On the road with a disabled traveler

Sarah is a writer and radio journalist who travels around the world for assignments. Previously, she was a reporter and producer in Minnesota, and a clinical researcher in Philadelphia and Atlanta. Cerebral palsy affects her mobility, so she appreciates practical solutions that make it easier to carry supplies, navigate a crowded airport, cross an ice-covered sidewalk or trek through the sand.



From Minneapolis to Eugene, Seattle to New York, Hemel Hempstead to Marseille, Dakar to Lisbon and back to Dakar again with so many stops in between, this has been a year in transit. I need durable luggage, and a packing system that lets me fit as much as I can into a small space. 

I didn’t want to take on the added costs of checking luggage or the risk of losing a checked bag. It’s difficult for me to walk while carrying heavy gear, so I’ve found four travel products to help me:

  1. Amazon Basics Expandable Luggage:

I’ve had this hard-shell suitcase for years. It comes in different colors and sizes—mine is yellow, and a carry-on size (20 inches). It has four spinning wheels, so I don’t have to tilt it to pull it alongside me. When the zipper in the center is expanded it may be too wide for carry-on, but I like that the option to expand your suitcase  is there if you need it. It is well-worn with many scratches, but the zippers have not broken, and the handle hasn’t jammed. 

Yellow Amazon Basics Suitcase in a well-used condition (left) and the inside of the suitcase (right)

Images (2): Yellow Amazon Basics expandable suitcase with luggage tags around the handle in a well-used condition; inside of suitcase, which is black with a zipper divider. 

    1. Gregory Backpack:
    A carry-on, this large backpack can hold 40 liters. It has a laptop section, a spacious main compartment with outer pouches, and two tiny zippered compartments built into the waist straps. When I carry it, I try to lighten the load as much as possible. The waist and sternum straps buckle easily and distribute weight well. 
      A few months ago, the sternum strap broke and I had to set it aside for a while–Gregory Packs couldn’t work with me in Senegal. Eventually, they mailed a replacement part to me in Spain. I took it to a luggage store there, showed my Gregory Packs customer form, and they reattached it at no cost. I can travel without having to carry it, too. It sits comfortably on top of my Amazon Basics suitcase with the straps buckled around the handle.
      Rust red Gregory backpack from the front, with the main pocket open, and looking at the straps.
      Images (3): Closed rust red Gregory backpack; open backpack with many pockets visible; straps of backpack and chest and waist buckles.
      1. TRIPPED Packing Cubes:
      Compression packing cubes are great. It takes patience, but I can fit a winter coat and a bulky sweatshirt into these cubes. When I zip everything up, they occupy a noticeably smaller space. This set of multiple cubes includes an efficient little laundry tote, too, with a buckle that snaps into a handle. Here's a demo of using one:


        1. FINPAC Laptop Sleeve:
        I really like this 13-inch laptop sleeve. It’s slim, so when I slide it into the laptop compartment of my backpack I still have room for an extra folder with copies of my passport and health insurance plan. The material feels sturdy and protective. I love not having to use a zipper—it’s magnetic. It opens when I pull lightly, and when it’s closed, it remains closed. I’ve knocked it over accidentally, and my laptop has never slipped out.
          Gray lapstap sleeve that is lighter gray on one side and darker gray on the other with a diagonal line distinguishing them
          Image: Gray magnetic FINPAC laptop sleeve


          One of the most helpful travel tips for me has been to pack as lightly as I can. I prioritize items I need for mobility, like shoes with ankle support and an extra trekking pole. It’s okay to go on the road for a while with one less t-shirt, one less tube of sunscreen—that can be replaced on the way.

          Here I am, with my gear, on the road in real life.


          Do you have any insights to share about packing or traveling with a disability? Share your comment below!

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