1) How did your passion for traveling begin?
When I was a child and before my SCI, I remember the thrill of exploring while hiking somewhere on a family camping trip and the wonderment of what was around the bend. I’ve always been curious for life. After my first few travels, my fascination of and appreciation for the many geological faces and people of this world became limitless and my bucket-list exploded.
2) Why did you decide to start WheelchairTraveling.com?
I started wheelchairtraveling because I wanted to let the next person know how accessible or not a destination was. From the beginning, I wanted to create a community where we all could share what we knew; not just my perspective. I want more wheelchair users out in the world experiencing it.
3) How do you choose your destinations?
When I travel, it’s always for wheelchairtraveling.com. Many factors all play into a destination decision such as money, time, or having a traveling companion or not. I have an endless bucket list, but I know that there is a time and place for everything.
4) Does someone, such as a caregiver or family member, always go with you on trips or do you prefer to travel solo?
I love traveling alone and with others. If a destination is accessible enough then there’s no trouble for me to travel solo. It’s when I cannot access restaurants or get around, etc. that an AB companion is needed. If I do travel with peeps, it is usually with friends or my boyfriend. I would like to travel with my family.
5) What is the most wheelchair friendly place that you have been to?
Most? Most cities are not 100% wheelchair accessible for both manual and power wheelchairs. Access varies everywhere along with building codes. Some cities get real close, so for some people, it seems like the city is 100% accessible. Depends on your itinerary too. San Diego, however, may be the closest to achieving complete accessibility.
6) What’s the least accessible place that you have been to?
Greece, pre-Olympics, when there wasn’t a single curb-cutout nor accessible restroom in all of Greece. This was my first overseas trip.
7) What kind of problems have you came across while traveling in a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
I’ve experienced challenges that any traveler might go through and those only known to wheelchair travelers. When something happens, I do whatever I am capable of in that moment to move forward. I don’t get mad (well, sometimes maybe for a second) instead I look at my options as if I am Indiana Jones or Macgyver. To me, getting angry is a waste of energy and sours the traveling experience. So when I discover my hotel room in Vancouver, Canada was not accessible as anticipated, I didn’t sweat. I spoke to the manager and told him to find me an accessible hotel room while I dined in their restaurant on their dime. When I was in Kyoto, Japan and couldn’t find accessible restaurants then I would grab something at a market store. When I was in Berlin, Germany and a station wasn’t accessible, I’d get off where I could and roll further to my intended destination. In short, I adapt.
8) What are some of the top things on your bucket list?
I want to go back to Japan again for sure. I would also like to visit the countries of my heritage. A number of countries that I want to travel to are just too inaccessible still, but I’m keeping a close eye on them. And there’s a lot I want to see in the United States and Canada. I really would like to scuba dive one day.
9) Do you have any tips for other wheelchair users that might not think traveling is possible?
Going with the flow is the art of traveling. Plan a couple of must-sees but be flexible to your environment or you might miss what’s in front of you. Like life, traveling is all about the small things. The journey is where the treasures are.
10) Most importantly, where to next?
Where the wind takes me. I have a few ideas but still deciding…
Ashley Lyn Olson is the founder of wheelchairtraveling.com. She can also be found on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and Twitter.