As I have come into my injury, learned how to cope with it, and adapted to my new lifestyle I have begun traveling again completely independently. Each time I go somewhere, I learn something new about travel and what makes it easier on me since it can seem daunting.
I would love to share some of the things I have learned that may seem obvious but are not always accounted for when planning a trip:
- Pack more than you think you will need - for me, this applies mostly to clothes and bathroom supplies. You never know when you might need an extra catheter or when you might go too long between caths and might need an extra pair of pants. Since doing laundry is not always an option and catheters are not readily available at the store, it NEVER hurts to pack an extra pair of pants and a few extra caths. PLUS, medical equipment flies for free so throw those caths in every bag and claim medical equipment -- the airlines are not going to question you!
- Call your airline - It does not hurt at all to call the airline ahead of time and let them know you will need assistance. In my experience, a lot of the time you will find that they will make sure you have a seat close to the front of the plane for easy boarding and deplaning. It will also insure that they are prepared with an aisle chair before you even get there (but always remind them when you check in)
- Bring a potty chair if needed - This is one thing that might not be as important to other people as it is to me but I absolutely can't stand regular toilet seats for the simple fact that transferring on and off of them over and over again can easily cause sheering injuries or pressure sores and personally, I do NOT want to deal with that! Buy a cheap potty chair that can be easily disassembled and thrown into a big ski bag. Once again, medical equipment always flies free so don't worry about having an extra bag.
- Bring a friend - AT LEAST to the airport. You probably won't be able to carry all those bags with you by yourself and the airline staff aren't always the quickest to help. If you are stressed or worried about making your flight on time, make sure someone can help you with your bags and don't rely on the airport staff to do so. I waited on airport staff one time and it took almost 30 mins before I gave up and dragged my bags in by myself (which also took a good amount of time). At no point in time did any staff member stop and help.
- Leave plenty of time for activities - This goes for all aspects of your trip but especially the flight. Make sure you get through security with enough time to cath right before you board, that way you are less likely to have to cath on the plane. Often times, they will let you through the priority lane at security because regular lanes can be harder to navigate.
- (This may seem silly or obvious but) Know how to pull your pants up in your chair by yourself- This is one of the most major things that I needed to learn how to do before I traveled independently and it took a long time to learn because it's HARD to pull pants up that you are sitting on. For girls more than guys, cathing is inconvenient because we have to pull our pants down completely. A huge tip for any girl who hasn't mastered pants yet: slide as far to the front of your seat as possible (sometimes I'm at a point where I am almost falling off). That way, you are able to pull up your pants a lot higher before you have to get your butt off the seat.
- Always pack your medicine where you can reach it - Again this may seem obvious and really applies to anyone flying but pack your medicine in your carry on. Even if you do not need to take any medicine until well after you are off your flight, you never know if they will lose your bags. Also, some of us, like myself, carry emergency meds in case of autonomic dysreflexia or migraines or severe pain -- keep those close just in case!
- Bring your chair cushion on the plane with you- The last thing anyone needs is for his/her cushion to get ruined in cargo. An easy fix, bring it on the plane with you and ask someone to put it in the overhead compartment for you.
- Set your clothes up on the bed next to you the night before- There is nothing worse than having to get out of bed just to get your pants and get back in bed (at least for me, it is much easier to throw pants on while I am in bed). One thing I've learned is that when I have an adventure packed schedule and an unusually high mattress for an accessible room, sleeping next to my pants saves me TONS of time in the morning.
- Understand that not everyone will be understanding - some people will be downright rude. I had someone push me out of the way so they could catch an almost full airport shuttle. They took my seat. Not everyone out there is going to be respectful of you or your condition. Let it go. There are far worse things to worry about.
I am sure there are plenty of things that I have learned and have forgotten to write about so I will amend this as I go. But for now, this is a good running list of small, obvious but maybe not so obvious, things to think about before you go!
I can still travel just like I used to and can travel independently. Don't ever think that you can't get back out there too!