KN, p. 316 “International Travel, Law Enforcement, and Wheelchairs”

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Sheila and I love great movies and books that include foreign destinations. But, after a recent trip I wondered what challenges an injured protagonist might face when he/she is alone overseas, can’t walk more than ten feet on his own, and must get back home to testify in an important case. I realized that it depends upon when the story is told.

Back in the late 70s, a wheelchair bound acquaintance of ours wanted to take a plane to visit family, but couldn’t find an airline willing to accommodate her needs. Not one, unless she chartered a private flight. Waayyyy too pricey for her budget. She had been a frequent flier for business until a debilitating disease sidelined her. She was stunned by the hurdles she now faced.

She began a concerted campaign targeting the airline industry to make it mandatory to have at least one seat accessible to the physically challenged on each and every flight if requested. Eventually, there were federal hearings and public interest, but it took years for the changes to be made.

In 1986, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which guaranteed that people with disabilities would receive fair treatment when traveling by air. All domestic and foreign airlines doing business in the United States were covered by the provisions of the ACAA. The airlines did not advertise the changes, feeling they would be inundated with frivolous requests from able-bodied people taking advantage of the law. It took many more years before the airlines saw that it was good business to be kind to unlucky vacationers and wobbly grandmothers. Amendments to the law were passed (as recently as 2023 in its latest version), helping to fulfill its intent.

In this computerized age, special requests for assistance must be made in advance on the airline websites based on level of need, and are digitally carried along with the passenger information until he/she gets back home again. It seems to be first-come, first-served as to how many special needs passengers are on each flight, and those people must be self-sufficient (or have a traveling companion) once on board.

The flight attendants will help with stowing crutches, but are not caregivers. I watched a senior citizen with a broken ankle enter a plane bound from Europe to the USA. Escorts supported her on both sides to get her to that point, but the aisles were too narrow for them to continue to give assistance. Flight attendants were about to send her back to the airport, when the woman said she would hold onto the seatbacks and hop her way to her seat a few rows away. Someone not as strong/determined would have needed a traveling companion.

Each airport/airline has its own system of delivering wheelchair people to the planes. In its best version, once checked into the system, a transport person is assigned to stay with you in the airport until your flight leaves – including getting you to restaurants and bathrooms. One International airport has a central location for all the wheelchair travelers from all the airlines.

An App tracks everyone by name and flight, then makes sure the travelers are delivered to the right place at the right time. At the other end, an escort takes the passenger through customs and baggage claim, then delivers him/her to the ground transportation point.

After you check in at the airport, and have your boarding pass in hand, one USA domestic airport transport gets you through security (and to the gate) then leaves you at the gate on your own, no matter how long the layover.

My own experience: I traveled to Portugal during the holidays and temporarily hampered by a wonky knee that couldn’t support all the walking, I needed a wheelchair to get through the four airports (each way). I took a taxi, a wheelchair, a plane, a moving lift cart, a van, more wheelchairs, two more planes, another wheelchair, and another taxi to reach my destination. I repeated all that on the return.

My new knee has titanium in it and set off the security alarms repeatedly. Pat-downs were required at every security screening and I was told a doctor’s note would not have prevented the process. I boarded one of the planes early because of the wheelchair protocols and settled into my aisle seat. But, just when I thought it was safe to close my eyes, a late-arriving harried traveler tripped and dumped his shopping bags on my head, then elbowed my head as he tried to regain his balance, knocking my glasses askew. I was none-for-wear, and couldn’t have jumped out of the way in any case, but to his credit, reported his blunder to a flight attendant. Twice.

Help was spotty, depending on the airport. At an International airport, I was taken on a tour of the terminal, could have gone shopping if I chose, was delivered to the wheelchair bathroom, and was asked about snacks and meals. In a different airport, the transport people left me at the gate, then forgot to come at the appointed time to wheel me down the football-field-long jet bridge to the plane. The gate attendant helped out.

When it was time to head home, savvy traveler that I am, I gathered my grit and my crutch and entered the first taxi for the homeward bound trip. Four airports, three flights, wheelchairs, and taxis later, I collapsed into bed after 22 hours of travel. A few days later, the bills beckoned and I’m pretty sure I paid the correct people the correct amount of money. I made it through the jet lag and I didn’t see any bodies laying around. It’s all good.

Moral of the story? Make sure you take this essential travel companion: a sense of humor.

If the protagonist in your book has to fly to another continent, he/she shouldn’t be expected to make any good decisions for at least 24 hours, and certainly not be expected to testify in court right away. Why not? The usual culprits involve brain fog, extreme fatigue, irritability, headaches, sleeplessness, and I can go on.

Of course, when the brain goes dead after the flight, those decisions could be comical. Or wickedly deadly. I could have used my crutch to trip a few people who behaved badly while I sat  in my wheelchair, smiling innocently.


*The Kerrians are fictional characters, but all the events in this post actually happened. Promise.



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KN, p. 289 “On the Road to Portugal”

Sheila and I just returned from a trip to Portugal. (We helped a family member move across the ocean and get settled into an apartment.) When this opportunity came up, we jumped at the chance to help out one of our favorite people on the planet and to get on the international road again. Let’s be honest – we enjoyed quite a bit of sightseeing in between hanging curtains and shopping for dishes.


