1) How did your passion for traveling begin?
As a kid I traveled everywhere with my dad on business. He deals in classic cars and was always on the move, usually driving from place to place across the country. There were summers I was gone for months at a time, roadtripping with dad. It was always one of those Endless Summer kind of feelings. I credit him with a huge role in conditioning me to be open to explore, and showing me how to ‘keep rolling along’ no matter the challenges we encountered. It amounted to some real life lessons about the way the world works, starting at the age of 7. It showed me what one man can accomplish (all by himself when needed) if he can muster the courage to push past his comfort zone, which is something all of us face when we travel. inspiring interview answers
2) What made you decide to start Trekkable and can you explain a little bit about what it is?
This question is a perfect segway; just after getting injured my Dad immediately said, “You know, there’s got to be a big opportunity helping others with disabilities who travel.” He saw the challenges first hand, as I went from able bodied to my new disposition, and we faced those difficulties together. I’ve recalled those words of his (from 1994) more times than I can count. In speaking them he planted a powerful seed:
Trekkable is a new rating system for hotels, through the lens of accessibility. My co founder and I physically visit each hotel property and assess 5 key areas, ranging from room access & bathroom setup, to property access, and more. This data is then crunched into what we call a ‘trek-rating’, from which we add the photos, and even Point-of-View videos I capture of each room.
Any customer who uses a wheelchair or has limited mobility is no stranger to the complications with securing the proper accessible hotel room, and more simply just knowing which room will work for them, whether they use a powered chair, manual, or just have a tough time walking.
Unfortunately the information we all need to make a good hotel choice isn’t available at all, or is buried in some far off corner. Trekkable knows this information deserves to be upfront, obvious, stylish, and engaging. The future Trekkable will be comparable to (and we feel better than) the online booking options you all know and love (hotels.com, expedia, etc) but with the information you want, and need.
Another problem we look forward to solving is actually guaranteeing that accessible room as you book it through us, so you don’t arrive on scene to find it given to someone else (a common occurrence). The solution to that is complex and will take some time, but is certainly worth the effort. Stay tuned for that..
3) How do you choose your destinations?
We start out by looking at a study from Open Doors, a non profit in Chicago that analyzes the behavior of travelers with disabilities, among other things. It tells us the top cities traveled to by people with disabilities, and we’re focusing on the first 10-20 right now. We began with San Francisco, Chicago, and NYC, as they are more difficult by the nature of their terrain and/or old infrastructure.
4) Does someone, such as a caregiver or family member, always go with you on trips or do you prefer to travel solo?
It depends: for Trekkable I almost always travel together with my co founder, but frequently go it alone, too. As a quadriplegic I’m fortunate to be high functioning and can care for myself. But of course it is still difficult from time to time so I (and many others like me) and of course rely on help along the way, whether from friends that are local to where I visit, to strangers you need to ask for a helping hand along the way.
5) What is the most wheelchair friendly place that you have been to?
Tough question! Many of the places you’d expect that are newer, flatter cities with generous amounts of space are on a pretty even playing field with each other in terms of wheelchair friendly. Places like LA, Scottsdale, Vegas, Miami (along with many other cities in Florida) to name a few. Being Wheelchair friendly is dependent on so many qualities across infrastructure, public transportation, services and otherwise to converge and live happily together. I’ve enjoyed Portland for that very reason! And while Austin has some room for improvement, I’ve almost made it a second home the past few years and really enjoy spending time there.
6) What’s the least accessible place that you have been to?
London! I had a uniquely difficult time there, even when spending big bucks for a higher end hotel where I expected to have the best luck, to no avail. The bathroom door for the accessible room at Suisse Hotel wasn’t big enough for my chair to fit through (yes, really!).
Overall the really old infrastructure, in addition to what I judged a fairly inhospitable attitude to hearing my needs made it tough. The cobblestone makes it problematic to push around, but one saving grace was the cabs. If you use a manual chair there’s enough room for you and the chair (while you’re in it) to actually sit in the floor space of the backseat pretty comfortably. Just requires a little lift up from the driver.
My experience there was an interesting comparison, as I had just come in-bound from Kenya, where many sidewalks and lots of infrastructure is totally absent, which in many ways making it easier to navigate than London.
7) What kind of problems have you came across while traveling in a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
You name it! Anything from steps that need to be gotten up, a lack of facilities for what I need, to persons who are just plain mean when not understanding that my requests for special accommodations aren’t wants, they’re needs. Few of those scenarios ever stick in my mind, however, as I focus only on that which brings me a positive outcome. It’s been said many ways, but life seems to be a product of the ways you respond to challenges, vs the challenge itself. Maybe that means finding a way around the steps, having the courage to ask someone for help, or even just being okay with saying “hey looks like we can’t do this right now, so let’s just move on, no big deal.”
If you live using a wheelchair I think it’s important to continually not let small things get you down, because let’s face it: you could nitpick all day long and nobody would blame you for it. Don’t get trapped in that cycle, and create a new one that responds with positivity. Find the silver lining, and keep doing it, over and over. It’s really that simple!
8) What are some of the top things on your bucket list?
The Pyramids, Ancient Greece, Machu Pichu, Burning Man, any and all music festivals, Italian Coastline, Ghana, more more more 😉
9) Do you have any tips for other wheelchair users that might not think traveling is possible?
Don’t believe it for a second! Instead realize that so many things you don’t think are possible are in fact right there waiting for you. Waiting for you to reach, push yourself (even just a little), enlist some help if you need to, and just go for it.
Think of the words “The next place I want to go, is someplace I’ve never been. The next thing I want to do, is something I’ve never done.”
You’re welcome to take this literally, or figuratively. ‘Someplace you’ve never been’ might be just dressing yourself for the first time, or transferring yourself out of bed for the first time (if that’s a possibility), etc. Any little wins to be celebrated, which you only get if you try a little.
Staring at the huge mountain in front of you can seem insurmountable. But if you just stare at the next step (or push), and the next, and the next, you’ll soon find yourself at the top, and with apparent ease.
Also, you have a HUGE community of passionate people (like Cory Lee), new technologies, and a growing awareness (and care) for accessibility that gives you fewer and fewer excuses not to travel as time moves on.
Let’s say it together:
“the next place I want to go, is someplace I’ve never been”
10) Most importantly, where to next?
Someplace I’ve never been of course! Lol
In reality we’ll have to revisit many familiar and beloved cities across the US, but want to enter the international market as soon as possible.
As a company we’re just several weeks away from a soft launch of our first trek-ratings, and are building the necessary technology to allow all other main stream booking sites and hotel chains to use our trek-ratings too!
Along with that we want to engage the community in a big way, show them what we’ve been working so hard for the past year to build, and continue towards a path to being a monumentally useful travel tool!
Benedict Jones: User of wheelchairs, smiles, and silly quotes. Born in Indiana, made a home in California for a while, then returned to the Midwest. Schooled in Interaction Design, careered in Business Development. Doer of stuff. Being useful to others makes me supremely happy 🙂 If you would like to keep up with Benedict, visit his websites at trekkable.co and nov.as or follow him on Twitter.