Geordie Travels – a guy from the UK rolls around the world: ‘How I Caught my Travel Bug‘
Geordie Travels: How I Caught my Travel Bug
This is the story of Anthony, who is sharing his love for travel with you.
From a very young age I always had an insatiable appetite for travelling. I used to look at various maps and atlases and dream about hitting the road and exploring places that I’d never even previously heard of.
I suspect that subconsciously I had it in my mind that being able to travel the world would be a great way for me to feel a little ‘less disabled’ and more on par with my friends in terms of what I could and couldn’t do.
I took a few trips with family members in my formative years – but nothing of any substantial nature. Just holidays resorts in France and Spain – definitely nothing which introduced me to anything remotely cultural.
Study abroad: yep, travel bug!
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to up and leave the UK to study in The Netherlands that I really caught a significant travel bug. At first, the move took some getting used to. I was homesick and missed my parents, and worse of all, I felt vulnerable. I wasn’t entirely convinced that being away from home was for me, after all.
Thankfully though, after a period of time I started to grow in confidence, and I became increasingly accustomed to my new surroundings. As a result, a desire to see more of Europe grew restlessly within me.
On the road in Europe
Living and studying in The Netherlands offered me the perfect chance to check off a few different countries from my bucket list. I had my car with me, and so it wasn’t much trouble to cross the border into Germany to the East, or travel south into Belgium.
At that moment; in that particular corner of the world at least, my environment felt smaller than ever. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to swan off and spend a couple of days in Brussels, or even to pop to Paris for a week.
Travelling in this style was easy, all I had to do was pack my bags, fill the car with fuel and set off! This new found sense of adventure went a long way toward building up my tolerance for always being on the move.
With each new destination, the anxiety of not knowing a place shrank. Instead, it was replaced with a reinvigorated sense of curiosity.
What was the local food like? Were there any quirky customs to get used? Would I get along well with the people of that new place? It became all about the immersion for me – and as if like a drug, I was addicted to making my way to pastures new.
Out of the comfort zone, yes I must
After a couple years of focusing exclusively on Western Europe, I decided it was time to push the boat out a little. Sure, I was discovering all these new places, but it was about time that I actually challenged myself, and to use that terrible travel-cliche, I had to ‘get out of my comfort zone’.
On the whole, Western Europe is fairly geared up when it comes to wheelchair access. With the car, I didn’t have much trouble finding my way around, and as long as I had somewhere to park, and an accessible hotel to stay at, I was golden.
It was high-time I threw a little caution to the wind and went for something more outlandish.
So I flew to Taiwan.
This was my first time outside of Europe since a family trip to California as a 5 year old. Here I now was, 20 years later, embarking on a trip to the other side of the world that would metaphorically open the floodgates in terms of discovering what was possible for me.
An accessible cultural melting pot?
Not only did I feel like I was diving head-first into a brand new cultural melting pot, but for the first time I was coming to terms with the fact that not everywhere in the world was designed with disabled people in mind.
Never before had I faced situations where to make my way down a busy main highstreet, I’d have to opt for rolling on the side of the road – due to the sidewalk being a wheelchair users nightmare! Weaving my way in and out of noisy traffic, trying to avoid speeding mopeds in the blistering heat.
There was, of course, the major language barrier to contend with also. Unlike in Europe, where many people speak English as a second language, in Taiwan it was harder to find people who understood what I was trying to say. Nevertheless, I found literally everything fascinating. It was all new to me, and with that came a huge amount of excitement.
My mother – God bless her – used to try and hold my hand as we crossed the road together – even as a 20-odd year old. She was forever worried that something could go wrong at any moment; yet here I was now as a disabled man, on the other side of the world, doing whatever it was that I wanted to do. It was truly liberating.
Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand
I spent six months in Taiwan, and whilst there I used it as a springboard to travel to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I had the time of my life and it really pushed me in ways that I never previously thought would be possible. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my experiences involved situations which were just totally inaccessible.
I consider myself to be very lucky in the sense that despite needing to use a chair, I can get out and shuffle about on my hands and knees with relative ease and speed. This helped me no-end, and meant that I could tackle things like stairs, and rugged terrain. It’s not ideal to say the least, but I’d rather grin-and-bare it than miss out.
I’m sure there would have been plenty of ways for me to travel throughout Asia in a much more accessible way. Truth is though, at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about becoming a blogger, or giving advice to other disabled people. I was also on a fairly tight budget and therefore didn’t have the resources to splash out on accessible tours etc.
Although I’m not a huge fan of revisiting lots of places I’ve already been to, I do intend to return to Asia in the not-too-distant future. Not least because it has already been almost five years since I was there, and there is a pang in my heart for the times I spent backpacking.
I even miss my old cockroach infested apartment in Taiwan, which was on the 3rd floor, with no lift! Can you believe it?! I felt like I was living in my element back then, and I yearn to return to those days soon.
This time, however, I’ll be taking a much keener interest in all things accessibility – and posting about my findings both on my Geordie Travels blog, and in my Facebook group – The World is Accessible.
I’ll also be looking to team up with accessible tour operators in various locations to help promote their services and offer them to disabled people looking to visit somewhere new, without having to face the stresses and strains that I happened upon on my first visit.
Since Taiwan, I’ve continued to travel – and my mission has evolved into me wanting to become the first wheelchair user to visit every single country in the world.
45 countries and counting
My country checklist currently stands at 45 – which equates to almost a quarter of the world’s nations, and you may be pleased to hear that I don’t intend to stop any time soon!
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