I never really considered how challenging it must be to travel with a disability. Even when exploring the Brazilian Amazon for 8 days with a wonderful man named Paul who lives with spina bifida, I didn’t question the genuine physical constraints due to his resilient nature. Walking through the forest with uneven terrain and snaking, twisted vines obstructing any remnant of a path, I could see it wasn’t easy.
Travelling with a disability
It takes a strong mind to engage life in a way that’s not always easiest and I have full admiration. One thing I will say is seeing Paul hike through the Amazon Rainforest with a crutch, and not complaining even though it was obviously difficult is a testament to the type of man he is.
Spina bifida is a congenital defect of the spine in which part of the spinal cord and its meninges are exposed through a gap in the backbone. It often causes paralysis of the lower limbs, and sometimes learning difficulties. I would like to point out that Paul is an extremely intelligent man and has been unaffected with learning difficulties. He does however walk with a cane which although helps his walking means uneven or slippery surfaces can be challenging.
After only a few days of having my foot in cast and hobbling along on crutches due to an unfortunate fall down the stairs, I was suddenly acutely aware of my own limitations and considered the difficulties involved for travellers with disabilities. This naturally begins pre-travel when deciding upon a destination and what elements of the trip are accessible. At this stage the only real travel I had done with a broken foot was to navigate public transport, walk to the shop and simple things like going to the toilet. This is a mere glimpse into life with restricted mobility.
Paul very kindly agreed to answer questions:
1 – Does travelling with spina bifida affect your travel choices?
Travelling with S.B. means that I look at the grades of holiday, ( if shown) and go no higher than 2/3, and even then, as you saw, will happily accept that I may need to opt out of some part of the holiday, rather than not go at all.
2 – Are there any specific considerations you take into account when deciding on a destination?
Places with rough and slippery terrain can be difficult.
3 – Whilst walking through the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, how did you find this?
See 1 and 2, but I also assess the helpfulness of fellow travellers to see if it is possible to ask for the odd arm or shoulder to hold onto if the going is rough, and found every-one in Amazonia most supportive.
4 – Where have you found to be most challenging?
I opted out of going on-shore in Spitzbergen in August, as it involved wet landings and wellies, which I cannot get in and out of (inflexible feet), and it was usually very stony on shore (difficult). We got with-in 200yards of a polar bear, we were on board and it was on shore and not bothered by us for 20 minutes!!!!
5 – Where have you felt most or least catered for whilst travelling?
I cannot think of anywhere specific, as I set my own agenda.
6 – What is your greatest travel moment?
I think being with-in 10 feet on a silver-back mountain gorilla in Rwanda, and I think the Welsh front rows are ugly!!!!!
7 – What is your personal advice for travellers with disability or less able bodied?
Talk to the travel agent about the things that I have mentioned, accessibility to rooms, and help at airports leaving plenty of time for flights, especially if connections are needed.
8 – Where’s next?
Marie and I are off to Vietnam in 10 days’ time, she is going bell-ringing in Southern Africa in January, China (Harbin ice festival, Chinese New Year in Shanghai and then the Pandas in Chengdu, (with Wendy Woo), in February, and then we go on a Tiger Safari in India in April. Marie has decided to have me declared insane as I have just booked a Congo River trip for myself in August with Undiscovered Destinations.
Thanks very much Paul – you certainly have some incredible travel experiences on the horizon, especially to the Congo, I am jealous. Enjoy yourself Paul and I look forward to running into you out on the road again, wherever that may be!
It would be great to hear about your experiences, thanks for reading.