Independent Travel While Living with a Disability

Cienna grew up in Michigan and is a skilled communicator, passionate advocate, and compassionate community leader in the broader healthcare space. She has built a strong social media presence, using her platform to raise awareness for chronic conditions and disability, and build representation of disability in fashion.

She is passionate about turning clicks into real-life actions, and through her platform, she has catalyzed movements that give a voice to people with disabilities and chronic conditions. Cienna was clinically diagnosed with hypokalemic periodic paralysis 4 years ago but has been living with it most of her life.

Although she lives with a chronic illness, she loves traveling independently. Traveling alone can be scary for most people, even those without a chronic condition. We asked her a few questions about overcoming her fear of traveling alone and what advice she would give those wanting to travel as well. Here is our Q&A discussion:

Have you traveled independently? If so, where did you go and why?

Cienna’s Response: “I have! I have taken several independent trips with friends and my service dog, like to Michigan’s upper peninsula. I have flown independently to New York City and back in one day(!) and soon I might be traveling to Chicago and Nashville independently.”

What did it feel like to start planning a trip like this?

Cienna’s Response: “I have always LOVED to travel. I started planning my family’s trips and vacations all by myself around 3rd grade. I would map everything out, find our location, where we were staying, what was fun around there, where we should eat, plan our travel stops, and more! 

“When I started planning my independent travel, having this experience made it easier. One of the first things I do is make sure I have all the medications I need ahead of time. I make a list of all the medical devices, batteries, medications, necessities, and service dog gear/food I will need. If I’m flying, I then call TSA cares and notify them of my travel dates, flight numbers, what assistance I will need, and what I will be traveling with. 

“I generally call hotels before I book them to make sure that they are accessible. From there I pack my clothes, personal items, entertainment, and anything else. Lists really help me, then I always know after they are checked off that I’m prepared. I only had a couple of days’ notice to plan my solo NYC trip because of the work field, but sticking to my lists made it a lot more relaxing and fun. I even had a timetable list for the entire day.”

Were you scared to travel alone? What did you do to overcome the fear?

Cienna’s Response: “Before flying to NYC independently, I had taken a few trips independently with friends. This helped to give me confidence before taking on such a big trip. I was way more excited than scared. I knew after completing my to do lists and contacting TSA Cares that I would be as prepared and ready as I could be. I like to say that I can’t control what happens to me in life, but I can control how I react. After all of your preparation, all you can do is go with the flow.”

Can you give us some tips on what you would do differently next time?

Cienna’s Response: “Uber and Lyft don’t always have accessible options available. It is so much easier to ask a friend in the area you are traveling to for a ride if you are able to pre-plan with a car service or look for accessible transportation options in the area. I had a really hard time getting an accessible Uber and was passed by several times. In NYC I personally had much better luck with accessible taxis.”

What did you learn from this experience?

Cienna’s Response: “I could have freaked out after the first Uber that was supposed to be mine passed me by seeing I was a wheelchair user traveling alone, but instead I just went with the flow and knew it would work out eventually. On my way back to the airport a new friend I was working with offered to give me a ride and I will forever be grateful for their kindness.”

What was the most exciting part about traveling independently?

Cienna’s Response: “I love traveling, so the whole experience was hugely exciting to me. Meeting new people, doing it all by myself, proving to myself that I could travel solo as a non-ambulatory wheelchair user, and just experiencing the adventure were some of my favorite parts.”

What was your biggest resource, or “thing” that you were glad you had on your trip?

Cienna’s Response: “I was so grateful that I had brought snacks with me through TSA to eat throughout the day, I was grateful to have TSA Cares and their help through security, having taken photos of my wheelchair before flying helped me feel at ease in case anything happened to it, definitely lots of hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and kN95 masks. My SmartDrive helped me to get through the airport independently and is the biggest help! I used to get attacks after rolling through the airport when I would be resting on the plane and now with my SmartDrive that doesn’t happen. It is a little motor that “pushes” my wheelchair for me.”

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Cienna’s Response: “Traveling independently can be done safely! Pre-planning, lists, knowing your triggers, what resources are there to help you, giving yourself grace, and believing in yourself are some of the most helpful things you can do. When it comes to your safety, health, and travel it is always better to plan too much, pack too much, and research too much than not enough.”

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Thank you, Cienna for taking the time to answer our questions. Your optimism and willingness to help others are infectious and inspirational. There is no doubt that sharing your experiences will give others traveling with disabilities more confidence to see and experience the world. 

Are you more willing to travel after reading her story? 

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