I’m one of those people who was born with wanderlust thus I’m always daydreaming of the next travel adventure. Living with chronic pain due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome has meant that many of these daydreams remain unfulfilled.
Growing up, family vacations were long range driving adventures around the USA. Looking back I am able to appreciate the time and effort that went into preparing for these trips. The car was always set up with sleeping/napping space, food storage/serving areas, entertainments (games, books, music, tapes, etc) and lots of maps. We would stop often at highway rest stops, historic markers and tourist attractions. Lodging was a variety of camping, rental trailers/houses and motels. Everything was planned out to make sure that every family member was able to enjoy the journey.
As a young adult, I dreamt of traveling to other countries and satisfied my wanderlust with road trips, camping trips and overnights at the beach. My traveling companions were in awe of the comforts I managed to bring along in my small allotment of packing space. I had been trained early on to see to my own comfort and contingencies. I had the pillow, extra blanket, spare batteries, ice packs and extra food that they coveted. I also had the first aid kit, bandages, arm sling and crutches while others were focused on bringing the wine, beer and fireworks. It worked out well for all involved.
In my 30’s I began traveling by air frequently for work. At first it was awesome, amazing and magical. While working as a management consultant traveling by air 3 weeks a month visiting 2 or 3 cities per week my body began to suffer. Pain increased with every take off and landing. Doctors diagnosed spinal issues and I began wearing a soft cervical collar (before crescent shaped travel pillows became ubiquitous) on planes, trains and buses to mitigate upper limb neuropathy. Packing light became a passion.
Having reconciled my independent, take charge nature with my body’s needs for support my travel habits have expanded to visit far flung family and friends. Thanks to my willingness to be forthcoming about physical limitations and assistance needs coupled with their patient generosity in providing support and comfort, I have been able to visit Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom and Italy this year. The more I ask for help, the less self conscious I am about disclosing my need for assistance.
The most recent example was on an international flight. I accepted an offer of assistance from a male passenger and had several great conversations with him during the flight. I didn’t realize until later that he was a celebrity. We were too busy talking about packing lists, favorite destinations and music for me to notice.
Another time this summer, while overseas, I was waiting for a friend to meet up with me at a train station and needed help getting my backpack off. I asked a woman nearby to help me. We had a great conversation about art and research—it turned out that she works in a research lab and sees beautiful images through the microscope that remind her of famous artists/artworks.
It turns out people really do like to help other people and I’ve met some amazing people in this way. I have learned so much more.