If you’ve been reading along for any length of time you probably know that my biggest personal travel peeve is not being able to be fully independent and cost effective.
Translation: I don’t like having to pay to check a bag just because propelling yourself and a suitcase appears to require the need for a third arm.
I’ve been so perplexed by this that I’ve asked everyone I could possibly think of for advice. Kristina’s blog on travel independence was most helpful.
My 1st solo and suitcase carrying trip to North Carolina was a fail; which is sad considering all I had to do was roll everything out to the curb. It’s a sad sad day when you can’t even make it more than 3 feet past the baggage claim carousel (and that’s a generous estimate).
This past winter I was left to fend for myself in a long curbside check-in line. I didn’t panic and tried to not look completely helpless, as not to receive unsolicited help. This is probably the one time I’ve been slightly grateful for a slow-ish moving line. I put my roll aboard in front of me and pushed it forward with my toes/footplate. It wasn’t as smooth as I would’ve liked but it really wasn’t bad for my first successful attempt (given how badly the first few went). I couldn’t go very fast on one set of tiny wheels and “taking a corner” basically meant lifting it one handed and redirecting.
Although I did seriously consider reconsidering my need to check baggage once I saw it was HALF the weight of carryon limit. Orlando international isn’t the best place for travel experimentation, no matter how well I think I know the place.
I was secretly hoping my ride would be late once I arrived in Raleigh so I could at least retrieve my baggage myself. I found a spot and locked my breaks quickly as to look like I’ve done this countless times. Originally I left space between my footplate and the baggage carousel but realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work out well if my bag wasn’t placed “just right,” and let’s be honest, they usually aren’t. I rolled forward so my footplate was up against the carousel (and pulled my feet back). There was room on either side of me so I said a quick prayer that it would stay that way because so I could grab my bag from the top handle with both hands and swing to the side. My plan pretty much worked although the technique could use some fine tuning (like a one handed technique, ideally).
I stuck with the “push with footplate” plan and made my way to the door in the most direct way possible. I stopped dead in my tracks if someone crossed my path since attempting a turn would be worse. I wasn’t the fastest thing on wheels but I’m pretty sure I grinned like an idiot all the way to the car.
Not long after that trip I became the proud owner of a brand new roll-aboard suitcase, because I can always use another suitcase *insert sarcasm here*.
I took my new suitcase with me to Atlanta. I didn’t need anything bigger than a backpack but I wanted to make a “dry run,” if things just weren’t going to work out I had a way to get myself (and my stuff) home.
I practiced around the house a little bit before and after packing. Things weren’t perfect, but traveling is full of surprises so I wasn’t that worried. I just wanted to get from point A (home) to point B (Atlanta) with as little help as possible.
I had planned to bring a strap with me in the event I needed to tie my suitcase to my chair (or to myself) but I couldn’t find a strap so I settled for a thera-band I found lying around (I do have plenty of those). I was hoping I wouldn’t actually have to use it but I quickly realized I’d have to figure out a better method than “push with footplate,” because with 4 wheels the thing was rolling all over the place.
I’m not going to lie I was feeling more than defeated when I accepted the help of the tenth person who offered. I boarded my flight and licked my wounds all the way to Atlanta. I continued “the defeat tour” all the way to the baggage carrousel; when I politely told the airline attendant that I would be fine waiting for my ride on my own.
I pushed my suitcase via footplate to the curb, well I stopped at the curb, my suitcase continued to roll into my ride. We had a good laugh, because a semi out of control suitcase is funny, and climbed in the car.
I vowed to make the trip back more successful but torrential rain and a protective cousin changed things a bit.
I had assistance through security and to the gate. As far as the security process goes Atlanta has one of the best in my opinion so I thought the assistance would be overkill, until they made me take off my shoes (a first).
That’s right. I can’t put my own shoes on or take them off while in my wheelchair. I think it has something to do with the placement of pins/plates. In order for me to take my shoes off I need to transfer out of my chair. It’s a pain in the @ss without help.
Once I was at my departure gate I reorganized myself. I was still pretty upset with myself that I couldn’t enjoy the airport while I waited just because I couldn’t control a stupid suitcase. I needed to make this work. So I went to the bathroom.
Once inside the safety of the accessible stall I took care of business. I realized that the thera-band was way too long so I doubled it, threaded it through the top handle, and then tied it to one side of my wheelchair’s frame. I think it was the right side, which I didn’t consider but it probably works better than the left since my right hand is my dominant hand but my right leg is the weaker side.
It wasn’t what I had in mind but it worked better than I thought it would. Lucky for me I figured something out before a gate change. It really would’ve sucked it I missed my flight just because I was struggling with a suitcase.
I had help down the jet bridge since those are pretty steep but kept the thera-band tied to the suitcase for ease of access later on. If only I could use it to pull my suitcase out of the overhead bin without killing myself or someone else.
Once I arrived “home” I tired myself back together once I was inside the terminal and took off for ground transportation.
And the best thing happened.
The sea of people parted, literally, and watched in amazement at my ingenuity and independence (I think). And I grinned like the happiest idiot in terminal A (because who doesn’t love a good “Moses moment” now and then).
It isn’t the most perfect system out there but I’ve saved myself at least $50 so that’s a win in itself.