I absolutely love travelling, seeing the world, experiencing and learning from different people and cultures. It’s a passion that I hold dear to my heart, and I aim to visit all 195 countries before I join the gig in the sky. However, this piece brings me a bit closer to home as I talk about travelling and the restrictions that I face at times whilst doing so. With having quite a variety of symptoms, some of which are always with me, but others that come and go as they please it can be quite the obstacle when I require the use of public transport etc.
First off, I am a nondriver, and good grief this isn’t through lack of trying. Quite the opposite in fact. I am not one to say that I cannot do something unless I have tried and given it my best shot, and driving is one of them. 9 failed tests, umpteen lessons, trying manual, automatic, and hand-controlled driving in an adapted car, I finally accepted that I needed to draw a line under that whole experience when it came close to remortgaging to fund it all (because jeeez it isn’t cheap these days you know at £65/test and £28/lesson). Never say never though, who knows what the future will hold for me with the different treatments that I have had and continue to receive (Lemtrada at the moment), and the continuing developments within the research into MS – I may even be running again (fully own the cockiness here). The issues that I face when it comes to driving is mainly due to the sheer lack of coordination and spells of vertigo, other issues with a dropped foot and random left hand twitches can be catered for with automatic and/or hand controlled driving but there isn’t a way for me to drive safely with my vertigo and lack of coordination. As a result, I am an established bus w*nker with the complete kit of a disabled bus pass and having the Stagecoach app on my phone for the real time bus schedule. With the bus stop only a couple of minutes around the corner, I have absolutely NAILED arriving at the stop just as the bus approaches. I am fortunate to live in an area where there are regular buses to take me to where I want with ease and failing that I will get a taxi, or a train for longer distances.
Taxis, Ubers, cabs, a rich man’s bus…whatever it is you refer to them as is something I use quite regularly. I would get them to and from work, seeing friends, attending various events, even when I go London I don’t get on tubes and stick to getting Ubers everywhere (my tolerance for crowds of people usually on the thin ice side being a contributing factor for this choice, also), and will opt for getting a taxi over a bus a lot of the time. Many people run cars – I just run a taxi account. Whenever I get a train, I always ensure that I have a seat booked, especially when going to London or Birmingham for example as 9/10 these are usually packed. I have a disabled person railcard, which for only £20/year will give myself and one other person I may be travelling with 1/3 off of the fare. With the ever increasing high train fares, travelling on these when required does add up, and the lower price softens the blow when I have no other choice but to get one. I have had a couple of hospital appointments in Birmingham and Coventry for example, and a train is needed to get to these. I welcome anything to make my life easier to enable me hold onto the independence that I otherwise would have had if I had a car. Albeit at a slightly different angle as is the case with a lot of things, but there is always a way.
At times I do require the use of my trusted sticks or walker which can cause quite an annoyance for me to take onto public transport, such as busses. There can be limited space for me and my walker and if I’m lucky, I run into one of the many town tw*ts who will make things 10 times more difficult than needs be for me through nothing more than sheer ignorance and misplacing that basic human compass. Although with the pandemic and with shops etc. starting to reopen again the busses are going to start to pack out once more, something that I am rather cautious of. Whilst I feel comfortable getting onto one with my face mask on as it stands with the lockdown as it is at the moment, come June 15th this will all start to change as normality slowly returns. I guess the use of public transport during lockdown has been a more ‘pleasant’ experience if you will, with far less people occupying it and there being room for me to shuffle on with whatever equipment that I may be using at the time.
One method of travelling with the available adaptations and assistance that that I cannot praise highly enough is flying. As you know (or may not!), there is an awful lot of standing around and walking through various terminals, as well as what I refer to as the airport ‘faff’ of various documents going in and out of your bag, the transfer of hand luggage liquids into plastic bags, and getting caught up in the standard rush of people checking bags in etc. It’s enough to stress anyone out, but when you have a disability, this can at the best of times be an extremely stressful situation to find yourself in. I struggle to stand for long periods of time without losing my balance and experiencing vertigo, I have numbness and pins and needles in parts of my left hand (my dominant hand, which is primarily my affected side *eye roll*) and as a result my grip isn’t all that great when I need to constantly handle documents and depending on the day, that long walk to the terminal with the airport assault course finale of the steps leading up to the plane is an ABSOLUTE MISSION. One that is only exacerbated with stress – quite the vicious circle, huh? With the special assistance available at airports; I make my request for this when booking my flight, and when I arrive at the airport I will go to the special assistance desk which is usually located close to a main entrance. My documents are then taken for ID and confirmation of my booking, I am then offered a wheel chair and an assistant will then take me to the gate where they handle my documents for me, check my bags in and load them onto the belt, check me in, drop me off at Frankie and Benny’s for the obligatory breakfast and pint (other chains are available), and then come back to check me onto the flight once boarding opens and take me onto the airplane. The people that I am travelling with are also with me the whole time. Stress levels – Zero. Alcohol levels – RISING.
Whether it is mental illness, physical, sensory, cognitive, or a learning disability (to name but a few of many), there are ways and means around the issues one may come across when requiring the use of public transport. Whilst there are still improvements and understanding required, there are so many positive experiences arising from the services and adaptations available. With that said, I am off to research my next travel adventure for 2021…which will hopefully take me outside of Northamptonshire and the C-19 pandemic.