I'm A Travel Writer Who Uses A Wheelchair — And The Genre Needs More Stories Like Mine
My husband and I have a wedding anniversary pact: We don't buy presents or cards, but each year we take a trip together on our anniversary. This past year, I spent a long time planning a trip to Pisa, researching and putting together an itinerary to include day trips to Florence and Lucca. The hotel confirmed an accessible room with wheel in shower, which is really all I need — or so I thought. On arrival, I discovered a large step at the hotel entrance, and no ramp. My husband bumped my chair up, and once we'd checked into our room we found it was very small, with no thought to accessibility other than a wet-room style bathroom. After a discussion with the hotel's management we found an alternative entrance with ramp (it was a fire exit and used for transporting luggage, but whatever works, right?!). Once the hotel understood that although I'd prefer a wheel in shower, I could manage with a bath tub and what I really needed was extra space and grab bars for safety, they moved us to a more suitable room.
"The hotel confirmed an accessible room with wheel in shower, which is really all I need — or so I thought. On arrival I discovered a large step at the hotel entrance, and no ramp."
Happily, here’s when the holiday started to improve. We spent the next few days exploring Florence and Pisa, negotiating public transport and cobbled streets with relative ease. My happiness soared. Here’s the thing about travel: It enables us to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the mind to new experiences.
I have Cerebral Palsy, which means I use a wheelchair. I was brought up to believe that there is nothing I absolutely cannot do — there is always a way to travel, to go where you want to go, to be who you want to be. As someone who loves to travel — whether to the next town or the next country — I have always managed to find a way to do so accessibly, and I've shared that wisdom on my blog over the years. But that doesn't mean it's always been easy, and part of the challenge involves the fact that there are too few authentic, compassionate, and honest narratives out there about what it means to travel with a disability. Travel memoir, as a genre, and travel writing in general needs a revamp.
"Here’s the thing about travel; it enables us to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the mind to new experiences."
For most of my childhood and teenage I traveled 'mainstream' – which meant booking hotels through a high street travel agent, hobbling on to transfer coaches, rearranging furniture in the room to accommodate my wheelchair. It wasn’t until I started working in accessible travel that I realized it could be made easier. Overall, the thing I love most about traveling is the sense of independence. Whether alone or with my husband, managing it all, and sometimes struggling but pushing myself to carry on, gives me a huge sense of achievement. Sometimes it’s a harsh wake-up call going somewhere new and having that comfort taken away, but isn’t that what traveling is all about? Going to new places, seeing things with fresh eyes, taking in new experiences.
"But that doesn't mean it's always been easy, and part of the challenge involves the fact that there are too few authentic, compassionate, and honest narratives out there about what it means to travel with a disability."
Since my first taste of the Spanish city Barcelona back in 2013, I’ve been in love with the European city break. The city’s Olympic legacy means that accessibility just is a part of every day life, and I had no issues at all accessing accommodation, transport, attractions, beaches, and places to eat and drink. I have subsequently holidayed in Rome, Palma, and Pisa and next I’d love to try Milan.
Accessible travel isn’t always easy, it does require a lot of extra planning and sometimes there are surprises along the way. For me, that makes the beach sunsets, the rooftop city views, and the countryside landscapes even more beautiful. To have overcome what feels like a million extra obstacles and be able to say ‘I got here!’ is an amazing feeling. That’s why I have such a passion for my job, writing about travel. Because every day I help people realize their travel dreams are accessible. Every day I help people realize that their travel story is one that needs to be shared and heard.