What do you get when you combine two great words that convey deep meaning on their own?
Wander: walk or move in a leisurely, casual or aimless way +
Lust: very strong sexual desire =
Wanderlust: a strong desire to travel
Perhaps paradoxically, wanderlust was a sort of side effect of becoming disabled for me. So was plain lust.
I turned 36 in 1999 two months after having a severe stroke on Valentine’s Day. I had my second child early that April. Having a brush with death made me decide I wanted to live life with full force despite having some new, serious physical limitations. But what better way to be fully alive than to make love and see the world while giving the disability a big middle finger? I refused to let being disabled defeat me and put an end to my travels.
I had traveled fairly extensively as an able bodied person. It’s a big world and it didn’t get smaller because I had trouble walking so I decided I would have to figure out how I was going to get around.
I insisted on continuing to take family vacations with my husband and our two sons after I had the stroke. I was met with some resistance from my husband when I suggested we keep traveling since it had become much less convenient, particularly when I wanted to go on safari in Kenya in 2012, and to go zip lining in Costa Rica. Never say die.
I knew that people with more serious disabilities figure out how to get where they want. I googled “safari for the disabled” and came across GoAfrica Safaris who specialize in making Africa accessible to all manner of disabled people. There are no ADA laws in Kenya so GoAfrica vets accommodations for accessibility. They even take blind people on safari.
I had a wonderful time on our vacations with the trip to Kenya becoming a highlight of my life. I remember my mother saying “You have a lot of guts”. She didn’t believe I was brave enough to travel 7400 miles around the world to a terror ridden country with our sons and my disability. It had been my dream to go on safari since I was in my twenties.
My husband was skeptical about my ability to travel so far and participate in a trip like that.
I won’t say flying 8 hours to Istanbul then having a 7 hour layover without leaving the airport followed by a 6 1/2 hour flight to Nairobi was without its challenges. By the time we landed in Nairobi across 2 time zone changes I felt like I had walked there from New York. I was never so disoriented in my life. It took a few days to adjust. We traveled nonstop for 10 days through many big game parks. It was astonishing.
I suppose I was trying to prove something about my ability to be adventurous and go almost anywhere in spite of challenges in addition to plainly enjoying my precious life.
I took a short trip to a spa resort in Florida by myself. I traveled to visit friends in Colorado and Virginia alone, as well.
My husband has traveled on his own throughout most of our marriage in addition to going on trips with the family. When I became disabled, he went away by himself more often. He often told me that I “couldn’t” go many of the places he wanted to visit. What was true was that it was inconvenient for me to travel with him. He went to Macchu Picchu and hiked to the top. This was a trip that definitely was not for me. He went with a single, female friend. I objected and questioned the appropriateness of this. He told me that he sent a mass email to a bunch of friends, and Trish was the only one who responded. I found it embarrassing when we told friends he was doing this. It was apparent the trip was not for me. This was given as a response to the questions we got about why he was going with Trish. When others asked how I could allow this, I just said I didn’t have much choice. I didn’t think it was a good idea to further restrict my husband’s activities.
There were a few more family vacations with my husband constantly complaining about my mobility challenges slowing everyone down and limiting what we could do together. My feeling was I was lucky to be able to walk at all and I could be happy going just about anywhere to see and experience what I could. Of course it felt bad to be limited, but I usually did not focus on that.
My husband officially checked out of the marriage in 2015. Again, I refused to let this tie me down. I found a few men who were happy to be with me and weren’t annoyed all the time by my gait. We spent time at our place at the lake, but I had bigger ideas.
I can go anywhere in the world on the internet. I searched for spas in Europe. I found The Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina, Switzerland, a historic, five star spa hotel just outside of St. Moritz. I decided I needed to go there. My only problems were finding an escort and the money.
My brother is single, loves to travel, and loves me. He is very familiar with my physical challenges and the kind of assistance I need. When I asked him if he wanted to go with me, it was a no brainer. I told my husband from whom I was now separated that I was going with my brother and as part of our separation agreement he was on the hook for the expenses, including my brother’s.
In April, 2016, my brother and I spent a week at The Hotel Kronenhof in Switzerland. We drove through the alps in a BMW convertible. We enjoyed spa treatments in the elegant spa. We swam in the pool with an image of the snow covered alps reflecting on the surface of the water. The Swiss hospitality was unrivaled. The food was amazing. We went to a horse show that my brother happened to see one day at breakfast in the hotel’s app in the foothills of the alps in St. Moritz. We had a shopping day in Italy on the other side of the alps. There were physical challenges related to walking on hilly, uneven surfaces, but I didn’t care and neither did my brother. We had fun and enjoyed the spectacular scenery.
