Welcome to the second part of my travel series! In the previous post, I wrote about how I found my love for traveling through my trip to Madrid and Paris. Looking back, not only do I realize that these trips took place during very different phases of my adult life, but they also mark the different phases of my CP in recent years. Although CP is the result of a non-progressive brain injury, many folks experience a decline in their physical abilities in their adult years — the inevitable effect of aging, not just for those with disabilities, but for everyone.
Well, for me, I’m seeing the peak of my abilities now, in my mid-20s. In college, I started to take my physical fitness and wellness more seriously than I previously had. My goal was to preserve and maintain the abilities I had, but in the process, I saw a significant improvement in my gait and stamina. It was toward the end of my college years that I found myself using my wheelchair less and l felt more comfortable walking. This opened the door to different opportunities for traveling and required fewer logistics to consider.
In a truly inclusive and accessible world, it shouldn’t be the case, but for me, as a person with a physical disability, it is easier to forgo using mobility aids than using them to explore different places and cultures. The world should be accessible to all people regardless of ability, but to this day, not all architects and designers take people with disabilities into account when constructing buildings and landmarks. However, as emphasized in our Accessibility Is Beautiful program, universal design can be incorporated into virtually every aspect of architecture and construction.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that over the recent years, I realized my privilege of not entirely needing my wheelchair to explore the world, However, I always move in the world with a sense of dual consciousness; even though I can access non-wheelchair-accessible places, I think about the fact that it’s inaccessible and I try to bring awareness to that fact.
Cancun and New Orleans (couldn’t pick one!):
Although these two trips took place with different people at different times, I group them together because I went to each destination with a long-time childhood friend. Cancun came first. To celebrate my graduation from grad school and being done with school (for now), Emily and I took a 10-day long vacation to Cancun, Mexico. I grew up by the Jersey Shore, but I’ve never seen water so clear and blue like here — you couldn’t distinguish the water from the sky.
This was the college spring break trip that I never got to experience, but it was much better to do it at the end of my higher education career. Having spent the previous ten months trapped inside my school’s building, it was rejuvenating to have unlimited access to the sun and beach. My friend was/is doing a Ph.D. program in molecular biology, so Em was on the same page as me. We did some exciting and adventurous activities too, like snorkeling to pet sea turtles and going to Xcaret Park to learn about the Mayan culture. Also, surprisingly, as a vegetarian (me) and vegan (Em) at the time, we didn’t have any difficulty finding delicious food options… always a plus!
The NOLA trip was more recent: at the end of last summer. It was with my other childhood friend, Kristen. In recent years, we had developed a tradition of taking a vacation in August: the first year we went to Disneyland, then to Hershey Park, and this time it was New Orleans! We were there for only four days, but we definitely made the most out of it. In the months leading to the trip, I had transitioned out of using my chair into just walking, so this was the third trip I went on without my chair— first to Austin, Texas, then to Tampa, Florida (all in 2019). Kristen has known me for over 10 years, so she was totally used to traveling to all kinds of places with me, and walking to my speed and pace.
As a jazz and history enthusiast, I basked in the rich historic and music culture of NOLA. I loved the fact that there was live music playing on virtually every street corner and that all the buildings and food had hints of Creole. Kristen and I also took a bus trip outside of the city to the plantations, particularly to the Whitney Plantation. It’s one thing to learn about the entrenched history of slavery through books and school lessons, but it’s a whole another level to go actually in person and learn about it in an organic and unfiltered manner.
The COVID-19 pandemic has really forced me to pause and reflect on all the amazing travel experiences I’ve had over the past few years. Reminiscing about these trips makes me even more excited to continue traveling when it’s safe to do so again. The pandemic has also reminded me of how unpredictable and short life is, so that’s more of a reason to seize all the opportunities life has to offer as soon as you can!