A Wheel and Away

Accessible travel in a post Covid-19 world

The bizarre year we have all experienced due to Covid-19 has meant many of us have faced huge changes to our lives.  This has affected us all differently, as has how we have reacted to it.

As a mum of two children with SMA, we soon received the letters identifying them as clinically extremely vulnerable and on the shielding list.  So, along with the rest of the UK, we stayed at home.  For five months we didn’t leave our village.  We are very fortunate to live in a small community which works to support each other. The village shop did home deliveries to anyone who couldn’t leave the house, a neighbour would always help out if necessary.  We even had our own Easter bunny who delivered eggs to everyone in the village, a lovely surprise on Easter morning.  We spent our days home-schooling and our evenings sharing precious family time together.  Overall, while our world became a much smaller place, it was mostly a happy one.  Second and third lockdowns continued in a similar vein, although a return to school was added into the mix for some of it.  I am very aware that we have been extremely lucky and that our own experience does not mirror that of everyone else, with many people experiencing a much more difficult and often traumatic time.  

On a purely personal level, the last twelve months have generated much more brain space for me.  I was forced to stop work, my day job as an English teacher for foreign students no longer being viable.  But also, as someone who usually spends a large amount of time thinking about travelling, planning trips and fantasising about future adventures, the ban on any form of travel was only tolerable if I put the idea out of my head completely.  With the travel website I had been working on for months only formally up and running a relatively short time before the pandemic hit, this wasn’t the best of timing. But needs must, so for twelve months the travel books have been shelved, the sites unbookmarked and the research slowed down.

But the world is slowly beginning to open up again and with the governments’ proposals for a traffic light system to kickstart international travel, I am very excited to have been invited to attend a forum and networking event designed to showcase the Balkan region as a growing tourist destination.  The intention of A Wheel and Away has always been to provide information about accessibility to places where perhaps this is not readily available, so the opportunity to find out more about less mainstream destinations is very welcome.

My own experience of the region is, admittedly, limited to date.  I was, however, extremely fortunate to be invited on a trip to Slovenia shortly before the pandemic and it left me definitely wanting to know more.   I spent four days travelling round the country and loved what I saw.  While accessibility was not universal, it was obvious that the country still has a lot to offer the disabled traveller.  From the capital Ljubliana, with award winning accessibility to rival any large European city, to the beautiful lakes and stunning landscapes of the Julian Alps, this is a country I am definitely keen to return to with the rest of the family.  In fact, it had been a ‘back of my mind plan’ to book a trip there for last summer, one that was obviously thwarted temporarily by coronavirus.  

Everyone I speak to has different feelings towards to the prospect of international travel becoming a reality once again.  Some are chomping at the bit, waiting avidly for the planned date when we can start booking foreign holidays.  Others, deterred by the thoughts of possible quarantine and last-minute changes, along with the very real concern about getting ill in a foreign country, are less keen.  Added to that are the concerns many disabled travellers already have about venturing further afield and it is completely understandable that some will be anxious about going away.  

However, none of this negates the fact that the accessible tourism market is a force to be reckoned with.  With government statistics in the UK alone saying that in one in five of us live with some form of disability, much more needs to be done by providers to cater for those with additional needs when they travel.  No longer should the accessible rooms be an add on, badly designed and in the darkest recesses of the building.  Accessibility needs to be better understood so that wheelchair users don’t book a trip, only to arrive at their hotel to find steps to get in and comments such as ‘Oh, but our other guests just get out of their wheelchairs for the steps’ (You may laugh, but we have heard that).   But just as importantly, information needs to be made more widely available as there are many fantastic opportunities out there for people with disabilities that aren’t taken up as Joe public has no way of finding out about them.  For example, did you know that as a wheelchair user you can get to the top of Machu Picchu?  Or that you could go to see the gorillas in the wild in Rwanda?  Even if you did know it was possible, would you know how to start making it a reality?    

Coupled with this is the obvious fact that everyone’s disability is different and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.  Only by providing clear and detailed information can people make informed choices about what works for them.

While those of us in the UK and many other countries cannot travel yet, this doesn’t mean that we can’t start thinking about it.   I know for myself that I have started thinking about it again, even if not for just yet.  Perhaps a family trip to one of the glorious glamping sites in Slovenia that I saw…….  We all have our own idea of what constitutes a perfect trip.  For some, the idea of a week in the sun, lying by a pool and drinking cocktails sounds like heaven.  Others want to be adventuring and trying out the less wheeled track.  Many will be somewhere in between.  

One thing however is universal.  The choices we make should be based on what we want to do not what we have to do because we don’t know of anything better.  So, tell people about your adventures.  Share them with others who may be motivated to try out something different.  While for now, this may be from the comfort of our own homes, with more information at our fingertips we can all make plans for a more exciting future.   

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