I love the thrill of being somewhere new, full of people to meet (growing up in a small town makes feeling anonymous quite nice!) and the excitement and anticipation that comes with being in a strange place.
For most of my life I travelled ‘mainstream’ – booking hotels through a high street travel agent, hobbling on to transfer coaches, re-arranging furniture in the room to accommodate my wheelchair. Luckily, I’m quite mobile; I have cerebral palsy affecting my lower half but have been known to fling myself up a flight of stairs when the mood has taken me! But it wasn’t until I started working for Tourism for All that I realised travel can be made a lot easier.
Take train travel for instance. Who knew I could pre-arrange someone to carry my luggage and push me on to the train?! Being parked so close to the wonderfully smelling accessible loo isn’t so great, and having to glower at people who put suitcases in the wheelchair space. But getting 1/3 off the ticket price with a Disabled Persons Railcard? I fully embrace discounts for disabled people!
Until a couple of years ago, I’d never seen an accessible hotel room. Things like automatic doors, low level wardrobes and roll-in showers were an absolute luxury. I no longer had to clamber on to a chair to hang my clothes up, or perform acrobatics to get in and out of the bath!
But of course, booking an ‘accessible’ room is never foolproof. A little while ago, I was asked at short notice to attend a disability exhibition in Newcastle. I wasn’t surprised that all of the well-known hotels were fully booked, but after a morning of trawling the internet, I finally managed to find a small hotel. I called the reception staff, who confirmed that they had a ‘disabled’ bedroom and a ramped entrance.
On arrival, it turned out that the entrance had a very steep temporary ramp, which looked so dangerous that for the whole of my two-night stay I had to rely on other hotel guests to help
me! The ‘disabled’ room actually turned out to be a family room, with the extra beds pushed up against the walls, and no adaptations to make it accessible. I don’t think I’ll be returning to that particular hotel again…
Tourist attractions are another good one. The fun of being able to queue-jump (albeit whilst being glared at) often makes a trip for me. However I’m no use to my friends at a theme park, you won’t get me near a rollercoaster!
Finding somewhere to have a nice meal or a drink when in an unfamiliar place isn’t quite as easy. There is certainly a lack of information provided about accessible restaurants and bars. However, I see it as all part of the adventure, and with some careful research it can be done. Failing that, hunky doormen are always useful to help with steps, and I’m the best person to stand behind in a busy bar – a path can be cleared very quickly!
Like the time I was invited to a party on the Tattershall Castle Ship in London. Being a bar moored on Thames, the venue is terribly inaccessible, but my friend and I went along to see if there was any way we could manage. The wonderful doormen told me that of course I was going to the party, lifted my chair on to the boat, and up and down the stairs every time I needed to get to the toilet. I feel this shows that even against physical barriers you should persevere, and it restores a little of my faith in human nature.
Overall, the thing I love most about travelling is the sense of independence. Dependant isn’t a word most people would use to describe me (would probably be more along the lines of stubborn and headstrong!) but travelling alone, managing it all, and sometimes struggling but pushing myself to carry on, gives me a huge sense of achievement. Living in a small, close-knit town, it’s very easy to get used to knowing everyone and everything, where every dropped curb is, which shops are easy to get into. Sometimes it’s a harsh wake-up call going somewhere new and having that comfort taken away, but isn’t that what travelling is all about? Going to new places, seeing things with fresh eyes, taking in new experiences.
Sometimes it can be a little more difficult for me, but that’s not going to stop me any time soon!
The Really Useful Stuff team would like to thank Carrie-Ann for sharing her personal experience with us in this fantastic guest blog.