Travel has always been one of my favorite activities. I love exploring new destinations and have many spots that are my favorite places. I have traveled with family, friends, and my husband where we made many treasured memories. I have traveled mainly with people who knew me and knew the needs of my disability. Having another person that understood me helped me to process information and navigate places. Recently I received an unexpected invitation to help with a group at a Down Syndrome conference. My husband was not able to make it and I traveled solo to meet with the group. I was excited to go on the trip, but anxious as well. I wondered how I would navigate the airport and process information. The opportunity was too good to pass up and I decided to go forward on this journey. To make this trip successful I had to plan, advocate for myself, and be flexible with changing circumstances.
The research was the most important element in preparing for the trip. I researched the services available for people with disabilities at the airport. I also searched for information on the area we would be visiting, the venue for the conference, and the hotel. I also watched videos with my husband on the airports that I would be visiting and had the chance to see what they looked like. I also had the chance to learn the steps of operation such as checking in, boarding, security, and boarding the plane. Researching helped to give me an idea of what to expect and how to handle the situation.
Advocating for myself was another important part of making this trip run smoothly. When I was by myself at the airport I needed to speak up for myself. If I didn't know where something was in an unfamiliar location, I had to ask. When the directions given were unclear, I had to ask for clarification. Processing information and following instructions is difficult for me to comprehend. When I did not get a successful resolution I had to try again. Many people were friendly and helpful. It was up to me to speak up for myself.
Another part of traveling was learning to be flexible with events that did not go as planned. Despite planning and speaking up for my needs, certain situations were beyond my control. I could not control the weather delaying the flight home or other changes in plans that occurred. The only things I could do in situations beyond my control were pray, breathe, and find ways to distract myself. I found this was the perfect time to read a good book or have a conversation with another passenger to distract me. It was fine to go in with a plan, but there may be changes that I had to adapt to.
Going on this solo trip has caused me to grow and stretch in many different ways. I prepared by looking to see what resources were there for me. I also had to advocate for myself when I had a need. Traveling solo also taught me to have a plan, but not be surprised if the unexpected came along. I also realized how much I appreciate my support system when traveling. I didn't realize how much I depend on the support of others before traveling solo. Having a strong support system is not a bad thing, but it is also important to know that I can do things on my own. Going on this trip gave me the confidence and resilience that I needed within myself.