While browsing the web recently, I discovered a travel blog titled The Geordie Traveller. It’s written by a guy who is on a mission to become the first wheelchair user to visit every single country in the world. That’s a pretty big undertaking, so I was immediately drawn to his blog. On the site, he shares his travel experiences and many valuable tips for other wheelchair users. I really love what Anthony is doing and asked him to be a part of my ongoing ‘Wheelie Inspiring Interview Series‘. Luckily, he happily agreed to take part. Here is the interview with Anthony Tipling-Bower of The Geordie Traveller.
1. How did your passion for traveling begin?
When I was 17 years old I reluctantly took a trip to Berlin with my family. Prior to getting on the plane I really did not want to leave the UK, everything within me resisted the idea and I just wanted to stay firmly in my comfort zone. However, upon arriving in the German capital I quickly fell in love with my surroundings and the sense of freedom I felt whilst wheeling the streets was unparalleled to anything I’d ever had before. I caught the travel bug on that short city break and ever since that date I’ve been on a never ending quest to see the world.
2. What made you decide to start The Geordie Traveller and can you explain a bit about what you do with the site?
I decided to start The Geordie Traveller after attempting to blog for many years with a sports blog. I enjoyed writing when I had the time and I wanted a space to post all my content and hopefully also share it with my friends and family. This naturally progressed into travel writing when I upped my wanderlust game. Many people ask where the name comes from… but in reality, it’s all pretty simple. A ‘Geordie’ is someone who originates from the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK – which is where I am from!
3. How do you go about choosing your destinations?
Usually I’m going somewhere for a specific purpose, like when I want to New Zealand I was there to work with the wildlife conservation charity WWF. Once I have my destination set, I then deliberately opt to take the long route and visit as many countries along the way and stay for as long as I can.
4. What is the most wheelchair friendly place that you have traveled to?
I’m going to say either Australia, New Zealand or the United States. Generally I find most modern, westernised countries are pretty up to the mark when it comes to accessibility. It’s been a long time coming but we’re slowly getting there!
5. What is the least accessible place that you have been to?
Gotta be Cambodia. Write to me if you ever find an accessible toilet in that country. It was quite clear whilst I was there that access is not their main priority. Disabled individuals that I met on that trip often didn’t even have the equipment they needed to get around and were instead crawling in the dust and dirt on busy streets. Whilst in Cambodia I also visited Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious site and dates back almost a millennium if I’m not mistaken. As I’m sure you can imagine, the ancient relic style temples are a nightmare to get around if you’re in a wheelchair!
6. What kind of problems have you came across while traveling in a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
I think one of the major issues I faced when travelling was just other people’s inability to understand that when I say I’m fine, I really mean I’m fine. It bugs me when people question my own judgement on what my personal abilities are. I usually overcome these problems by just going ahead and doing whatever they tried to tell me was impossible for me to do. I guess you could say I’m quite stubborn in that sense. I understand that these people who are in some way trying to restrict what I do are only doing so as a means of trying to ‘help me’, but really, it just grates my gears when they don’t listen to my polite decline of assistance or when I tell them I’m totally fine to do something.
To play devil’s advocate though – it’s a lot better that people care enough to try and take control rather than not giving a damn about a disabled person’s wellbeing. So it is a bit of a contentious issue for me and something which I conflict with on a regular basis.
7. What are some of the top items on your bucket list?
Is it weird that I don’t really have a bucket list? I had some things which I really wanted to do in recent times which I went ahead and completed. Stuff like backpacking around South East Asia and Road Trippin’ across New Zealand were way up there on my ‘bucket list’ and I’m glad that I already got to accomplish these things. I guess you could say that becoming the first wheelchair user to visit every single country in the world kinda consumed my notions of a bucket list. I would like to fly long-haul in 1st class though… that’s certainly up there on my things to do!
8. Do you have any tips for other wheelchair users that might not think traveling is possible?
Hmm, how can I say this without sounding too cliché? My honest and humble advice would just be to ‘DO IT’! Whatever is stopping you from travelling, find ways to squash those things. I would ultimately advise that you should probably plan, plan, plan! Don’t do what I do and just wing everything and have no backup. I’m a strong believer that you create your own luck and I apportion that belief to my successes and how I always seem to find my way when travelling to a new destination with zero idea of what I’m going to do there or where I’m even going to stay. If you’re disabled and you’re thinking about hitting the road and exploring some new places then it’s definitely worth scouting things out before you set off. Don’t be afraid to contact tourism boards and ask for a break down of all the cool accessible places to visit/eat at/stay at when you’re in a particular region. These tourism boards are a massive fountain of knowledge and guess what? They’re always really happy to help!
9. Most importantly, where to next?
Japan is next. I was fortunate enough to set something awesome up with Cathay Pacific and I’m super stoked to be heading out there in a month or two to spend a good couple of weeks just seeing as much of the country as I can. Really excited!