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Top 5 wheelchair travel experiences

Exploring Exeter Beach being pulled by a pony called Obama? Emma's done it! She shares her picks for top 5 chair-bound travel experiences.

Words by Emma Green

Julie Andrews, one of my favorite actresses, is well known for her song ‘My favourite things’, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourite things to do when I travel. But first, a bit about me. I am 24 years old and a passionate traveller. I am a full-time wheelchair user who lives with cerebral palsy and uses various communication methods, including PODD (Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display) and eye-gaze.

Emma has been travelling since she was a baby and has since been around the world. Credit: Emma Green

I’ve been roadtripping, camping and travelling since I was 6 months old. I’ve been to 22 countries, exploring them on motorbikes, bicycles, canoes, cruise ships, police boats, speed boats, trains, London’s tube, planes, tour buses, double-decker buses, regular buses, pony carts, cars and vans. I’ve been hoisted onto planes and carried onto planes, and maybe one day I’ll be able to step onto a plane or even stay in my wheelchair on a plane. I don’t want to ever stop travelling. As hard as it is, I’ve narrowed down a top 5 ‘best of’ list of travel experiences. 

1. Exploring The New Forest, Hampshire, England

In 2016, I was lucky enough to explore The New Forest and Exeter beach (Devon, England). I went with Simon Mulholland and his pony Obama from Pony Axe S. It was such a privilege. Simon and Obama took me where my chair couldn’t go. Obama galloped through the water and over the sand, through the mud puddles and the forest. I loved it. My chair got really muddy in The New Forest, so be prepared to clean it before you get back into your van. One more tip: wrap up warmly because it can be very cold on the beach. Oh, and bring bananas for Obama – he loves them!

Meet Obama the pony! He and Simon Mulholland take people to explore Devon through Pony Axe S. Credit: Emma Green.

2. Trying new foods

I’m more adventurous than the rest of my family and like to try new foods. On my first cruise I ate snails! They were chewy and garlicky. My mother was helping me and trying not to gag. I’ve tried lots of different cheeses in Europe, noodles in Singapore and Hong Kong, and I love the food in England. I’d be happy to try snake or crocodile too! I have to be careful with textures and sizes of food, as I choke easily. I also have to be careful about food hygiene and where and how my food is prepared, as gastro is not my friend.

3. Exploring parks and cities

I love Hyde Park and Kew Gardens in London. Central Park in New York is fun too. The Shambles in York, England, is very old with bumpy streets, but I love it.

4. Catching up with family and friends

I enjoy catching up with family and friends when I travel. I have friends all over the world, including Australia, Canada, US, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Spain, Thailand, Holland, Hong Kong and Chile. I love to talk to them when we catch up because I miss them. Conferences like ISAAC, AGOSCI and Communication Matters are a sneaky reason to travel; I make new friends and catch up with old friends at conferences.

5. Testing travel boundaries

I like testing boundaries when I travel. On our cruise to the Pacific Islands, I had two strong men lift me in my chair from the cruise ship onto the tender to get to an island that didn’t have a port. In Tasmania, I tackled a hiking track that wasn’t meant to be accessible. To attend a wedding function, I was pulled up a mud ramp by six strong men when the party was up a flight of stairs and there wasn’t a proper ramp. My uncle built a mud ramp for me to get up and then they winched me back down. They said The Shambles in York isn’t accessible; I got around okay, but I couldn’t get into all the shops because I didn’t have my portable ramp.

Emma loves testing chair-bound travel boundaries and giving things a go. Credit: Emma Green

Travel isn’t always easy if you use a chair full time, and things do go wrong. We usually laugh about it afterwards, but some things aren’t funny – like the time I fell out of the aisle chair and onto the tarmac at Frankfurt airport, or when I flipped the aisle chair in Brisbane. But getting lost is funny because you find new places and try new things. Travel is exciting, and I think everyone should give it a go.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

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