This overseas trip had its quirky (but solvable) challenges, generally not faced in the USA. Lucky for you, we did the research, so you don’t have to. (with no bodies found anywhere) Take a look:


A washcloth (called facecloths in some areas) seems to be a USA item, since no European hotels or B&Bs have ever provided them for us and the staff always look at me like I’m nutso bonkers when I explain what Sheila is looking for. Very few stores seem to carry them either, including some home furnishing shops we checked out. Pack one (or two) in your suitcase.


Universal adapter: we in the USA have different shaped electrical outlets than people in most of the rest of the world. SO, when we travel we need to have outlet adapters. They don’t convert the electricity, but when we insert the correct adapter into the European outlet, we can then plug our electrical items into it and charge our laptops and hairdryers. Some places require a converter for the electricity flow as well. Check with the destination residence to see what is required. This adapter worked well for us in Portugal. They are sold online thru Walmart and in Europe in FNAC stores, among others.








Jet lag: It takes time for the body to adjust when changing several time zones during a flight, because our sleep patterns/circadian rhythms are interrupted. For each time zone crossed, experience tells us that it takes a day to return to feeling normal. So…five time zones crossed in a flight (in general) translates to five days of recovery. So what are the symptoms most people complain about?

  • Insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate (brain fog)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Stomach upset
  • Headaches

Yes, it’s real. I got into the car two days after our return and sat in the driver’s seat, intending to drive us to the grocery store. And stared at the dashboard. I couldn’t figure out what all those icons were for. Seriously. Sheila took over the wheel and I didn’t drive until a couple of days later, when my brain had returned to normal function. Sheila’s symptoms were sleep and headache related and she never did experience the brain fog that so clearly affected me.


The money: Traveling to Europe? Most countries there use the Euro for legal tender.

The Caribbean has its own variety of currencies. Canada and Mexico each have their own as well. Take the time to learn the exchange rate in the country you’ll be visiting and plan your travel budget accordingly. For the most part, it’s better to use a multibank ATM to take out your needed cash for purchases. The rate at a multibank ATM is better since the banks in that network agree on an exchange rate. A regular ATM will charge more. Exchanging your home country physical cash for the local cash inside a brick & mortar bank will generally get you the worst rate of exchange. The differences are not huge, but if every dime counts, there’s an app on your phone that will reveal the rate of exchange for any given purchase. Be aware that it often changes daily as a result of global conditions.


The Chocolate: Dad used to say that you could tell about the quality of a country’s food by their desserts. If you go by that rule alone, Portugal has terrific food. Well, it does, in addition to the desserts in the multiple cafes that seem to be on every corner in the cities. The chocolateries compete with each other for the fabulous bars and barks and truffle-type offerings. Most also serve hot chocolate that is perpetually ready for the eager customers in line.

Our favorite chocolate spot in both Porto and Braga is Chocolataria Equador, where the delightful shopkeeper (shown here in Braga) expertly used her phone translator app to navigate our conversation and sales. The cocoa beans are imported from Ecuador and the chocolate is then handcrafted in Portugal. Oh, my, yum! Not only is the chocolate superb, but the fillings in the bars are inventively added to create exceptional concoctions. Worthy of multiple trips to the shops…you know…for just one more bar.


Any questions? Ask away in the comments below. Travel the world and enjoy!



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KN, p. 187 “On the Road – Get Ready for the Blizzard”



“Blizzard? What blizzard? It’s 70 degrees outside!” That’s Sheila talking as she looks over my shoulder.


I’ll have you know that there has been snow falling in the northwestern part of the USA already. In 2018, the northwest received over 400 inches of the white stuff, with the midwest getting pounded often enough that there were cars and trucks stuck on the roads for a while.

I never think about being prepared to get stuck for hours because I live in one of the most densely populated areas of the country. If traffic stops for any length of time, people have been known to get out of their cars, leave them on the highway and walk to the houses close by. That can cause a LOT of headaches when snow plows come through during the blizzards.


But, it’s not an option to leave the car in the middle of no place during a blizzard when you might be miles away from help. It’s usually warmer inside the car, plus it’s a shelter until help does arrive.


What do you do when you get caught traveling to a vacation spot or a storm moves in more quickly than the weatherman predicted? It is possible to die if help is a long time coming or your car gets buried in snow, so how do you avoid that?


To borrow a phrase from the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared.


If the weatherman isn’t sure about the path of the storm and you need to get somewhere a couple of hours away, follow these tips:


  1. Make sure you have a full gas tank.
  2. Let someone at your destination know your predicted arrival time.
  3. Charge your cell phone.
  4. Travel with snacks and several bottles of water for each passenger.
  5. Toss a couple of blankets in the car, just in case.
  6. Always travel with flashlights, but before the trip, check the battery power.
  7. Keep kitty litter in the trunk, in case you get stuck and need traction to get out of the slick spot.
  8. Buy a short shovel (available in auto supply stores) and leave it in the trunk. (thanks, Sue Harrison)


If the storm hits unexpectedly while you are on the road and you can no longer see to drive (or the roads are hazardous) stop the car and pull over if you can.


  1. Stay inside the car.
  2. Run the motor for ten minutes every hour.
  3. Open the windows just a crack to avoid carbon monoxide buildup inside the car.
  4. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked
  5. Tie a colorful scarf to the door. During a white-out, this will help the road crews find you more quickly.
  6. Make sure to stay hydrated.
  7. Exercise to keep warm – swing arms and legs as much as possible for a few minutes out of every 30.



Be smart about it and travel safely this winter. Better yet – stay off the roads until they are clear.


*Photo by Patti Phillips






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