I’ve even go so far as describing it as a love/hate relationship.

You see, I’ve always loved to travel. When I was a kid, we drove to Cornwall for two weeks every summer. As I got older, we went further afield after my long suffering Mum forced my Dad to go on a ‘proper holiday’ and during my GCSEs we flew to Greece for the first time. I was hooked. My mum and I will often just jump in the car and drive and see where it takes us. We love freedom and finding new, beautiful places.

Like most families, we had our favourite holiday destinations; Portmellon in Cornwall, near Mevagissey – where I spent every year of my childhood from nappies to GCSEs. Once my Dad had gotten over his fear of trying something new (we think he is also on the Autism spectrum, but denies there is anything wrong with him!) he threw himself into every Greek holiday we had after that – he learned basic Greek very quickly and we made friends with the locals in Petra on the island of Lesvos – it became a regular occurrence.

I haven’t been back to Lesvos since I was in my early twenties, but I definitely have the travel bug now. In recent years I’ve been to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We came back from Morocco (my first foray into out-of-Europe travel) on Saturday and we are now looking at our next adventure  even further afield – south east Asia.

This all sounds rather wonderful, until you consider that I am unlike most people and travelling is not easy when you have several invisible disabilities. I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III (Now called Hypermobile EDS) when I was 19 so for years now I’ve had to make certain concessions as a keen traveller. Now, with my most recent diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, do I have to consider MANY things before we even book our flights.

How much walking is involved?

This is the question that rules my life. Because of my EDS, I cannot walk very far at all without being in pain. I have painful feet, ankles, legs and back. I also tire very very quickly and if I push myself too far on the first day of my travels, the rest of the holiday can easily be ruined. I wish I could just ‘book it, pack it and fuck off’ as Peter Kay so eloquently put it during one of his stand up routines, but sadly, I cannot – we have to research the fuck out of where we’re going, we have to make sure there are either taxis, horse drawn carriages or tuk-tuks – hell, I’d ride a donkey if I had to, just to see some of the world.

How hot/cold/wet does it get?

Another irritatingly complex issue I have, is with the weather. Again, we have a love hate relationship due to a condition I have called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – this is basically my body failing to cope with certain movements like going from sitting to standing and my blood pressure drops so much I feel dizzy, faint and I lose my vision for a few seconds. Heat is my biggest enemy.

So, not only do I have to consider how hot it gets, but also how wet – because if you’ve ever had the misfortune to have arthritis or any other type of joint injury or pain, you’ll know that wet, damp weather is torture on the body. I absolutely love travelling around Europe, but the dampness is often a problem, so I have to go armed with heat packs a plenty.

Do I have enough earplugs?

I have struggled to sleep when there is background noise for many years now and it seems to be getting tougher and tougher. I cannot sleep in noisy environments so booking a cheap stay at a hostel and sharing a room with other travellers is a no-go. I can’t even sleep with my Fiance unless I have at least one earplug in – just someone breathing next to me is enough to bring on an autistic meltdown.

Where shall we prioritise?

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is degenerative. That means, it’s getting worse as I age. That also means that we have now had to start planning which destinations we want to put on the top of the list and which destinations we can afford to hold off on. We really REALLY want to travel to Peru to see Machu Picchu but the sheer size of it and the fact that it is an incredibly physically demanding place means that we’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later. The older I get, the harder it is going to get to travel around the places like this. I’ve looked into holidays for disabled travellers and there is a company out there that will literally carry you up the mountain to Machu Picchu in your wheelchair. Sadly, we’re a couple on one salary (of a Primary teacher!) so we cannot afford to book a package holiday like that – we have to do it ourselves somehow. And we will, we just have to figure out the logistics.

We spend so much time and energy planning our travels. We have to. I am limited physically and mentally. I find ordinary life incredibly tough, so add the complexity of foreign travel and you can imagine how hard it can be.

Which airport/airline is best for Special Assistance?

We have only recently realised that there is something called Special Assistance. Basically, the airport or the airline have people on hand to help disabled travellers get around the airport and on and off the planes. I booked my first airport assistance when we were flying from Gatwick to Germany and after quite a wait, I was transported via Wheelchair from Departures to the gate. As you probably know, it can be quite some distance to whichever boarding gate your flight is leaving from, so being able to save some energy was a real help.

I have to say,  we flew to Morocco from London Luton and the special assistance service was absolutely fantastic. We somehow managed to arrive rather short on time so the guy rushed us through security via the Priority Boarding lanes and I was also escorted onto the plane via a lift that meant I didn’t have to tackle any stairs at all. I couldn’t fault the service at London Luton aiport. Thank you!

Marrakech Airport also, took me by surprise. As soon as we got off the plane, there was a gentleman and a wheelchair waiting for me. He transported me through the airport, through security (there was apparently a 45 minute wait for able bodied passengers) and he even took us to the Bureau De Change (you can’t take currency into Marrakech, you have to exchange it when you’re there) and then out to the taxi rank. The service when flying back from Marrakech airport was also fantastic – I was transported straight to departures, through security and the only waiting we had to do was for the gate to open! I was so so surprised by the hands on attitude to disabled travellers at Marrakech airport. It is strange to say this, but we had a far far better experience being disabled in Morocco than we have visiting some places in England! Thank you Marrakech ❤

Can we afford it?

I can imagine a lot of our friends/acquaintances wonder how we manage to travel abroad at least once a year and have a mortgage on just one salary – the answer is; living frugally!
Honestly, it’s as simple as that. We don’t smoke, we buy a bottle of wine maybe twice a month and we eat a mainly vegetarian diet (I eat meat when we eat out – usually using Tesco vouchers – thank you Mum!) and we are big savers. We don’t live a hugely expensive life – we don’t have Sky (we’ve only just bought a telly with money given to us for Christmas) and we are lucky enough to be on a friend’s Netflix account (massive massive thank you to Andreas, you beaut!) so we can afford to pay our mortgage, bills AND save for our holidays abroad. We rarely go out socially and we also brew our own beer – or rather, my other half does (I’m wheat intolerant, of course – not to mention lactose intolerant too but that’s another blog!)

So you can see, if you make the necessary sacrifices, you can do more. You can choose to attend the same festival year in year out (not my thing, but if that’s what you like, I couldn’t care less!) or you could travel further and see more of the world.

We have travelled by car, ferry, bus, train, airplane and horse and carriage – we will see the world by any means necessary. That is how important travelling is to us as a couple, and how important it is to me, as someone with disabilities. I will not let my illnesses define me, or stop me from living my life. If I can do it, you can too!

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