The world of travel isn’t set up with people who have mobility limits in mind, but I’ve finally found the perfect solutions for me and I’m hoping they’ll help you too.
Struggling to Accept That I am Disabled and Need an Aid
Some disabilities I can pretty much handle, like Dyslexia. Sure, it’s a problem, but outside of a classroom it doesn’t really get in the way of my life. I didn’t always feel this way, but after I stopped having to take math classes where your eyes not seeing or moving just one negative symbol can ruin hours of hard work, I felt much less incapable. And again, it can still frustrate me, but it doesn’t really get in the way of my life. It’s been hard to accept another problem I’ve had and tried to ignore for a long time, though.
I’m packing for an upcoming weekend getaway back to our perennial favorite destination of Williamsburg VA, and it brought this to mind again. I have POTs, a circulation disorder, and basically one of the ways it effects me is that the longer I stand up the faster my heart rate goes- and after an hour of standing in a TSA line, I usually end up just sitting on the dirty floor instead of allowing my heart to continue racing and possibly get to a dangerous speed. When I went on a trip to Panama two Springs ago, I remember that on our way down the Miami customs kept us standing in line for more than 7 hours. I ended up sitting on the gross ground quite a bit, and when I didn’t do that I was getting dangerously faint and at risk of passing out and getting a concussion or other injury on the way down, again because after awhile all the blood leaves my head if I stand too long. It made me think that maybe, somehow, there had to be a better way where I could prepare myself for travel that involved a lot of standing around and be prepared instead of just putting my health at risk because I didn’t want to use any assistance devices and “look disabled.” I think it might have also been that I really struggled with accepting that I had an autoimmune disease, and I wasn’t willing to internalize that I also have a physical disability that impacts my mobility yet.
And then once I realized I should just accept the way I am and prepare for problems instead of just hoping and praying they didn’t happen (or, even worse, very frequently staying home on days when things are acting up and I know a faint or a dangerous heart speed is a given and just letting life pass me by instead of being an adult and just using mobility assisting devices instead of letting my pride get in the way of living my life) I decided to look into what, exactly, my possible options were. I was surprised to find that I had a fair number of choices, and that they weren’t all hideously ugly, and I wanted to share the wonder and joy of that discovery with you.
And once I decided to share that with you, I realized I’ve already been doing some things to deal with my other health problems that I haven’t shared with you yet either. So this is going to be just one big extravaganza of discovery as well as a basic list of stuff that works.
Note: some of these things have affiliate links that help me, but don’t cost you any extra. It would be cool if you used those. Most of these aren’t affiliates and I just included them because you should get the best info and best links from me whether I make cents off it or not.
If you aren’t a silly prideful person like me, you have probably long since embraced the pitfalls of your mobility disability and gotten a cane. I don’t need one all the time, but a good 1/3 of the whole year I probably spend at home because I’m having a day where the POTs is really bad and instead of using a cane I’ve just skipped going anywhere or doing any walking or anything at all. But I’ve been an adult for a few years now, and finally this year I’ve come to accept that disability is just part of my life, and I’m not willing to miss out on things anymore just so that I can hide this scandalous reality from my friends, family, and strangers. Honestly though, I don’t see why I’ve been so embarrassed of just using one this whole time. I guess I just feel that since I don’t need it all the time, I feel not just the embarrassment that people might treat me differently if they can visibly see I’m disabled but also feel somewhat guilty for some reason. I guess because I don’t need assistance all the time I feel like an imposter compared to others who need assistance every second of their lives? Again, it’s just a silly thought, but somehow I think it’s not just me who thinks many silly thoughts when it comes to being disabled.
When doing my research into mobility options for myself yesterday I realized that they have the option of folding canes, which is perfect for travel! It can fit into a piece of luggage, and I can stow it when I don’t need or want it, which works considering I don’t need an aid every day. It’s ideal! So I ordered one and impatiently wait for it. (Affiliate link of this cane I literally just bought because it looks classy and has great customer reviews.) The particular option I found and bought also has a higher weight limit that it supports than alternatives from some of the competitors I looked at, which is great because I’m worried what will happen if I lean on a cane with all my weight that has a weight limit that’s only a few dozen above my weight. I just like more wiggle room when it comes to weight limits for anything I purchase, really.
Bringing a Seat
Seats are important with POTs, because even just a minute seated can bring a dangerously racing heartbeat down to normal safe levels and allow the circulation to bring blood back to the brain. It’s also important because for me personally when the blood is leaving my brain and pooled in my feet and hands instead, that can make me more snappy and stressed than I would normally be, and that definitely negatively impacts social outings.
For this problem the obvious solution would be to use a cane specifically designed for this purpose. Companies sell canes that convert to seats, but the prints on them seem a little outdated and unfashionable to me. Polka dots just seem too effusive for a person in their twenties to me. There are other options that are more straight forward and a solid color, but they were just boring and medical looking to me so I definitely wasn’t willing to consider them.
