Disabled Travel Q&A: Travelling One-Handed

Last week, I’ve introduced a new project, namely ‘Disabled Travel Q&A’, for my blog where I’d like to interview other travellers with a disability or chronic illness to share their experiences.

I’ve decided to start this series by featuring my own story, hoping that’ll others get inspired to share their story!

Disabled Travel Q&A: Travelling One-Handed

Tell us something about yourself. What type of disability/chronic illness do you have?

My name is Maria and I’m a 29 year old German (soon not to be) student and I have Symbrachydactyly. In other words, I was born without a right hand.


What was your first time travelling alone like?

The first time I travelled abroad without my parents was at age 18 when my then-best friend and I decided to spend 8 days in London. However, my very first time travelling all by myself was in 2009, aged 22, when I explored New Zealand for three months. There is so much I could say about New Zealand, but it can be summed up as ‘the best time of my life’. I spend one month attending a language school in Auckland and then travelled across the country for the remainder of the time. Looking back, I didn’t have any issues exploring New Zealand with my type of disability. However, considering how kind helpful the Kiwis and fellow travelers were, I’m sure I would’ve found help easily if I needed it.

2009 in Picton, New Zealand

What are the struggles you encounter when travelling with a disability/ chronic illness. Anything specific you need to prepare or organize in advance?

The biggest issue in regards to travelling I’ve encountered in the last few years was luggage. For the most time in the last 10 years, I’ve only used backpacks of varying sizes whenever I travelled (whether abroad or local). However, there were two occasions, once during my semester abroad in Cardiff (Wales) and during a week-long trip to London, when I used a suitcase and I regretted it immediately. Both times, I had serious issues multi-tasking one-handed while dragging my heavy suitcase along. For example when I tried to drag my suitcase along in London underground during rush hour while simultaneously trying to put my Oystercard on the card reader. It was a nightmare. Any type of stairs were another big hurdle with the suitcase. For that reason I’ve decided to never travel with a suitcase again. Recently, I’ve purchased or my upcoming trip to New Zealand a new backpack (you can read my ‘first impressions review’ over here).

There are a few outdoor activities (eg. climbing) I’m not too sure about whether I’d be able to do them. Then, again, I’m not an adrenaline junkie which means that I really don’t regret that I can’t do them.

Any significant encounters with locals while travelling because of your disability/ chronic illness?

For the most part, my encounters with the locals were great. People treated me no different than any able-bodied traveler and were polite when it came to asking questions. However, there was one time when my encounter with a local was not too pleasant. Years ago, I spend a week in Moscow, Russia as an exchange pupil. One day at the school I was attending in Moscow, a young boy (must’ve been no older than 12) was pointing with his finger at me and laughed. I felt very uncomfortable and was too shy to do anything or to tell anyone about it. Thankfully, everyone else at the school, as well as my host family, were kind and had no issues with my disability. Also, the incident with the boy is nothing I haven’t experienced back at home either.

2015-06-30 13.39.53bb
Me and my host-sister 2001 in Moscow, Russia

Apart from that, I never had any other negative experiences with locals because of my disability. However, I do have to say that I can ‘hide’ my disability rather easily if I want to (all I need is to wear a top with long sleeves, really). In other word, my travel experiences might’ve been very different if I had a more ‘visible’ disability. Who knows.

What would you tell others with your disability/ chronic illness that are afraid to travel?

Just do it. I can’t speak for people with other disabilities or chronic illness, but if you have an upper-limb difference, travelling is not an issue at all. It will be much easier than you’d think. The only tip I’d give is to pick the right luggage and making sure that you don’t have to too much with you. Remember, you’ll have to carry everything, everywhere by yourself. Try to travel light with a backpack of your choice and everything should turn out alright.

Depending on the region or country, you might be stared at more frequently, or even openly insulted. However, even that is an exception rather than the norm.

Anywhere on social media where we can follow your adventures?

Apart from this blog, you can find me under the name @pencilphilos on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Is there anything else you’d like to know or do you want to share your story, leave a comment down below or write me an email pencilphilosophy [at] gmail.com!


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