As the only disabled travel blogger in Greece, Kamil Goungor is quite an impressive person. He has grown up in a country that’s considered largely inaccessible for wheelchair users, but he has still managed to see much of Europe and he is going to embark on some Asian adventures in the near future. I was thrilled to interview Kamil for my Wheelie Inspiring Interview Series and I think that he shared some wonderful insights. Check out his interview by reading below:
Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
I am the founder of “The Trawheeler”, which is, as far as I know, the only travel blog by a disabled person in Greece. It is quite new and my goal is to motivate others to travel, and show them that the world is worth exploring. I have SMA and use an electric wheelchair. I am also one of the six co-founders and the secretary general of i-living, the first independent living organization in Greece. As for my educational background, I studied communication, media and culture, which basically means that I am a journalist.
What is it like to live in Greece as a wheelchair user?
Being a wheelchair user in Greece is challenging, but you get used to it. I live in the capital, Athens, a city of four million people. Public transport is not very accessible, except the metro which is great, and the tram is possible with some effort. If you live in other cities you have to forget the public transport. The sidewalks are often not accessible so you have to drive on the road, and believe me, Greek drivers are not famous for their respect to anyone else’s rights. As for accessibility in general, it is also not the best, but it is improving. Year by year the situation in Greece is getting better and better for wheelchair users. It is a slow process, but it is happening. And if you are a tourist, you may struggle a bit, but it is definitely possible to spend great vacations in some destinations here. You will find accessible museums, accessible accommodation, accessible beaches and good food! There is also the option of special taxis, but it is quite expensive.
How did your passion for adventure begin?
That’s a difficult question because to be honest I don’t remember how it began. I feel that I wanted to travel the world from the very first moment I could understand what travel is. I was watching cartoons and movies on TV and I was saying “I want to go there and there, to try this and experience that”. My friends make fun of me by saying things like “Kamil you are so passionate about traveling, that if you have to choose between a date with a Victoria Secret’s super model and a trip abroad, you will choose the trip”, which is basically true! I really believe that there is nothing better than traveling and experiencing the world. Almost all of my big dreams are related to traveling.
What is the most wheelchair friendly place you have been to?
I am torn between Barcelona (Spain) and Strasbourg (France). They are both super wheelchair friendly and I cannot choose the “winner”. Barcelona is bigger, with more things to do, while Strasbourg is charming and cozy. Both have a great public transport system and very good accessibility. Definitely they are worth a visit. German cities are also very accessible.
What is the least accessible place you have visited?
Again it is not easy to choose one. Sofia (Bulgaria) and Bucharest (Romania) are quite inaccessible. The public transport is not very accessible, there are not many options for special transport, the sidewalks are often not wheelchair friendly and in general they need to do a lot of steps to improve accessibility. Prague (Czech Republic) was also quite challenging, because it is an old city with cobblestones almost everywhere, and public transport was not the best. But I visited all of them, so it is doable!
What kind of problems have you came across while traveling in a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
I was quite lucky and didn’t have any very serious issues (like those which can destroy your trip). I remember two incidents at most. One was when I arrived to Warsaw (Poland) and I found my wheelchair in bad condition. The joystick was damaged seriously enough for the airline company to agree to reimburse me half the price for a new one. Fortunately, for the days I stayed in Poland, I managed to move somehow, with the support of my mother. The second incident was in Istanbul (Turkey). I booked online the hotel and it was supposed to be accessible, but when I arrived I discovered that it had a step in the entrance and in addition to it, I couldn’t fit into the tiny elevator. I lost all of my first day in the city trying to find another hotel and in the end I found a cheaper one and in a much better location! The secret is to stay cool and don’t panic when you encounter a problem and the solution will come!
What are some of the top items on your bucket list?
Actually I have two bucket lists related to travel. One classic about my travel dreams and one with sports events around the world I would like to attend. Some of the items you can find on them are: to visit every continent, to see the aurora borealis, to visit North Korea, to enjoy the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo, to visit Florence, to visit Bora Bora, to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway and many more.
Do you have any tips for other wheelchair users that might think traveling is not possible?
No matter the disability someone has, traveling is definitely possible! What is needed in order to avoid any bad issues, is to prepare well, to do good research about the destination, the transport, the hotel, the accessibility etc, to have all the necessary documents you may need (for example about wheelchair batteries for the airport), to know your rights, to have some extra money if something unexpected occurs and most importantly to be calm and don’t panic.
Most importantly, where to next?
Tokyo (Japan)! It will be quite a challenge as I have never flown more than three hours, and never been out of Europe (the Asian side of Istanbul doesn’t count), but visiting Japan is my childhood dream so it is definitely worth the effort!