Edited by: Chris Bernard
New York! New York! What a wonderful land … I sang this song over and over again as I planned my first vacation after my accident 10 years prior. Thanks to my friends Amy and Dave getting married in New York I finally had the opportunity to take the leap of vacationing far, far away and without the security net of my family being nearby.
As a person with a high-level spinal cord injury, with all the needs of equipment, transportation, caregiver and accessibility in a foreign land, I knew this trip had to be thought out carefully and planned out perfectly. This was also my chance to show my family and friends that I can be independent.
I started planning in September of 2011 for my friend’s wedding in April of 2012. I created a list for my perfect vacation in New York as if I was still the old me, from before my accident; then I added all that I require now as the new spinal cord injured me, such as bringing supplies, an aide, commode, etc. I then looked at my bank account and said, “Uh oh!”
Still determined to do this on my own, I started to cross items off my list to make things work …. After I crossed off more than half of the list, seeing the black smudges all over the pages, my mood was as black as the ink and it seemed like my first trip to prove my independence was looking as gloomy as the dark sky before a storm.
After a few days of struggling with the idea of cancelling the vacation, I came up with a bright idea … I would combine the wishes of the old me with the reality of the new me and have my vacation, thriftily! Determined and eager, I started planning again for my now newly-revised-perfect vacation.
After determining my wishes and needs, I started to look at cost. My bank account did not like me very much after I figured out how much the trip would cost with traveling at a decent time and good hotel, trying new food and sightseeing for my aide and me. That’s when the Chinese/thrifty side of me came out like a superhero to save the day. She started help me to figure out the thrifty way to make my dream vacation come true. I started saving for this trip on Sept. 18th and became one of the cheapest Chinese people alive.
I was watching for seat sales with laser vision and after 3 months, I managed to purchase 2 tickets to New York for $300 less per person, free transport of medical bags/equipment we also packed carry-on backpacks …. The only catch was, the flight was at 6:30AM.
Hotels are expensive in New York. When I looked, it would have cost over $1200, plus hotel fees and taxes to stay for 8 nights (and that was the cheapest and somewhat accessible rooms). I posted a question on a forum at Carecure (Carecure.org) and asked other individuals in wheelchairs how they overcame this difficulty, and I received many useful tips. I was able to find a few wheelchair-accessible rooms for rent by New Yorkers using airbnb (airbnb.com). I finally booked 1 room from a woman who had great reviews from others and the bathroom size seemed bigger, although it didn’t have a wheel-in shower. Still, I was able to save more than $600.
Taxis are expensive in New York if you are known as a tourist, and the few wheelchair taxis must be booked in advance. Since I strategically booked my residence in Brooklyn, which is in between Manhattan where I want to visit and Long Island where I was going for the wedding, this cut down our cost for transportation by quite a bit. We purchased 2 weekly transit passes for $60 in total, giving us unlimited access to the buses and subways for 7 full days. (Due to a misunderstanding, we actually only needed to purchase one ticket, because aides ride for free) I also downloaded a free iPhone application called NYCway; it comes with maps of the subway stations and locations of all wheelchair-accessible sites.
There are way too many food places to eat in New York, at least 4 restaurants on every block if not more. Since I was living in a loft with a kitchen, my aide and I were able to cook some meals and save money on food. Since my goal was to visit New York, I planned a strict budget of $100 hotdogs fund and $400 meal fund. I actually spent in total: $60 for groceries which covered breakfast and 4 dinners, and $40 on street vender food. The only regret was not being able to try the famous Japadogs and lobster dogs.
In order to make things easier for my trip and transportation, I decided not to take my commode chair. I created a packing list with carefully calculated numbers of everything to bring on my trip, even down to the number of Q-tips. I changed my routines and had to come up with a new way to do my bathroom routines in my chair. I like a good challenge, and I was tested on of the sightseeing days. However, the strict packing and not bring my commode chair saved us time, energy and money for the trip.
Now everything was planned perfectly, yet still with the expectation of something will not go as planned, “New York! New York, here I come!”
And what a wonderful experience it was along with some wonderful hiccups! We visited most of the usual tourist attractions, the most memorable of which was the MoMa (museum of Modern Art). Even when we got lost, we found so many helpful New Yorkers eager to help 2 tourists and, best of all, I got to watch off-Broadway show: Spider-Man, the musical.
Altogether, including covering the cost of my aid/traveling companion, our total budget and expenses came to less than $3500 for my 9-day New York dream vacation …. So, being in a wheelchair should not hinder your desire to see the world. What are you waiting for? With proper planning and thrifty thinking, you too can be singing … New York! New York!