Today we’re chatting with Steve from In the Know Traveler about traveling after being in a severe car accident a few decades ago. Think that slows him down? Hell no! Over to Steve!
First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you love to travel?
My name is Steve Smith, I’m married and live in Oregon. I began writing in 2006 as a contributor to the website In The Know Traveler, and moved into an associate editor role in 2014. My first press trip was to Jordan in 2007, and subsequent trips to Europe, SE Asia, North/Central/South America plus the Pacific Northwest have followed. My latest was in December to the Caribbean island of Antigua.
I think a love for travel is in my genes – my father, a restless pioneer type, loaded our family in the Chevy station wagon and drove Route 66 across the continent to Los Angeles. That experience started my love of all things road trip related, and traveling in general.
You told me that thirty years ago you were in a major car accident. Can you tell us about the injuries that happened at that point in time, as well as what you still have to battle with because of it?
Well, that’s the downside of doing anything in a car. I love a road trip and think by far it’s the best way to travel. This accident was head-on between a small Honda (me) and an Oldsmobile 88 that lost control on a blind corner. There were many injuries – concussion, broken neck, broken legs, broken ribs which ruptured the aorta, and some that were only recognized after leaving the hospital. I still am burdened with a speech impediment and have walking/balance difficulties.
Were you nervous before your first trip because of your injuries? How did you deal with it?
Yes I was, and I assume you mean my first international trip. It was frightening to put myself in a strange environment that was alien to what I knew. What made it doable was the support and help from my wife (then my girlfriend) in life, writing, and travel. She provided the anchor needed. Also making myself as knowledgeable as possible about what’s before me. That trip was a 30-day backpack through Europe, Rick Steves style. Being young and adaptable to new situations helped immensely.
Have there been times where people have gone out of their way for you because of your injuries while on the road? Tell us about some of them.
There have been numerous examples, but the one I remember best was while in New York City. I was on the top level of Grand Central Station and couldn’t find an elevator to get my roller bag down several flights of stairs. So I began doing it myself one step at a time. It seemed that from out of nowhere this woman passing by, with a one sentence request (“Can I help?”), grabbed one end and we both carried it down those 5 flights. At the bottom she disappeared pretty much like she arrived. And the common wisdom is that NY’ers don’t get involved.
How about the negative side – you told me people react differently to you in non-English speaking countries due to your speech impediment. Can you tell us more about that?
Reactions to my voice typically range from amusement to puzzlement to anger. I’m consistently but incorrectly identified as visiting from a Scandinavian country – most likely this comes from the unusual cadence as a result of the head injury.
Probably the worst involved Mexican police one evening in Ensenada, Mexico. We were just completing the trans-peninsular highway round-trip from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo and reverse, when seriously low on money we elected to stop 100 miles below the border and get a cheap room. On the drive back to our room Ensenada’s Finest turned the red light on. Because of the speech impediment my voice was immediately seen as a tale-tell sign of alcohol consumption. I speak a little Spanish, and together with pantomimes of striking my head on the steering wheel and a crude breathalyzer test, a couple hours later I was confirmed sober and released.
In what ways do your injuries cause you to have to adapt your travels differently than someone without these injuries?
I definitely get travel insurance, not so much for injuries but for emergency evacuation. Otherwise, I generally don’t think about it, other than recognizing my personal limitations and staying within the boundaries of these. That means making efficient use of public transportation in cities or rental cars/trains in the country – and definitely no adventure trekking.
What’s your advice to anyone out there who wants to travel, but is afraid their disability might hold them back?
If you let it in, traveling gives you the confidence needed to do things you never thought you could. The prospect of doing something scary isn’t very tempting, and it’s easy to procrastinate until the opportunities go away. But for me, being on the other side of the world and surrounded by the unfamiliar, although frightening at first, became after a short while addicting. Seek them out and kind people are found throughout the world.
Any final thoughts?
Get out and explore. Accept the kindness and compassion of strangers. Like Nike – just do it!!!
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