Quad Wife Road Trips: San Diego and Tuscany, Italy | Brooke Pagé

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on July 30, 2019 # Travel, Caregiving

When we first got our accessible van, the FIRST thing that came to my mind (besides feeling freer) was ROAD TRIP! My mind went wild with all the possibilities of places we could get to know that we had a van that could accommodate myself, my C4 Quadriplegic husband, and our dog. I've always believed that the world is our oyster, and this further solidified that because of our new-found ability to travel by road. Where would we go? Who would we meet? How would this new-found freedom help us to grow as people and together? The possibilities were endless, and I couldn't wait to see what was in store for us. I also began to think about the future; I asked myself “If we succeed at road trips in the adapted van, could we then move to transferring into regular cars and road tripping?” I was excited.

Don’t get me wrong, road trips after an injury like an SCI can be daunting, especially when you’re travelling with a higher quadriplegic as his partner and caregiver. You never know if you have the right stuff with you or if your destination will be truly accessible. You have to deal with blood pressure issues, pressure relief, uncomfortable moments and potentially more stops than you would like. But there is something about that freedom in the unknown that makes it all worthwhile. You learn so much about yourself and your partner, and you can stop pretty much anywhere you want.

I’d like to tell you about two of the larger road trips we have done since my husband’s spinal cord injury: one in our accessible Toyota Sienna Braun edition adapted van, and also our most recent road trip around Tuscany, Italy with a regular station wagon car. Both of these trips were life changing in a way and it shows the progress you can make just by getting out there and “doing it” even if its unpredictable at first.

Our first major road trip post injury was driving to San Diego from Vancouver, BC Canada where we live. We were going for four months for my husband to attend SCI rehabilitation at Adapt Recovery in Carlsbad, California. We had our hotel secured, but the rest was up in the air. The 2200km (1300 mile) 24-hour drive from our home to our new location for the next few months of our life was exhilarating to think about - I could hardly wait.

Putting all that excitement aside, I still had a LOT to do before we could go anywhere. How would we fit ALL his equipment in the van, while still having room for our dog, AND giving him the ability to get in and out of the van when we stopped? It was like Jenga- trying to add and remove things without the entire thing falling apart. We were going for four months, so needed some key pieces with us in order to make it. We brought with us his manual wheelchair, a Hoyer lift, all our luggage, his suitcase commode, one aluminum ramp and. his electric zero gravity recliner. Yes, I took it apart and loaded it into the van with a dolly I had. This piece was a deal-breaker for us because we were going for a longer-term trip. My husband uses this zero gravity recliner every day for pressure relief and comfort, so we needed it wherever we were going to stay. I managed to fit everything in the van without blocking his path into the van, and we were ready to go.

We stopped twice overnight along the way, so the unpacking of the Hoyer and commode each time was definitely hard work. We made sure our locations were reserved ahead of time to avoid disappointment, and we chose to stay in Portland and San Francisco. Breaking up the drive into two full days was essential to us both - my husband got to put his feet up, and I got to sleep well before the next day of driving. We also had allowed ourselves more time to see different cities and ensured we had a good place picked out for dinner the night we arrived, so we could taste what each city had to offer.

When we arrived at our destination of San Diego we felt accomplished. Nothing major had happened, and the beauty of road tripping through the states is that accessible hotels on the side of the road are easy to find. We are always so thankful for the ADA laws in the U.S.!

The small downside of this trip? Swelling in the ankles. We made sure he wore his best pressure socks and hoped for the best. I also made sure I massaged and flexed his ankles every time we stopped, to ensure proper circulation. Even though all that he still had more swelling than normal, but nothing to be too concerned about as it went away once we were at our destination.

Another road trip I have to share is our driving trip around Tuscany, Italy last fall. We took a huge risk in travel: we decided to only take my husband’s manual wheelchair with us to Italy when we went for three months. We have been to Italy once before with my husband in his 500lb power chair - and the downside of bringing a power chair to Italy is you cannot rent regular cars. We wanted to drive around this time and explore and could not afford the larger price tags of renting an accessible van or hiring a driver. So, we took the leap and when we arrived at the Florence airport, went straight to the car rental agency and found a station wagon that was the right height for transferring into it.

The reason this was such a risk for us is because my husband is not independent in his manual chair. He is a C4 injury, and can only propel himself alone on smooth, flat surfaces. Italy, as you probably know, is not smooth and flat in any way. So, I took it upon myself to get adjustable canes put on his chair before we left - they moved up and down easily, so I could push him around without straining my back. Another reason it was a risk: we had only transferred him into a regular car twice prior to the trip. It was successful, and we had good technique, but - I still was worried that they wouldn't have any suitable cars there in Italy once we arrived.

It turned out I had nothing to fear, and once we got the right station wagon (a Magan brand car), and I broke down and loaded his manual chair into the trunk, we were off to our adventure! We made sure to stop frequently for weight shifts and brought a travel Roho cushion with us for the car seat.

The upside of this trip? Besides getting to see Italy on our own terms, we were able to get really really good at car transfers, without my husband having to provide much assistance. I got into killer shape myself because, as other Quad wives like me may know, hauling your 200lb husband in and out of a car AND pushing him around Italy proves to be a great calorie burner!

I will be sharing more of my tips and tricks for travelling through Italy in a later blog post, but for now, these two road trip examples are sure to help build your confidence and help you to realize that when you take a risk while travelling, the reward is usually worth it! Since my husband’s injury, five years ago, we have now successfully completed 14 road trips to various destinations around North America, and some in Europe. I am so grateful for the time that we spent together on these trips, how much we learned about each other, and our surroundings.

If you have any specific questions about either one of these larger road trips, feel free to email me anytime at [email protected] - I’ll be sure to help you any way I can!

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.