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My Weirdest Travel Experiences as a Wheelchair User

Some people might say that just the act of traveling to a foreign country is going to expose you to some weird things, and I’d have to agree. People speak different languages, eat food that may look completely unrecognizable, and engage in activities or traditions that will make you cock your head to one side. The key word here is people, and they’re what makes a foreign country what it is. They are also usually involved in some of the weirdest experiences I’ve had while traveling around the world as a wheelchair user.

ljubljana slovenia preseren squareGetting harassed by Batman in Ljubljana. I don’t get much attention from men when I travel, even though I travel alone most of the time. I think I’m a fairly attractive woman, but I never wear makeup when I’m alone, and since cooler weather suits my MS, I’m usually bundled up in not-so-sexy warm clothes. In other words, I’m not really asking for male attention. In September, I was hanging out by myself in the main square of Slovenia’s stunning capital, Ljubljana, when I was approached by a young man in a power wheelchair. He was a local and looked like he (and his chair) had seen better days. He was eating corn on the cob, smelled like peanut butter, and looked like a member of a 90s grunge band. Our conversation started out friendly enough. He asked me name, which I gave, after which he introduced himself as Batman. Things started going downhill quickly after that. He started complimenting me, then flirting, then talking about what he would do to me if he could get me tied up in his basement. He reached down and put my scooter in neutral, supposedly so I “couldn’t get away.” I was sufficiently freaked out by that point and had lost all desire to be polite, so I said goodbye and fortunately didn’t run into Batman again during the rest of my stay.

Shopping in the West Bank (before watching the Fatah caravan drive-by). I’d like to think I know more than the average bear about Israel and its history of conflict with the Palestinian Authority and other neighbors. But apparently the geography isn’t my strong suit. This became apparent when at the end of our amazing (and intense) day in Jerusalem, our guide told us he was taking us to a Christian icon store in Bethlehem owned by an Arab friend of his. Well…we had no idea Bethlehem was in the West Bank. It was dark, so when we approached the checkpoint, the border wall loomed very high and very foreboding before us. After passing through, it was extremely clear we were in another place. The political graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall was fascinating, and passed in a blur as we drove by. The lights and sounds were bright and intense. Once at the store, it took some work and a lot of improvisation to get me in, but the metal ramp, the owner’s great hospitality, and the incredible selection of olive wood, gold, and mother-of-pearl items made every moment even more memorable. On the way back while waiting in traffic, we watched in the oncoming lane a very long convoy of cars and buses filled with men waiving militant-looking flags, honking horns, and celebrating something. We learned later it was members of the PLO/Fatah celebrating Israel’s release of one of their prisoners. My best friend and I celebrated this incredibly intense experience back in Jerusalem with an amazing Italian dinner under the stars with live music playing nearby.

Make sure you can plug in your variable voltage power chair charger when you travel abroad! Here’s the international plug adapter I use: icyber Worldwide Travel Adapter

Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Budapest HungaryBeing poked daily by a Hungarian woman in Budapest. I spent four days in Budapest in June 2018, and I chose a really nice hotel in the center of pretty much everything on the Pest side of the Danube. The rear of my hotel opened up to a large pedestrian area that met up with the well-known Váci utca (street), which is really touristy but filled with tons of shops and restaurants. Every evening after sightseeing, I’d leave my hotel and roll down Deák Ferenc street to make a left onto Váci for some dinner. Well…I’d roll halfway down Deák Ferenc before being rapidly approached by a disheveled local woman who really had to quickly touch my arm before mumbling something while walking back to her spot on the side of the street. I was pretty freaked out the first time it happened, but fortunately my tour guide was with me, and reassured me that the woman (who she saw regularly there) was harmless. I’m making the assumption that she has a mental illness of some sort and is possibly homeless. But it honestly didn’t bother me the second time she didn’t the next day; or the third, and by the fourth (and last) day, I was almost hoping she was some sort of good luck charm. I would give anything to know what that slight touch of a disabled American woman in an electric scooter meant to her. Maybe it was her version of the able-bodied Bless you! or she thought I had some special energy to pass on. It was definitely strange, but by the end of my brief visit it was almost comforting.

cyclone gita new zealand south islandExperiencing a tropical cyclone in New Zealand. This may not seem completely weird to a lot of people, but you have to understand that I was born and raised in Florida. I do hurricanes, NOT cyclones. Five months prior to leaving for Auckland, I was in Poland watching the National Hurricane Center storm trackers as Hurricane Irma passed over my Orlando home and praying it didn’t get damaged. I’ve been through countless tropical storms and hurricanes in Florida, and I know exactly what to do, what to expect, and what Florida’s infrastructure is (and isn’t) capable of handling. But in February 2018, I found myself over 10,000 miles from Florida in the freakin’ southern hemisphere and dealing with oncoming Cyclone Gita in the middle of my Kiwi vacation. I had no idea if New Zealand was built to deal with this mess. Did I mention that Gita was breaking the record for the southernmost tropical cyclone to make landfall? My tour guide was completely nonplussed about the whole situation and swore up and down that the west coast got hit by regular storms that were much worse than whatever Gita’s leftovers could throw at us. That didn’t prevent my stomach from being in knots during the hours’ long coastal drive from Nelson (where the center was supposed to hit later that night) southwest to Hokitika. Pardon my French, but I was completely losing my s**t on that drive. My guide from Accessible New Zealand was amazing and constantly reassuring me despite the rain hitting the car sideways. Fortunately, we made it to Hokitika safely that evening, and only had to take a one-hour detour to Christchurch the next day to avoid some mudslides and road damage. Leave it me to me to experience an Atlantic hurricane AND Pacific cyclone within five months of each other!

