Epic European Disability Roadtrip

For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed travel. As a child, Mum and Dad used to ensure my wheelchair could go on the plane, in the taxi and around the hotel. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I saved up, researched, planned and booked my first independent trip, to Australia! It required 2 PAs, extra care budget, hoists and major will power.

Ever since that skin tingling holiday; my confidence has grown. I finished my degree in economics, masters in marketing, learnt to drive, lived with care support independently in London, worked at the disability charity Scope, left to start my own business and travelled many more times.

Amphibian chair
Amphibian chair

I decided that for an exciting project to join my passion of changing the world on disability issues and to travel; I would challenge and stretch myself a little more in 2012.

On the 21st September, with the financial support of Wicked World Tours and some Twitter crowd sourced funds; I headed off on the below route.

 EEDR

FRIDAY 21ST SEPTEMBER – OVERNIGHT FERRY TO AMSTERDAM;
SUNDAY 23RD – LEIPZIG, GERMANY;
TUESDAY 25TH – GORZOW, POLAND;
THURSDAY 27TH – GDANSK, POLAND;
SATURDAY 29TH – VILNIUS, LITHUANIA;
MONDAY 1ST OCTOBER – WARSAW, POLAND;
TUESDAY 2ND OCTOBER – KRAKOW, POLAND;
THURSDAY 4TH OCTOBER – PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC;
SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER – SAARBRUCHEN, GERMANY;
SUNDAY 7TH AND MON 8TH – LUXEMBOURG, BELGIUM;
TUESDAY 9TH – FRANCE AND UK

The aims of the trip were to:

• Showcase individual achievement in tough situations
• Illustrate the rough and the smooth of being disabled
• Highlight different approaches to disability across Europe
• Help to raise awareness on disability issues and social inclusion

Before I even departed it was quite a journey – Losing a sponsored mobile home at the last minute, raising additional funds for hotels, needing a male PA specifically because I couldn’t take my hoist, and a host of other problems. Fortunately Filipe, my PA, knew my needs well and my adapted car was in good shape, so with the hotel funds we forced the green light. Never give up I say!

We had a stroke of good will from Stena who offered us a free trip from Harwich to Holland. I promised them a video blog on my magazine www.disabilityhorizons.com. Once on board we took a deep breath, smiled and knew it was happening.

I want to share every lesson, observation and story with others. After all my mantra is ‘inspire, inform and change’.

Nonetheless I can share some highlights here with you here:

• to just make the trip happen against all of the odds and drive the 3000 miles safely was awesome. I had a short trip to a Berlin hospital for a pressure sore. Also I had numerous hotel issues where the access wasn’t quite as documented on the website. Nonetheless we did it.

• to see how challenging access is for wheelchair users everywhere. Not one city had full access to transport, cafes, restaurants and bars. There’s a lot to improve!

• to also understand the harder challenges faced the further East we went. Government policy and funding is worse in Poland and Lithuania definitely.

• despite this, every person was fantastic! The attitudes of people can be discriminatory, but generally on the trip people were so warm.

• all of the people, organisations and media I met wanted to improve life for disabled people

• I had a very powerful personal moment by visiting my grandfathers home town of Vilnius, Lithuania

• Krakow in Poland was one of my favourite cities for its architecture, culture and beautiful people

• in Brussels we gate crashed parliament and also got an interview with the tourist board and European Disability Forum

• I played harmonica around a campfire. Another personal dream for me on a roadtrip.

I sincerely hope the trip inspired disabled and non-disabled people alike as to what is possible with vision and motivation. We had so much fun, learnt so many things and connected with lovely people. It really was a successful and fulfilling trip.

You can see the final video, the bloopers and articles on my blog from 21st September-9th October using the archive function.

Feel free to view my blog, online magazine www.disabilityhorizons.com and stay tuned for more.