My Three-Year Wheelchair Travel Anniversary

Three years ago this month - on January 5, 2014 - I took my first flight with a wheelchair. Just over a year later, I did a "soft launch" of this website and allowed my friends to check it out. This January marks two anniversaries - three years of wheelchair travel for me, and two years of WheelchairTravel.org as a resource for you.

What has transpired in that time is mind-boggling. Hundreds of flights. More than a year spent in hotel rooms. Cities, countries and continents. Memories to last a lifetime.

Wheelchair Travel Statistics, 3-year Anniversary
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The image above quantifies some of my travel experience. I'm a travel geek - I love statistics and document every aspect of my travel life in spreadsheets. As you can see, I get around a bit. 581,651 flown miles in the past three years - that's more than 23 times around the Earth! I've used 64 airports and flown with 24 different airlines (not counting regional subsidiaries). So yes, I love air travel.

But this brings me to a bit of a dilemma...

Activist or Advocate?

As far as power wheelchair users go, no one is traveling more frequently than I am. Having that experience, and being an accessible travel expert, I feel a great responsibility to my readers and the disability community.

Ideally, I want to collaborate with airlines, hotels and other travel providers to solve the challenges of accessibility and equal access. When we work together, great things happen. Armed with solutions, I advocate for a travel environment that is open to all.

Sadly, very few travel companies reach out for external advice. Many prefer to ignore the problem and maintain the status quo. That is when I use this blog for activism. I have called out airlines, put Uber on notice and even criticized the DOT. All to draw attention to our struggles with accessibility. Sounding the horn boosts my web traffic and readers are encouraged to see someone fighting for them.

But, the majority of the work I do for you is not captured in those angry blog posts. I prefer to keep those to a minimum, saving time to work inside the system and also to share the possibilities of travel with you.

President Roosevelt famously said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." That is how I approach my work here. I write about and advocate for a very realistic vision. But I do carry a big stick - it is not a weapon, but you. My readers. Together, we are building an army. You are part of a rapidly expanding segment of the travel marketplace, and the demand for accessibility has never been greater. Your interest in travel is what will ultimately lead us to a more accessible world.

Happy Birthday?

I've never been one to get excited about birthdays, but my wheelchair travel anniversary is a different kind of birthday. That first accessible trip gave me confidence. It replaced "No, I can't" with "Yes, I can." Rediscovering the ability to travel pulled me from the depths of despair and gave reason to hope in the future. After more than a year stuck in hospital beds, countless surgeries and lots of bad news, I finally had something to bring me joy.

I know that most wheelchair users don't enjoy traveling on airplanes. Some of you can't imagine taking a single flight, much less 400+. But as I wrote last month, the movement of travel is enchanting. Particularly for those of us who don't get to move around as often, or in the way everyone around us does. Takeoffs give me butterflies - they make me smile, because at that moment all of the souls onboard the plane are the same. We're buckled into our seats, with gravity tugging at our backs. A sense of wonder overcomes me, and I am excited for the adventures ahead.

The Year in Wheelchair Travel

Last year, I marked this occasion with a blog post highlighting my two-year wheelchair travel anniversary. In that post, I shared a few highlights from the blog. In keeping with that trend, these were the top 5 blog posts from 2016:

My travels in 2016 also produced several new wheelchair travel guides, including Dallas, Texas; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Providence, Rhode Island.

New Year, New Experiences

It's 2017 - Happy New Year! With the turn of the calendar comes a new, blank page in my wheelchair travel experiences book. I am excited to fill this new year with incredible, accessible experiences.

Up to now, I have focused my travels in Europe, Asia and North America. In 2017, I'll be adding a couple continents and many countries to the accessible travel content available here. In the weeks and month(s) ahead, look out for new accessible travel guides for Copenhagen, Gibraltar, Madrid and Stockholm. 2016 was such a busy travel year, and I am working to get caught up!

I'll look to continue my 2016 goal of diversifying the topics I write about. In my first year, I wrote about a lot of experiences flying Delta Air Lines and staying in Marriott hotels. Last year, I switched my loyalty to American Airlines and Hyatt Hotels. I'm working now on an article that will finally reveal my loyalty strategy, and how I pay for travel with airline miles and hotel points.

Beyond the brands I'm loyal to, though, I have started to seek out entirely new experiences. Lots of trains - including Swedish Rail! Different airlines, including British Airways, Finnair, Malaysia Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Southwest. Fantastic hotels like the Omni Dallas. Bus services like Megabus. And even a wheelchair accessible tuk-tuk! There is much more to come, so stay tuned!

Another Pitch

You've heard this many times before...

I write about accessible travel from the perspective of my own disability. While I do my best to produce reviews and content that is accessible to everyone, there are some questions I can't answer.

If you would be willing to contribute your own story, in the form of a guest blog post, please reach out to me. My e-mail address is john@wheelchairtravel.org. I want to hear your story, and I'd love to share it with the WheelchairTravel.org community.

Thanks for joining me on my accessible travel journey, and remember to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Another goal for 2017 is to do social media better, and I'd love for you to be a part of that.

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