Top 5 People Who Made My Travel Possible (And Why Spontaneous Travel Can Be Realistic)
Written by Tristram Peters
Last year, I was invited to Europe. Amazing, right? I could eat myself into a coma on French artisanal cheese, lap up the finest artistic achievements in the world at the Louvre and Rijksmuseum, and immerse myself in culture. I could also fulfil a lifelong ambition and go to Europe, something I never thought possible with my disability.
Hold the phone though, because there was one downside: the trip was in a month’s time. Being a powerchair user, I thought this crazy. With such little control in my life, I revel on routine. But given this trip would realise a dream, I had to say yes. The verdict? Life changing.
Undoubtedly, I had problems pop up, but no shortage of people to help me overcome them. So, in honour of these people, here’s a short tribute. Hopefully it proves that spontaneous travel is achievable, even with a disability in the mix. If I can do it, I reckon you can too.
Christophe the Cabbie
I arrived in Paris 30 hours after leaving Australia, desperately needing sleep. When we got downstairs, we met Christophe, who had been organised by a French friend to pick me up. This was fine, except… I was too tall to drive into the van. But don’t worry, Christophe and my cousins (yes, they feature later) lifted me into the cab, before loading my wheelchair and bags.
Christophe became our wonder-guide. Whenever we needed help, he would arrange either himself or one of his fellow cabbies to help, no matter the time. Even when he went on holiday to Greece midway through my French travels, he told me to contact him on Whatsapp so that he could organise a driver. (They even had bigger cabs I could drive straight into!)
Obviously, Christophe took us to the airport for our trip home, a drive during which he decided to call every single one of the cabbies who had driven us around, so that they could say goodbye. Without them, I wouldn’t have adventured so easily or been able to embrace the spontaneity of the trip. Merci, Christophe.
Amsterdam is easily the coldest I’ve ever been in my life and I had an abundance of layers. With Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the cold is horrific. It saps my muscles of my strength and I lose the ability to perform previously achievable tasks, e.g. lifting a glass.
My cousins took up the responsibility and helped me drink most of the time, but there was one evening when they didn’t need to. We were in Tales & Spirits, one of the best bars in the world and the host/owner saw me struggling to lift my glass. I’m not a graceful glass-lifter at the best of times.
He hollered for me to wait, hurrying away. (I should note that it was Halloween, so the place was spookily themed and the host/owner wore a horrific mask.) But he soon returned with an entire wheel of straw. He took scissors from his pocket and told me when to cut it, before placing it in my glass.
Without raising a hand, I drank a glass as it sat a metre away from me. I don’t know if wheels of straw are commonplace, but the owner’s small act allowed me to discard my disability—and the cold.
The Dubai Airport Staffer
Dubai airport has a VIP wheelchair section. Jealous? Once you get off the plane, you’re met by a staffer who takes you to the VIP section where you wait in comfort, with accessible toilets, food stalls, and staff who answer any question you could possibly conjure.
Coincidentally, on both legs of my trip, the same staffer helped me off the plane and onto the next one. He helped push my chair so that my cousins could lug all our bags; he helped me pass through security; and he chatted with us while we waited for our planes.
In a foreign place, where we were unsure about access, this staffer smoothed our concerns. It’s the simple things, and something I’ll never take for granted. If you ever pass through Dubai, say g’day to him!
Everyone in the Service Industry
We went to France to eat. Sure, we threw some sightseeing in, but we really wanted the food, from steak tartare to snails. But as good as the food is, any dining experience is influenced by the service. We didn’t lack.
In one café, our maître d’ served us with efficiency– even though he didn’t speak any English. The greatest thing was when he asked, via charade, whether I wanted my meal cut up. I can’t do it myself, so I said yes. He got to it, smiling and yelling out random Australian cities while he did. ‘Byron Bay!’
Wherever I went, I was met by similar kindness. To show gratitude, I tried learning French and using it when ordering meals. Sometimes, my accent was dodgy, other times people actually thought I was French, but the effort put a smile on everyone’s face. Happiness is contagious.
Most Importantly, Family
My cousins. Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible. They carried me emotionally and physically. We booked hotels the week of, booked trains the week of, and embraced the attitude that, no matter what, we’d find a solution. Usually it was the amazing people we met who offered it.
Thanks also goes to my parents who packed everything (two suitcases worth, plus wheelchairs) and helped me arrange flights. Along with my cousins, they proved that, with a helping hand, even spontaneous travel is realistic for people with disabilities. Where next?
Tristram Peters is a writer, editor, and disability advocate with a keen passion for sport. He’s represented Australia in powerchair football world cup and sits on the sport’s executive board for the Asia Pacific Oceania zone. He really wants to finish his long gestating Marx Brothers play.