The option I featured here has rainbow polka dots. (The image is an affiliate link, as is this an affiliate link to a seat cane) I probably should consider in investing in something like this in the future for when I’m spending the day on my feet closer to home, but as of yet park benches and other seats have been plentiful enough that I mostly don’t need to bring my own place to sit. That, and I have plenty of sidewalk curbs to take a breather on when there is no other option, and that takes up much less space than hauling a big seat I won’t always need all the time.
On the other hand, there are options I am starting to consider for when I need to take a quick little sit, either at home or during a day of walking around as a tourist. For a hot second I considered a doohicky like this one below, an ultralight folding stool (affiliate) intended for backpacking. The upside of something like this is that it can work great if you also like to go for long nature walks in places that don’t have any park benches or convenient boulders to take a rest on. Thankfully my favorite series of trails has quite a few seat sized boulders along the way, so I don’t particularly need something like this, but it looks like a great option for that. Heck, it probably works great for camping as well!
The reviews on the stool are all five stars, however there aren’t a ton of reviews for this particular stool, though, so it may not be the best option out there. REI sells one stool (NOT affiliate) that costs a few more dollars in black mesh, and hopefully is of the same quality REI is known for. The many reviewers seem to think it does.
My next option, though, seems most promising. Basically, the best way to have a seat anytime, anywhere in the world, and take up so little space it’s easy to bring along in luggage is a sit upon. It wouldn’t be an option for people with arthritis or mobility disabilities that impact the joints so that sitting on the ground and getting up again would be painful, though, so I didn’t put this at the top of the options because I think it’s probably only practical in my particular mobility situation.
The classic Thermarest situpon (affiliate linkie) is basically a tiny cut down version of their popular sleeping pad. It’s made for camping, and it looks like it. It’s great for hiking and such because it is very sturdy and padded against rough ground as well as insulated from cold and damp grass or burning hot sand. I don’t think it’s necessarily a winning choice for my travel kit though because it is sized to be perfect for a backpacking backpack, and not for a little day purse so I can use it when I’m out and about walking through a city.
The real winner for me though is the fairly recently invented pocket blanket. In the last ten years or so someone figured out a way to make a tarp that can fold up into a tiny bag that can fit into a pocket. Some brands of pocket blanket are soft and fabricy like a real blanket and are only usable for a day at the beach, some come in pouches that are a good bit bigger than even many men’s pants’ pockets but are both soft and waterproof, and others are completely waterproof and feel like a normal tarp but fit into the tiniest of pockets. That last variety that is truly pocket sized and also useful for whenever I go camping because it is actually waterproof is what I linked to here (affiliate link, thanks!).
This was the best option for me personally. I can stick it on the ground in anywhere outdoors, from dirty sidewalks to wet grass. I’d feel awkward and embaressed to throw a tarp down in the middle of a line to get museum tickets or something, but if I were standing for dangerously long somewhere this could go in my purse as an emergency solution. To be honest for the most part I’d probably just lean down on my cane and try to get bloodflow back that way, but for times when I lie to myself and think I couldn’t possibly need an aid and then it turns out I do midway through the day I could still have this as a backup emergency solution in any sized purse.
Sit Upon Luggage
Though it was first released in 2016, I hadn’t heard about the Jurni (NOT sponsored) until my day of diving into the rabbit hole of mobility options to suit my needs yesterday. I’d probably feel terribly embarrassed scooting through security lines like this bag was designed for, but I think an occasional sit down in line would be good for my health and help reduce the stress if I ever had to go through a 7 hour customs line again. (Perish the thought!!!)
The bag was designed with teenagers in mind, but it has a decent weight limit and can accommodate most seated adults as long as you aren’t a buff weight lifter or otherwise more than 220 pounds/100 kilograms.
It costs about $108, not including the cost of shipping it from the UK (though shipping is free if you live there), which would make this the most expensive piece of luggage I’ve ever purchased. My last bag I bought was a cheap suitcase that converts to a backpack and it only cost me $20 and has lasted through 3 years of travel, but then I’d be paying more for this bag because it’s hardsided, which costs much more than fabric, but also because it’s really much more than just a bag. It’s a solution to one of the most stressful parts of flying. Thankfully my weekend trip is just a car ride away, and I won’t need an something like this, but I’ve definitely put the Jurni on my shopping list for my next flight so I can have a bit more comfort and ease during the journey.
Traveling with Medications
Traveling with your prescriptions can be a huge hassle. I’ve seen lots of solutions online from bloggers, Youtubers, and the like, but all of them just seem to carrying one or two vitamins during their trip that can all fit into one little bottle. Medications are much more involved for me.
The first thing to do, of course, is to get a letter from your doctor listing all of your medications and a note from your doctor saying they are necessary. No matter how many or few medications you must take, customs and airport security in most countries, including the US, want proof that you are carrying medicine and not illegal drugs.
