Tales from my travels

In this post, Nick tells us of his experience adapting to travel with AMN.

Let me introduce myself, my name is Nicholas, but you can call me Nick. I was diagnosed with AMN in late 2019. Since then, between the unrelated seizures and the tiny blood clot on the brain, I am lucky just to have the walking and balance problems so far.

For the last 30 years, I worked in the travel industry, from a trainee to a manager in retail and finally as a supervisor for a tour operator. In my last job, I was extremely lucky to be sent on work trips to various destinations in both the USA and the Caribbean. Like many, this all ended in 2020 with COVID. Travelling through an airport and boarding a plane was a straightforward as opening my front door.

Fast forward to this year, and we are back on the plane, although I am carrying additional luggage in the shape of my stick, a rollator/chair and boarding passes bearing the SA prefix My experiences of travelling with a disability has been a real eyeopener. My experience of airports has changed, sitting in the assistance area, waiting for a member of the airport team to transport me through passport control, my rollator being swabbed down while I get patted down in my chair. Getting airside was easier than expected, now to wait for the flight. We do the usual, go into Boots, my wife pushing me through the narrow isles trying to not take out too many ankles, secure the best “meal deal” and grab a bottle of suntan cream.

We wait patiently for our boarding gate, it’s up. No one coming, the minutes tick by, no transport, time is moving ever closer to departure time, our checks on the board become more frequent, still no transport. Finally, our transport buggy arrives with an apology, we weave through the airport until we get to our gate, rollator is taken to be put in hold, my stick does the rest of the work to help me to the seat, I can breathe, we are on our way….

Arrival at a foreign airport, for many with disabilities, I understand can be very daunting. Where do we wait? Who do we wait for? Will my rollator arrive? Questions mixing with anxiety. The aircraft doors open, passengers pile out until me, my wife and fellow assistance passengers to chat to the cabin crew. My rollator arrives, with a member of staff ready to take me, my wife follows behind, luggage piled on my lap. The whole experience is smooth, our driver taking us to the airport train station. Our train pulls up, it’s packed with locals and tourists alike, doors close with everything onboard, it’s hot, even with the air conditioning blowing around our carriage.

Getting around is easy, streets are narrow but with plenty of passing points for other, still no ankles being taken out. The seafront is flat and wide, pushing my rollator is helping despite the heat, water stored nicely in the attached bag. It is time to hit the beach. For most part, the beach has a wooden walkway leading down to the beachfront. Tyres get caught in the sand, was there an upgrade to offroad? I feel helpless, others lift the rollator to our chosen spot, already laden down with beach essentials. I sit upon high while my wife and friends occupy beach towels, listening to the waves is proving very relaxing.

Here is the fun part, getting into the sea. Negotiating hot sand all the while trying to keep your balance is bad enough, feet touch the sea as I carefully edge further. The sea is lovely, I’m happily floating and swimming, balance is no longer a thought. Time to get out and work on the tan. Balance deserts me, feet are digging into the soft wet sand, I stop, move slowly forward a wave hits, down I go, I laugh while another wave crashes over me, attempt two proving equally unsuccessful. Third time is a charm in the most undignified fashion as I wobble back to my chair.

Overall, the holiday even with my rollator was a relaxing one. Independence has been fractally curtailed, it is not easy to carry a cup of coffee while trying to steer but I found locals and my fellow tourists willing to help when stubbornness takes over.

I know that a time will come for me when travelling abroad, especially on a plane is going to need more planning. Different walking aids needed but until then, I will remain determined to travel, maybe not on my own anymore but with the great support from my wife, from family and friends, there will be new holiday memories to be made.