As the American philosopher John Dewey once wrote, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
This website is a reflection of my experiences, those of a disabled traveler. I travel to experience, reflect on those experiences, and write about what I have learned. But as we prepare for a New Year to dawn, it is easy to focus our attention solely on the future.
In this article, I would like to dedicate a moment to renewed reflection, looking back on a year in which I traveled around the world, flew more than 129,000 miles, visited 12 countries, and experienced many “firsts.” I share my top 10 trips of 2023 below, to inspire your own adventures and to reveal what is important to me as a traveler. The list is presented in chronological order, with the first having occurred in January 2023 and the tenth in December 2023.
Rome, Italy — Funeral of Pope Benedict XVI
On the morning of New Year’s Eve 2022, Pope Benedict XVI died. The late pontiff had long been an important spiritual figure and role model to me and, upon receiving the news, I felt called to pay my respects at his funeral in Vatican City.
Three days later, I set off to Rome on a last-minute trip booked with airline miles and hotel points. In Vatican City, I attended Pope Benedict’s viewing in St. Peter’s Basilica and his funeral in St. Peter’s Square. It was a moving experience that I will not forget.
Despite the sadness that colored the weekend, I enjoyed my time in what is my favorite European city — check out the free wheelchair accessible travel guide to Rome, Italy. The guide includes information on accessible places to stay and things to do, including detailed information on how I met Pope Francis — and how you can too!
Melbourne, Australia — The 2023 Australian Open
I am a huge fan of sports, and three of the trips on this list involve sporting events. Shortly after returning from Rome, I set off on a long-planned adventure to Melbourne, Australia — my first time Down Under — to see the finals of the Australian Open, my favorite of the four tennis grand slams.
My weeks-long adventure to the South Pacific was a complicated one to plan, as I also included stops in New Zealand and Fiji. I wrote about building a flight itinerary to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji without breaking the bank, which might give you some ideas for planning future travel.
The tennis was exceptional and the tournament exceeded all of my expectations! As a bonus, I was delighted to meet a fellow tennis enthusiast (and Wheelchair Travel reader!) who was seated next to me inside Rod Laver Arena.
I also had the opportunity to meet-up with many other friends and readers, including Ryan Smith from Freewheel Weekends, accessible travel pioneer Martin Heng, and two travelers who joined my 2022 wheelchair accessible group trip!
Frankfurt, Germany — Impromptu Trip After a Chance Meeting
If you haven’t already, read my story entitled On Serendipity, Chance Meetings and an Unexpected Trip to Germany. It’s a wild story of meeting a pair of German flight attendants at a Boston restaurant, only to fly with them to Frankfurt the following morning (at their invitation).
Sometimes, the best experiences in life are those that catch you by surprise — as I made my way to the pub to meet a friend, I never dreamed of ending the night with two new friends and a plane ticket to Europe!
Hamburg, Germany — Unveiling of the Wheelchair Space for Airplanes
In June, I returned to Germany to become the first wheelchair user to test out the Air4All prototype, a wheelchair space for airplanes developed by Delta Flight Products unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Expo.
You can read my instant reaction, written and published on site in Hamburg, Germany. Wheelchair Travel readers peppered me with questions about the prototype, which I considered in Answering Your Top 10 Questions About Delta’s Wheelchair Space for Airplanes. I anticipate significant updates to come, and this is a story I will surely be following in 2024.
If you value my reporting on accessible travel in the airline industry and elsewhere, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription to my Substack Newsletter. Thanks to the support of paid subscribers, I’m able to cover important events in the travel industry — delivering unbiased analysis from a disability perspective.
San Francisco, California — United Airlines in Federal Court
In August, I traveled to San Francisco to report on one of the most important stories of the year — the case of Nathaniel “NJ” Foster vs. United Airlines.
Nathaniel Foster, a quadriplegic who uses a ventilator to breathe, was traveling with his family to attend a funeral in Louisiana on February 8, 2019. Upon arrival, the family alleged that their son was mishandled during his transfer off the aircraft, dislodging his breathing tube and causing a “catastrophic brain injury.”
Although multiple news outlets ultimately filed stories on the landmark settlement agreement which awarded $30 million to the family, I was the only one reporting on the case from the courtroom. Coverage that first appeared on this website, published under the headline United Can’t Toss Flight Attendant’s Testimony, Settles After Serious Injury to Disabled Flyer, provided detail that would otherwise have been lost as the trial was not recorded.
Lisbon, Portugal — 2023 Wheelchair Travel Group Trip
We visited incredible cities like Lisbon, Sintra and Nazaré, toured the Ajuda and Monserrate Palaces, saw the tomb of legendary explorer Vasco da Gama, and enjoyed some of the best in Portuguese cuisine.
