Felix Unger Taught Me to Never Assume: Tips On Being Prepared While Traveling

For the disability community, it's hard enough getting around on a 'normal' day, let alone while traveling. Packing light is important. I think the best way to pack is by using a lightweight backpack.
05/14/2014 12:31 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2014

There was a scene in an episode of the Odd Couple where Felix Unger, acting as Oscar Madison's attorney, tells the courtroom, "Never assume because when you assume it makes an ASS out of U and ME."

That is how I feel about traveling. Never assume that everything will go smoothly.

I try to be prepared while traveling. I've learned the importance of managing stress and anxiety as best as I can since living with a disability. It's almost inevitable that stressful situations will occur when you travel, whether it's long lines at the airport, lost hotel reservations or luggage arriving a day late.

My husband and I got married on a cold and rainy November day. I never wanted a winter wedding, but when we finally found the venue of our dreams, we were told it wasn't available until a year after we found it.

Despite the black morning sky, it was a perfect wedding. And after we said the last goodbyes to all of our guests, my brother drove us to the airport hotel where we spent our wedding night.

We departed early the next morning for our honeymoon. With suitcases in-hand and wearing heavy sweaters and coats, we were off to Little Dix Bay, a tiny resort located on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

We were excited to start our married life in paradise.

We flew from Newark International Airport to Puerto Rico, and then hopped on a tiny plane that took us to Virgin Gorda. We arrived on the tropical island with our carry-on luggage, dressed for 30-degree weather. We weren't exactly savvy travelers 25 years ago. We were tired and hot, and stood in the tiny "airport" waiting for our luggage.

It never arrived.

Our married life began in paradise, wearing hot, sticky, sweaty clothes on a remote island with no shops to buy anything to tide us over until our suitcases arrived. Our room opened up to the ocean with it's sparkling, clear water enticing us to swim, but our bathing suits were lost in another country.

Never assume.

That experience was my first crash course on how to be a good traveler. Since then I've learned a few more rules to follow while traveling. Here are a few:

Carry-on items: Pack your carry-on luggage with items you can't be without in case your luggage gets lost. Cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, jewelry, a change of clothing and medications should remain with you. Remember to pack a small hand sanitizer and a package of antibacterial wipes.

Extra medication: I inject myself every day, so I pack extra doses along with extra prescription and over-the-counter medications. I also pack a daily medication dispenser to divide my pills according to the days of the week. I always carry a tiny case for my purse with extra ibuprofen and Sudafed. (NOTE: I use Sudafed as a decongestant to combat air pressure. I also chew gum during takeoff and landing.)

Creature comforts: A travel pillow is helpful for longer flights, and if you have back problems try using a back pillow. Amazon offers many styles to help you find one that suits your needs.

Noise: I am a light sleeper, so I don't leave home without my sound machine. It emits white noise, lulling me to sleep while also drowning out any noisy hotel neighbors. I use an eye mask to keep out sunlight and light from a television or digital clock.

Pack light: For the disability community, it's hard enough getting around on a "normal" day, let alone while traveling. Packing light is important. I think the best way to pack is by using a lightweight backpack. If you use a wheelchair, a backpack can fit comfortably on the back of the chair or in your lap.

Bathrooms: Bathrooms can be a nightmare when you have a disability. Finding an accessible one is a bit easier in airports than it used to be. I found out the hard way that it's important to use a bathroom as soon as you feel the need.

While traveling home from Italy I foolishly refused to use public facilities during a stopover. I paid a heavy price by having to be hospitalized with a serious UTI after returning home.

When you get to an airport, train or bus station, take note where bathrooms are located. If you need help getting to one, seek assistance.

We all deserve to enjoy our vacations. Felix Unger was right to never assume, and neither should we. I hope your summer is filled with some fun and stress-free travel.