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My Brain Injury & Me Part 3

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22 March 2023

Travelling in the UK

I have always enjoyed traveling and, at age 16, I decided that I wanted to be able to travel independently. I started with trains and my support worker assisted me in learning all about how a train station works. I learned how to read departure boards, check platform numbers, and read timetables. At first, we did some short, local journeys into Manchester or Blackpool, which take around an hour. I also learned how to plan routes, how to navigate different city centres, use signs and look at street signs etc. Once my confidence started to grow, we planned longer journeys within the UK to London, Newcastle, and Scotland. During these trips, I learned how to swap trains and navigate around the major cities when required.

Once I had mastered using trains, I decided to progress to travel by aeroplane. Since the airport is very different, I had to learn new skills, such as checking in, packing any luggage, using my passport and learning how to read departure boards etc. Initially, I did a domestic flight to build up my confidence. I travelled from Manchester airport to Edinburgh, where I spent a lovely weekend. I continued to travel around the UK for the next three years.

Traveling outside the UK – first stop, Lille!

Once I felt completely comfortable with UK travel, I decided to push myself even further; I was ready for the next step to European travel! I communicated my idea with my support worker and explained that I wanted to utilise the skills I had learned in England, abroad. Rather than my support worker choosing a place and planning the trip, they gave me a task; to choose a location in Europe and investigate planning that trip! My brief was to choose somewhere not too far away and easy to get to.

In April 2013, after researching for about a week, I decided on Lille in Northern France. Our journey involved getting a train to London and taking the Eurostar from London to France and was around three hours in total. With this being my first trip abroad without my parents, I was very anxious that Friday morning! We arrived at Piccadilly station, Manchester, at 6.30am. My support worker set me my first goal of getting from the Information Concourse to the hotel in Lille city centre. I remember, all my support worker said to me was, ‘You are getting us there. The decision-making is on you. All I’m doing is shadowing you.’

Once we arrived in Lille at around 12-1pm and we walked out of the station, I freaked out! Everything hit me. ‘You’re no longer in England, everything is different, new country, language barriers,’ I thought! My support worker calmed me down. By the time we arrived in the hotel, I was fine. We walked around the city centre for a while, and I realised I was in a small, compact city that I really liked and felt comfortable in straight away. During that trip, I also recall being in a bar one Saturday night. Myself and my support worker got chatting to the barman and I was feeling more and more relaxed and comfortable. I noticed that I had to slow down my speech due to the language barriers or use my hands to show what I was asking for, communicating in a different way to usual. As the evening progressed, a French man sat next to me, and I got the confidence to start a conversation with him. I spoke to him for a good half an hour. I remember getting a pen and paper and he was teaching me some French words and phrases, which really boosted my confidence.

This first trip abroad to Lille really gave me the travel bug and taught me so much! At just 19 years old, it showed me there are new places to see and discover, it taught me new ways to communicate, showed me I could make new friendships in a foreign city (I made friends with the bar manager, barman and his girlfriend-I am still in contact with them on Facebook). To this day, I look back on this trip and I am very grateful to Lille because this city was a perfect starting point for me in terms of European travel. It helped me progress to bigger cities around Europe and, later, worldwide. Lille changed my communication methods and confidence to ‘give it a go’ and that I could overcome things. I realised I didn’t need to go to a huge, busy city to start off with.

After my successful trip to Lille, I went on other European trips. When I travelled to Lille, Paris and Barcelona with support, they were not really holidays - more independent working trips. My support worker always set me an independent challenge, like getting from Disneyland Paris, to central Paris, via the Metro system, using Google Maps and following signs in the Metro stations to get around. This made me feel really proud of myself because I felt I really achieved something and built my confidence. It did, however, really hit my fatigue on the return journey with it only being a day trip. I used a lot of mental energy and on the train back to Disneyland Paris, I was falling asleep!

What has travel taught me?

What I had learned in Lille came into practice a few years later. In summer 2017 while in the airport in Alicante, I was sitting in the departure lounge and a man approached me looking very upset. I soon realised his English was not great and I thought straight away about Lille – ‘Slow down speech and listen more.’ I thought. His flight was delayed and I remember he was on his mobile to his brother. Luckily, he could speak some English, so I was able to communicate with him and explain to him slowly what his brother needed to do. I advised him to keep checking the information board for updates. Once his brother translated for him what I had told him, they both thanked me for my help. It just showed me, without the experience in Lille, I wouldn’t have known what to do.

I have also travelled to America, including New York and Orlando, Florida, with support. My support worker again set me some challenges, such as getting from the hotel to a certain shop ten minutes away. I had to use my experiences over the last few years in UK and European travel, navigating my way around. Did I need to use the Metro system, can I walk there? I used Google Maps on my phone and followed the route around a much bigger city.

American Adventures!

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