These tours means a great deal to me, and I am looking to expand them in the future. What continues to amaze me are the incredible friendships that form out of these trips — people from around the country and world who become fast friends while exploring destinations that excite and inspire. I hope you’ll join me on an accessible group trip in the future!
Would you like to join the next wheelchair accessible group trip? The following trips are now open for booking, but limited spots remain:
- 2024 Wheelchair Travel Group Trip to Barcelona and Madrid, Spain
- 2024 Wheelchair Travel Group Trip to Portugal (Starts immediately after the Spain tour, which adds a unique add-on opportunity if you would like to extend your European vacation!)
St. Louis, Missouri — Adam Wainwright’s Complete Game Gem
I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan for as long as I can remember. I live and breathe Cardinals baseball. In September, I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to watch what proved to be the final start for one of my all-time favorite pitchers, 42-year-old Adam Wainwright, who had been on the team’s big league roster since I was in high school.
That final outing proved to be a historic one — Adam pitched an absolute gem with 7 shutout innings. With the win, he joined the 200 win club, a feat accomplished by only 121 other pitchers in MLB history. It was a honor to be there that night, to experience his incredible performance, even if it was from the nosebleed section! Sometimes, you just have to be there — it feels different to witness something incredible in-person, rather than from afar.
Juneau, Alaska — The Alaska Airlines “Milk Run”
In October, I set off on what was only my second-ever trip to Alaska, and my first as a wheelchair user. My trip was precipitated by an airfare deal and an opportunity to catalog the Alaska Airlines “Milk Run,” which the airline describes as a “daily circuit of Alaska Airlines flights that hop between towns in Southeast Alaska, serving as a lifeline for the communities that aren’t always connected by roads to the outside world.”
You can read more in my newsletter about the Alaska Milk Run, but suffice it to say the trip was one to remember. But the trip wasn’t only about flying — it provided me with unique insight into accessible travel in Alaska, especially Juneau, a place most visitors arrive to on cruise ships. I met many people during my short trip to the Alaskan capital, and it is a place I plan to revisit to generate even more accessible travel content.
Reno/Lake Tahoe, Nevada — ZorkFest 2023
Shortly after returning from Alaska, I traveled to Reno and Lake Tahoe, Nevada for ZorkFest 2023, an annual gathering of points, miles and casino loyalty enthusiasts hosted by my good friend Michael Trager of TravelZork.
After a flight delay and missed connection, I was forced to reroute my trip to Reno, and doing so allowed me to join Michael and a few of our other friends on a flight from Austin to Reno. I had never been on a flight with so many of my friends before, and it made for a marvelous time. It was the perfect start to a conference weekend!
At the end of the trip, I took the opportunity to ride an wheelchair accessible Amtrak bus (yes, that’s really a thing!) as part of my journey from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, an interesting route that did not require any flights!
Charlotte, North Carolina — ACC Championship Game
At the conclusion of the college football regular season, my Florida State Seminoles were undefeated, needing just one more win — in the conference championship game — to earn their spot in the college football playoffs. I traveled to Charlotte for the game, where I met up with some of my closest friends from college.
The trip was a blast — FSU won the game with what may have been the most dominant defensive performance that I have ever seen, and they emerged 13-0 as the unconquered champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
What happened next was heartbreaking and rage-inducing, as a committee decided the ‘Noles were not deserving of a spot in the college football playoff. Hearts sank, tears were shed, tempers flared — and as I sat stunned in disbelief, I observed something that led me to write this article: Inaccessibility, College Football, and Why FSU Fans are Experiencing a Feeling That Disabled People Know Well. I think it’s worth your time to read.
After the game, I traveled to Cary, North Carolina (a suburb of Releigh) aboard the wheelchair accessible Amtrak Carolinian Train. Train travel is something that I hope to feature more in 2024.
Final Thoughts and Big Plans for the New Year
The ten trips listed here are highlights from a whirlwind year of accessible travel, but they don’t provide the full story. Trips to the British Parliament for a Rights on Flights reception, to Washington, D.C. for the All Wheels Up Global Forum on Wheelchair Accessible Air Travel, to Savannah for the TravelAbility Summit, and to so many other places were critically important. Much of the work I do isn’t flashy and might bore you, but advocating for a more accessible world — and showing you how to navigate the one we have — is my mission and purpose.
In the New Year, I hope to bring more of that work into focus, providing opportunities for you to get involved in advocating for the accessible world we dream of, while continuing to inspire disabled people to travel, move and explore.
Look out for some big news to come and, if you’d like to support my work, you can join the team by subscribing to the Wheelchair Travel Newsletter. Your support makes everything that I do possible, so thank you!