Flights to New Zealand can be VERY long. Give your legs a rest with this inflatable foot rest to help your circulation: STYDDI 2 Pack Inflatable Foot Rest Pillow Cushion

wheelchair accessible dubai

Getting stalked in Dubai over my electric scooter. If you’ve never been to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, imagine that Las Vegas and Disney World had a baby and threw the shower in Beverly Hills. Luxury is everywhere and the smell of money is in the air…and on the streets in the form of Lamborghinis and Ferraris. The Emiratis who live there don’t want for anything, and if you have money, there’s probably nothing you can’t buy in Dubai (or at least have shipped). Except for maybe my electric scooter. Now, let me make clear that I LOVE my scooter, and so far it’s carried me safely through 25 countries. However, it’s a simple, small, and lightweight travel scooter – in other words, relatively inexpensive and nothing fancy. However, it was the star everywhere I went. People kept stopping me to ask me where I got it. I had seen plenty of people in wheelchairs around the city, but I realized they were all elderly Emiratis. During my six-day stay, I hadn’t seen another tourist in a scooter or power wheelchair (although I know they visit). Finally, when a South Asian lady asked me about the scooter in the Dubai Mall, I mentioned to her all the curiosity about it. That’s when she said you couldn’t find electric scooters like mine in Dubai. Say whaaaaa?!? It turns out that in all of Dubai, there’s exactly one mobility scooter store (now), and it didn’t exist when I was there in February 2016. Everyone who needed one and asked me about it was understandably crushed when I told them I brought it from the US. At least now the locals and visitors with mobility needs have an option.

Thanks to my awesome electric scooter, I’m able to safely roll around destinations all over the world – including Dubai. Find out if it’s a good fit for you, too! Pride Mobility Go-Go Ultra X 3-Wheel Travel Scooter

Running into everybody in Reykjavik. They say that once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a conspiracy. Knowing that I can get behind this philosophy, you can imagine my mindset when that whole it’s a small world thing happened to me not once, not twice, but three times in Iceland. I would be remiss not to mention that Reykjavik – despite being the capital of Iceland – is a relatively small city of roughly 120,000 people. That’s more than a third of the whole country’s population, but it’s not huge. It’s also not very diverse, to the tune of having an app where you can look up your Tinder date to make sure he or she’s not somehow related to you. However, Iceland was home to over two million visitors in 2017, so that bumps up the population quite a bit. After spending the entire day with a tour guide exploring Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, I was surprised to bump into him while waiting for my accessible taxi outside the Bryggjan Brugghus (Brewery) after my dinner. No biggie, right? It’s a popular restaurant in a busy part of town. Then there was the time I was having lunch in the National Museum’s café. I was minding my own business (i.e. burying my nose in my phone so no one would bother me) when a man sitting alone at the table next to me struck up a conversation. Within a few minutes, we realized that we lived only 15 minutes away from each other in Florida. Okay. But the real kicker came while I was visiting the iconic Hallgrímskirkje church in the city center and ran into my ex-boyfriend’s parents. To be fair, his mom and I are friends on Facebook and I had a vague recollection that she was going to be in Iceland around the same time I was. However, we made no plans to meet up, so it was really weird when I heard someone call my name in a place where no one should’ve recognized me.

Iceland can be cold, windy, and wet. I chose to use a waterproof and windproof snowboarding jacket to keep me toasty and dry (and covered below the waist): APTRO Women’s Waterproof Snowboard Ski Jacket Windproof Snow Jacket

Singing karaoke with hookers on gang turf in Hong Kong. It was that cool of a tour, folks. During my visit to Hong Kong in March 2018, I went on a 3-hour “Kowloon at Night” accessible walking tour that took us through the famous Temple Street Market. My guide was fantastic, and she taught me all about some of the history of gangs and organized crime in the seedier parts of the vibrant city. It was fascinating to see the hustle and bustle of food markets and street vendors late into the night, knowing that some major bad stuff was always going on behind the scenes. I’m not a big eater when traveling abroad, so I was fortunate enough to get an extended stop at one of Hong Kong’s original singing parlors. Now, this is not karaoke in the traditional sense. The modern version involves outdoor tents with folding chairs, and stages with “singers” belting it out – right next to each other in a deafening semblance of something musical. The parlors, however, are as old school as their clientele. There were maybe a dozen tables and fewer patrons, all locals in their 60s (or older). The karaoke “machine” was an older Chinese man playing a keyboard, and my guide said he’s been doing this for over 30 years. My guide informed me that it goes on during the day, but she couldn’t bring clients in the afternoons because that was when members of the Triads had their gang meetings. Okay. Being a karaoke addict, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to sing with the locals on gang turf in Hong Kong. That was when a young, tall, and beautiful Chinese woman dressed to the (skimpy) nines got up to sing, then sat down with us for a few minutes to chat (my guide knew her). After she left our table, I noticed another woman dressed in a similar fashion in the back of the parlor. My guide couldn’t confirm or deny for sure, but she suspected these ladies were singing for their supper with a different goal in mind. And if you’re curious, I managed to do a pretty good rendition of Hotel California before we left.

Are you ready to have a weird experience of your own at a fantastic accessible destination? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so I can help you start planning!

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Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

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