In the spring of this year, I took my first trip as a solo disabled female. I would describe myself as an ambitious person, and to say my first trip was ambitious is an understatement.
Planes, trains, and automobiles. 7 weeks. The entire United States. Solo. Disabled. Female.
I knew the trip was going to be physically and mentally demanding, but I decided I was ready to do it. I was ready to take on 12 states, a brief stop in Canada, 21 different couches, and one ambitious adventure. Many of the reasons I choose to travel in what some may see as an “impossible” situation are the same as why you choose to travel.
As with everyone, traveling alone forces you to learn independence. It teaches you a different kind of independence than you would get if you never explored. Often times, a disability and independence are not seen in the same sentence. This trip was a way to prove to those that view “disabilities” as dependencies, my loved ones, and most importantly, myself that I can do it. I can do whatever I set my mind and heart to. It may look a little different and require asking strangers for help in certain situations, but it gives me a chance to problem solve and adapt on my own. In an incredibly tangible way, independence looked like walking through Central Park thousands of miles away from home with a 29lb backpack, an extra leg (my backup KAFO), and a full heart. All alone.
Expanding My Comfort Zone
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
If we never step out of our comfort zone, life quickly becomes extremely boring and mundane. How awful does that sound!? While I have to step out of my comfort zone everyday by choosing to exist and participate in a world that is not fully adapted or accepting, traveling pushes me in a completely different way. Asking others for help, being alone, and being stared at or approached by strangers are all super far out of my comfort zone. They are also all things that I choose to step into with uneasiness and courage when I decide to travel as a solo, disabled female. Furthering my comfort zone brings a certain excitement to life and a desire to keep pushing the boundaries. To never become bored and content with this miracle life I’ve been given.
To Become a Kinder Human
I have a very obvious and curious looking contraption on my leg that attracts a lot of unwanted attention. People often stop and ask about it — not always in the kindest of ways. Sometimes I’ll make sarcastic comments to break the ice, “Don’t worry – he doesn’t bite!” and sometimes I’ll be brutally honest, “It’s permanent, a viral infection left it completely paralyzed.” I noticed that traveling pushes me to share and react with kindness because you never know what pain someone else might be going through. When I respond with kindness instead of sarcasm to their stares and questions, I am oftentimes invited into their story. Every story I have been invited into has encouraged me to be kinder with my thoughts and actions towards others, and more importantly to be kinder to myself.
Experiencing Different Cultures
This world is made up of hundreds of thousands of cultures. This country alone is made up of thousands. I am fascinated by the various cultures and find it incredibly rad that we each have the opportunity to explore and experience them if we want to.
Long Distance Friendships
Many of my people live all across the United States. Some relocated for college, some we met living together for an internship, and some have relocated permanently. While the obvious, easier option would be to have them visit me, by choosing to travel to them, I am choosing to be a part of their story and experience where they live and call home. I am choosing our friendship and saying that we are worth the adventure, risk, and difficulties. We all get a ton of joy and laughter experiencing the adventure of Monica traveling alone that by the time I finally make it, it’s a miracle.
Meeting New People
It is very difficult to meet new people if you stay in one place surrounded by the same people you have known for years. Choosing to travel alone, allows me the freedom to reach out and strike up conversations with fellow passengers on the train or subway. You never know when or where you may meet someone who will change your life. I met one of my favorite people on the train in Montana!
Become a More Well-Rounded Human
People often say that traveling makes you a well-rounded human. I believe this to be true, especially when traveling as a solo, disabled female. By exploring different cultures and geographies, expanding my comfort zone, and being open to learning about others and myself, I continue practicing becoming well-rounded.
Learning About Myself
When you are traveling alone, it’s impossible not to learn about yourself. You may not always learn what you want to, but you definitely find out who you are. As a woman with a disability, I know I am already at a disadvantage when it comes to safety. I learned what exactly that means, and what the ways I can carry and protect myself while traveling are. I learned how to have confidence and trust in my ability. How to rely on my instincts. How to problem solve situations. How to not live in fear of the “what ifs.” Most importantly, I learned how to listen to what my body and heart needed.
Delays and accidents are absolutely unavoidable. I’m pretty sure my train delays added up to a total of 19 hours. Patience is a virtue. Patience is a must. Too often when I am home, I get caught up in the immediate gratification and immediacy in life. When traveling, you rarely have control of your schedule. You learn to take things moment by moment and to sit fully in the present. You’ll get frustrated and annoyed, especially if you are counting the hours on a 39 hour train ride (with no wifi or cell service!!), but you take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you’ll get there when you get there.
The most important reason of all!! I choose to travel because it brings me joy. Every trip I return from, my heart is full and my mind is full of knowledge and stories. While there is a ton of fear of being a solo, disabled female taking on the country and world, the joy outweighs and overpowers those fears. The joy of meeting a stranger who becomes a friend. The joy of being reunited with a loved one. The joy of belly laughing and getting lost in a city or town you never imagined being in. The joy of being able to say “I did it!”
Traveling is scary. Traveling as a woman is scarier. Traveling as a solo woman with a disability is terrifying. It’s also something that is totally a possibility!
Even though I travel as a solo, disabled female, my reasons for traveling are very similar, if not identical to many of the reasons my able-bodied friends choose to travel. If you are on the fence about deciding to travel, start small. Start with a local weekend trip and see how you feel. From there, keep working your way up and out. The world is becoming more accessible and people will surprise you if you let them. If I can do it, you can do it!