A backpack with a diagram of items pointing to the backpack

Tips and Tricks for Day Trips

My friends call me "Mary Poppins" because my backpack is full and has everything you could ever need in it. Like many other wheelchair users with spinal muscular atrophy, backpacks are essential to my leaving my house for any length of time. I wanted to share a few tips that I use when I go out, shopping, eating, and doing other day trip activities.

A pack for your chair

First, if you don’t have a backpack for your chair, get one. Pick one that expresses your personality. Attach it to your handlebars or armrests and then fill it with the essentials, adjusted of course, for your own personal needs.

My essential backpack list

  • Straws. Many places do not offer straws, so having your own to use and keep hydrated is really convenient.  Reusable straws are nice, just make sure they are long enough to use and easy to clean.
  • Titanium cutlery set. Many places have heavy cutlery that is very difficult and tiring to use if you have weak muscles. Titanium sets are lightweight and reusable and fit easily in any backpack or purse.  Look in the camping section!
  • Baby wipes. For staying clean, they have so many uses!
  • Hand sanitizer I cannot reach the bathroom sinks in many places, so I keep this available to use anytime I feel the need to clean my hands.
  • Sunscreen. My medication has made me sun sensitive, so I make sure I keep good sunscreen on me at all times.
  • Bug spray. Because bugs: ew.
  • Tools. I have several tools that my wheelchair uses in case I need to make adjustments.
  • Duct tape. I keep a roll of heavy duty duct tape to tape stuff, you know, not people’s mouths, I promise!  Though, sometimes I think my caregiver would like to use it on me.
  • Scissors. Just a small set.
  • Sewing kit. You won’t need it until you do.
  • Medicine cabinet. Just kidding, a small bottle with tylenol, ibuprofen, aspirin, aleve, tums, benadryl, and dramamine is what I keep on me. I also keep a few medications that don’t need water, such as instant tylenol packages and bc powder in case I don’t have water nearby.
  • First aid kit. A small first aid kit with cleansing wipes, gloves and bandages.
  • Poncho. A big plastic poncho and a small portable umbrella in case I am caught in the rain. The poncho fits well over me and my chair-especially my controller.

Other useful tips

Many people already have backpacks filled with things they like, but I have also learned a few more tips for day trips that I would like to pass on in case someone may not know:

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  • You can ask for ‘to-go’ cutlery at most restaurants if they have cutlery that is too heavy to use.  They will usually bring out a set of plasticware that is lightweight and much easier to use.
  • You can also ask the kitchen to cut up your food into small, bite-sized pieces.  Usually they are more than happy to help with any food request.  Some places will even puree food when requested!
  • Keep a bottle of water nearby always by getting a bottle water carrier and clipping the hanger on your chair. I sometimes need it if I suck spit down the wrong tube and have a coughing fit or breathe in a ton of red dirt because I am at the zoo during a windstorm. It’s always good to have water available and easy to reach.

Bathroom on the go

I have found a lot of freedom using a cheap, plastic female urinal that I bought for $8 on Amazon.  I tilt my chair back, my caregiver carefully puts my legs up on the edge of my seat and I am able to use the bathroom. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, but it’s worth learning and having available if you need it.

Before, I was unable to stay out for long periods because I am unable to transfer without a lift. Having a urinal has helped me have much more independence. I keep it in a small pink bag on my chair with a package of baby wipes, gloves and some plastic shopping bags to wrap the used urinal in until I can get home to clean it. I call it my ‘to-go’ bag.

These are just a few things that I have learned that help when planning day trips despite my SMA. Sometimes I still forget to ask the kitchen to cut my food into small bites, so someone at my table has to help me, but if I can cut down on their workload and get more independence from them, then I am happy to do so by just asking the chef for accommodation!

Do you have any tips or tricks to share that help you in planning a full day out?

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