I thought my travelling days were over when I started having trouble walking. Boy, was I ever wrong. The secret, I’ve found, is a mobility scooter – and the more portable, the better.
My lengthy search for the right one led me to the TravelScoot (shop.travelscootcanada.com). If I take a second to loosen a latch and push down the steering handlebar, the scooter fits easily into my subcompact hatchback Echo. And I can put it in there.
No, that’s not a misprint. I’m a sixty-eight-year-old, not-very-fit female with a few degenerated discs in the spine, but this scooter weighs a mere sixteen kilograms. How sweet that is when you want to drive away from the Canadian winter. Florida, here you come!
Here’s what air travel could be like
You could be the envy of every poor soul trudging through airport purgatory. First, you telephone ahead to the medical or mobility desk at your airline. They want details on the dimensions, weight and battery power of the scooter you’ll transport. The scooter, by the way, flies free. Too bad we don’t.
Next, learn how to pack light. I’ve managed to collect everything I need for a six week trip, including dress-up wear for two cruises, and load it all right onto my scooter. Imagine no checked bags to wait for — or discover the loss of. It can be worth every bit of laundry you have to do.
On flight day, you check in at the handicapped area of your airline counter. It’s quite likely you’ll be waved right on through security. It probably won’t be the last time you’re directed to bypass regular line-ups.
Your departure gate will undoubtedly be the usual marathon distance, but this time you can enjoy every minute of getting there as you scoot along at a pace of up to eight kilometres per hour.
When you sail past the weary souls hoofing it with their carry-on baggage, however, try not to let your smile and wave be too smug. They might mob you.
You’ll be in the first batch to board the plane and you can scoot right up to the cabin door. Someone there will take your ride away to store in the cargo hold.
A friend of mine instead checks his scooter in a protective, over-size, hard-sided golf club case he calls The Coffin. I get it. The TravelScoot is expensive. But I want my freedom of movement in the airport, and so far airlines haven’t done any damage to make me regret that decision.
Scooter gone, you walk the few steps to your seat. If you’re flying first class or business class, it’s very few steps, of course, to the front of the plane.
First for overhead storage
Don’t be surprised if flight attendants help with your luggage, but don’t expect it either. They’re not supposed to risk damaging their backs for thousands of passengers.
You can take your time getting arranged since you’ll have been among the first to board – even if you’re flying in cattle-car coach. Think of it. All those lovely, still-empty overhead bins. No one’s elbow in your eye as you and he or she fight for the last speck of storage space.
When you get to where you’re going, you’ll probably find your scooter waiting for you at the door of the cabin. Then, you can zoom through the airport to customs or the exit.
There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Even if you were travelling solo, with no companion to lend a hand.
At your destination, you’ll discover more ways a light, portable scooter makes travel possible – especially in countries where accessibility sometimes isn’t in the dictionary.
Freedom to go anywhere
I like knowing my scooter can go into the trunk of any cab, albeit with varying degrees of hassle. It means freedom to go just about anywhere and get back to your pied-à-terre. Even if my battery dies. Even if an alien spaceship lands in front of me and zaps my steering.
And that’s not all in this travel freedom.
The store you want to go into is a step or two up from the street? Dismount and lift your scooter — it’s only sixteen kilograms, after all — over the barrier. Ditto, although with a bit more difficulty, for the “accessible” bus with the ramp that isn’t working (and there are a lot of them).
It does take some planning to travel when you have difficulty walking, but the web and your phone can tell you a lot. Is the place you want to go accessible at all? Can you get into the restaurant? Maybe just as important, can you get to the bathroom?
Where do they hide the accessible entrance?
I spent half an hour trying to find it at Sacré-Coeur in Paris. Don’t do as I did. And don’t automatically assume you can’t go somewhere. Check it out ahead of time.
The only place I couldn’t go in the Tower of London, for example, was the Bloody Tower. I read lots of doom and gloom about the cobblestones inside the ancient walls, but my scooter and I managed. We won’t talk about the subsequent visits to the dentist to replace all the fillings those cobblestones jarred loose.
Accessibility might be hard to take in other ways, and ones you might not expect. Take Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel, for instance. I’d head toward two or three steps I couldn’t dodge, and out would pop a little octogenarian lady with a huge, heavy wooden ramp to put down for me over those lousy little steps, and then haul away. Now that can make you feel really guilty.
People help, a lot
Wherever you go, don’t be surprised if you get more help than you ever dreamed of. When I flagged down my first taxi in London (the black, authorized ones are all accessible), my sixteen-kilogram scooter was fully loaded with more than its own weight in luggage.
“ ’Alf a mo’, luv,” the cabbie said. She scanned the street and caught the eye of a husky young gentleman who happened to be passing by. “Would you?” she asked with a gesture toward my overflowing scooter. He would.
He picked up scooter and luggage as though they weighed but a farthing, and deposited the load gently in the roomy back of the cab. My jaw dropped. Actually, though, I shouldn’t have been surprised. People help all the time in little ways and big, and more often than you would ever dream.
My TravelScoot does have only three wheels, and I’ve taken a tumble twice. Both times, a bunch of strong men swooped in, got me onto my feet and were gone again before I could blink, never mind say thank you. It’s enough to restore your faith in humanity. What a great fringe benefit of scooting around the world.
Journalist, author and editor Ali Macgee is currently building a website, scoottour.com, dedicated to travel for people who have trouble walking. She is a T.E. Wealth client.
This article was published in T.E. Wealth’s Strategies newsletter, September 2018 edition. Read the full edition here.