After I conquered the Swiss Alps, I decided it was time to realize my dream of taking a European River Cruise. In the summer of 2016, I booked a Rhine River Cruise for myself, and Charlie, my boyfriend at the time, for my 54th birthday in April, 2017. I thought traveling with Charlie would be more romantic than traveling with my brother. He also spoke German which could come in handy on a trip like this. Charlie was a safety engineer for an insurance company so he had a lot of expertise about how to keep me safe on an excursion that was fraught with safety hazards.
Unfortunately, Charlie relapsed out of his newfound sobriety in the fall. I had told him when he got sober that I would not engage with him at all if he drank. We broke up in November, and I cancelled his spot on the cruise. I re-booked it with my brother as my travel companion. Charlie was heartbroken and disappointed. He had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t accept his relapse, and believed that I would be unsafe and lost without him on this trip.
There were a few safety risks on the cruise, but life is inherently dangerous and I have no plans to stop living. Our itinerary from the ship’s website:
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam is renowned for its museums, colorful gardens, abundance of bicycles and endless lattice of canals.
Kinderdijk, The Netherlands
The South Holland village community of Kinderdijk includes a set of 19 windmills and other ingenious technologies built in the 18th century to control flooding.
An intriguing mix of old and new, Cologne reveals its Roman heritage in the city layout and ancient ruins that lie scattered through the town.
On a breathtaking stretch of the Rhine that leads from medieval Koblenz to Braubach to Rüdesheim, the 11th-century Marksburg Castle towers over the river.
Germany’s oldest university town, Heidelberg and its castle are situated in the Neckar Valley just east of the Rhine.
Thanks to its location at the border of France and Germany, Strasbourg boasts a convivial mix of cultural influences.
Breisach is located in one of the warmest parts of Germany, next to Alsace, which is famous for its wine-growing.
Located along the Rhine River, Basel sits at the point where French, German and Swiss borders meet, marking the gateway to the Swiss Rhineland.
We actually cruised downriver, starting in Basel, and ending in Amsterdam where we stayed for 2 additional days. On the excursions in each port, there were two tour groups. My brother and I stayed with the “slow walkers” group. Most in this group were either elderly, physically challenged, or both. Even at the slower pace, I struggled to keep up. The cities in Europe do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most places we visited woud not be able to comply with these laws due to the age of the infrastructure. Each day presented new challenges including very steep climbs, uneven, broken walking surfaces, and ancient stairs with no handrails. I was limited, but I did it. There was almost nothing that I had to miss. I was generally amazed at my intrepid fortitude to go where I thought I might not be able to. I saw many amazing sights such as the Heidelberg Castle whose construction was started before 1214.
The ship was perfectly accessible, and even had an elevator. We made friends with a group of women who were traveling together. My brother and I got used to correcting people who always assumed we were husband and wife. The meals were outstanding on board the ship. I was generally exhausted each night from struggling to maintain my balance everywhere and fighting my body’s persistent, painful spasticity. Charlie called and texted a few times to tell me I had made a mistake by not bringing him. I didn’t pay much attention to him so as not to detract from my enjoyment of my vacation. I was glad he wasn’t with me with his constant drunkeness. Trying to keep me safe was a challenge for my brother who did not drink. I don’t think Charlie would have been up to the task.
I’m sure I would have missed this adventure had Charlie been my travel companion:
I really wasn’t sure at the outset of this cruise that I would be able to manage all of the tours. I didn’t miss any. This sort of accomplishment makes me feel fully alive. It’s life affirming in ways that I never imagined I would see after becoming disabled. I’m grateful for my brother who is ready, willing and able to go on trips with me and help.
I’m writing this on the balcony of our room overlooking the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast in Italy, another beautiful destination that I initially hesitated to visit because of the challenging terrain. It has been an astounding 8 days with my brother. He worked tirelessly to push a rented wheelchair for me on the more difficult tours.
My current love interest does not have a passport and does not suffer from wanderlust. He is not interested in becoming my travel companion for trips like this mostly because he doesn’t like to fly. At the end of the Amalfi Coast tour, I had an epiphany about my brother being the best man for the job of touring with me. In the interest of not mixing business with pleasure, I decided it’s probably not the best idea to travel with a lover where the vacation would feel very much like work for him. I think it might tarnish the relationship, at least until after we’ve been together a few years or so.
Having just returned from Italy 4 days ago, my wanderlust has calmed down for now. I may go on a few more relaxing trips before embarking on more adventure travel, but I’m sure more adventures await.