Part of the answer, for me at least, is that for a trip that is a month long or less I like to strip my medicines down to only the most essential. I have about 40 pills a day now thankfully- it used to be forty pills just in the morning, and more for lunch and the evening and bed to boot- but some things I can take a little time off from without causing too many health concerns. My thyroid and adrenal medicines are for maintaining my current good health with those systems, but I can skip them for a few weeks without having any big problems. I can also reduce or eliminate my multivitamin and my fish oil/iodine/sodium capsules without any problems for a few weeks as long as I make sure to eat a wide variety of healthy foods, which doesn’t tend to difficult thing to do when traveling just about anywhere in the world besides the US. I especially don’t worry about the fish oil or iodine when I visit Japan because just eating the local food gives me a better source my body can more easily use compared to my capsules of it. Traveling also tends to mean eating some foods that have sodium already built in to them, and in many places I can get sea salt in restaurants without worry that it has corn starch as an unlisted anti-caking agent, like in the US, that will make me sick. There’s a few others I can whittle down, but that all depends on my health at the time of the trip as well as where I am going and what I will likely be doing, so I can’t give any more general ideas of things I always skip because it just depends.
Be sure to make space in your luggage for both your medications and basic first aid!
Now, I don’t recommend cutting out your medications willy nilly. Some medications have withdrawal symptoms, especially any medication you get from a pharmacy instead of a holistic doctor’s office like I do. Conventional medicine must be taken according to the dosage instructions everyday, unless you have a talk with your doctor about weaning you off of medications you may not need at all anymore, but that doesn’t apply to cutting things out for a short term trip and the convenience of more space in your luggage. Additionally, even if you have medicine without withdrawal problems, you need to know what your different medications do and which you can safely go without for a short term trip. I’ve talked with my doctor before going on trips before, and we decided together under what circumstances I can thin out my medicines and for how long before, so I use a write up I’ve kept of each of those conversations as a reference and do a quick check in with my doctor before each new trip before taking anything out of my bag besides my non-prescribed vitamins (And I already talked about why I’d skip both of them above).
Once I’ve cut down on the number of medications I have to carry to keep my POTs and Autoimmune Disease in order, then I have to go about packing them.
I’ve bought and been using this pill organizer (affiliate link) from Lewis & Clark for about five years.
What I Like about This Pill Organizer
It’s held up to the test of time, I can hold a goodly amount of medication in each pouch, and I like that it takes up very little space in my luggage while letting me take the individual baggies along for the day. It also has a pouch on both sides of the back, so I can put non prescription first aid things like headache medicine, bandaids, blister bandages, and my trusty calcium lactate to use short term to treat sunburns and other skin wounds.
What I Dislike about This Pill Organizer
I don’t like, however, that the baggies are flat, because in practice I’ve found it’s difficult to get pills in and out of a flat baggie. I also don’t like that it only has day time and night time options, so I end up keeping a baggie in the pocket at the back for my noontime prescriptions, which thankfully are visually very different so it’s not a risk to put them all in one bag, and then once I’ve taken my morning medicine I can refill that baggie with the noon pills and take it to go.
Pill Organizers and Other Options
There are other travel pill organizers that come with Morning, Noon, Evening, and Bedtime pill organizing and not just morning and night, but I’ve found they both take up more space, DON’T fit many pills, AND do not fit any large sized pills which can be a problem depending on how big your medication capsules are.
I have to agree with John Sage in this post on disabled travel that one of the best ways to travel with mobility disabilities is to just plan ahead. I’ve always done my best to keep an eye out for possible benches when I’m out in public for when I need them, but it’s even better to plan ahead of time and know where the things you need are- almost every city has a bench locating app, a bathroom finding app, and the like. Planning ahead to book a hotel room with a mini fridge if you need to take insulin on your travels also will help with your successes. Looking up the different elevations in town to find walking routes with less hills and climbs, or looking for routes that have paved sidewalks and roads, can also help. There are apparently disability travel blogs that can give you advice and ideas, like the options below.
There are also tours planned with mobility disabled travelers in mind. Overall, if you have a mobility disability, it is possible for you to travel safely and in relative comfort. You just have to think ahead, and use your prior experiences, so that if you face 7 hours standing in line you already have a plan and solution in place instead of letting problems you don’t plan for hurt your health or ruin your trip and fun.
Alternatively, for full time traveling some are recommending van life for those with autoimmune disease and other illnesses that requires extensive medication and a healthy controlled environment. I can’t see that a van could possibly be accessible for wheelchair users, but if your disability is just your physical health then this could be a good options that opens a lot of doors.
If you want a better idea on planning for travel with a disability, check out this page that covers a broad range of physical limitations.
What are your travel limitations?
It’s a little scary to admit that you aren’t perfect and your body can’t do everything you want it to do. Obviously I can understand as I took five whole years into blogging to admit that I even have a physical limitation here.
But we can learn and grow by sharing with each other.