A wheelchair user traveling around the world... how is it?

Kristyna Krenova has spoken to the traveler and ambassador of Disway travel network, Marie Harcubová.

1) You are a well experienced traveler, do you remember your first trip?

I am a passionate traveler with a very courageous mother, for whom nothing is a problem and an obstacle. Not even that I have qadruparetic cerebral palsy and that they have to lift me and push me on a wheelchair.

My first major trip was to the United States in 2001, but it was preceded by a smaller one a year earlier in England. It actually determined the big one. Here´s how it all started: In 2000, I was 16, I was about to finish primary school, and my brother Tom worked for almost two years in England as an au pair at that time. He invited me and my mom to visit him and we hopped on the bus to London. There it was obvious... English, as we could hear him speak, would be great for my future life. Six months later we were on our way to the US. For almost a year,I studied High School in Virginia, in a class of special pedagogue and a wonderful person, Mrs. Doris T. Hayes. Thanks to her (and especially my mom), I have translated seven books.

2) I know you are traveling with your mom, you are such a great team. Are you planning your travels together? How do you choose, where you go?

Yes, we are a team. She is a Dragon according to Chinese astrology, she still flies high in dreams and plans the impossible, I'm Rat, so I'm a bit more grounded and everything´s in harmony. We plan most of the trips together. My mom came up with an idea of the Camino, and as she says, "She took me along." I am extremely grateful to her. It was an amazing experience. We walked through northern Spain for one month. We started in Leon and continued all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Our 300 km plan accomplished - my mom pushed me in  a wheelchair, ... "at least she had somewhere to hang the backpack" ... she laughs.

We usually plan a trip for several years, where to go next. We know, where we would like to go, but it depends on our savings.

3) How it works, when two girls are on the move? Are you well-prepared with all the plans, maps well-studied, expecting a cultural shock, or are you pleasantly surprised?

Two ladies traveling is the best thing, you can imagine. We never argue, we just talk and laugh a lot. We like to fly, we are not afraid and we both love airports. There are assistants for handicapped, so we do not have to worry about getting lost or missing a plane. And when we go by car, it's totally cool. We'll stop where we want and when we want ... men usually hate that.

We plan all the trips to the slightest detail, but sometime what betrays us is technology. Both of us are not good in reading the maps properly and we have no sense of direction, so we have to rely only on GPS. Sometimes, however, it "it keeps us alert" a little; for example, in South Africa we ended up on a dusty road between the ostrich farms and there was no one to ask about the right direction. Or in France. On our way from Provence to the city of Lourdes in the Pyrenees, our GPS left the highway and we could enjoy about 100 km of the picturesque French countryside and did not know how to get back on the motorway. Then we rely on our guardian angels, we ask for help and the problem gets solved.

And the only time we experienced some kind of cultural shock, was in India. Always before going on a trip we read guide books, travelers' articles, embassy news, we're watching movies and documentaries about the country, so we're prepared. I think, enough. But India... nobody is probably prepared enough for this one. We experienced a huge cultural shock. We even had to shorten our trip. After 10 days, we decided to go home. But we do not regret going to India. The breathtaking and unique Taj Mahal, the Lotus Temple and other beautiful sights, this is an experience, we will never forget.

4) Can you recall a moment that really surprised you? Have you been in an unexpected situation? The place / its people that shocked you?

A moment that we had to deal with an unexpected situation happened in San Francisco. When we arrived to the hotel, we stood there with my wheelchair in a tiny space by steep stairs and the barrier-free room for us was ready on the second floor - no elevator tho. This was a real shock. The guys with flip-flops, pulled me up to second floor... it was scary. Everything worked out well, my mommy found an other hotel on the net and we moved there in the morning.

5) What draws your attention the most? (sights, culture, exotic places, weather, beaches, people ..?) Where would you return without hesitation and why?

We both love big cities, monuments, the sea, people and their culture. Without hesitation I would return to Thailand. For all those smiling people, their great food, kind Buddhist culture and beautiful monuments.

We also fell in love with New York City, and we want to return. And we would like to go back to the beautiful isle of Ireland. There are many warmhearted people, musicians and also rich history. Perhaps we will visit colorful Barcelona once again, its narrow streets and gorgeous Gaudí's buildings. Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was amazing, Cape Town and everything in South Africa as well. What a great experience it was to see Norwegian fjords, or Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, the Netherlands, our beloved France, Italy, America ... we´ve liked it everywhere. But there are so many beautiful places around  the world that we haven´t seen yet. We are trying our best to visit a new place every year. Return to where we´ve been, we'd like that sometimes, but we don´t have enough money and not enough time.

6) You are a wheelchair user, what are your personal criteria, when choosing a wheelchair-friendly trip? How much in advance, do you make sure that your trip goes smoothly from the point of view of the disabled?

We have visited four continents with my mom so far. I have no particular personal criteria when thinking of a trip. And to make each trip going smoothly from the point of view of a disabled person, this is actually about finding the suitable seat on board of plane, because I don´t walk at all, and then searching for barrier-free accommodation, of course. We look for plane tickets and accommodation in advance, it is cheaper. During 16 years of our adventures, only one problem ocurred, the one in San Francisco.

7) What are the most accessible destination for wheelchair users and what is a bit of horror? What would you recommend to others?

Absolutely the best, mostly barrier-free and most enjoyable place to travel to for a wheelchair user - the United States. There is no problem anywhere, I would recommend the country for a visit to everyone. And India is the least accessible, although the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra and the most famous monuments in New Delhi have ramps and accessible entrances.

8) How do you combine traveling with work / school / family?

Traveling and work is not a problem, I work from home, so we always carry the notebook with us. The civilization and wifi connection is everywhere today. Translating books, writing articles, or uploading articles or travel tips on Disway, I can do that on the beach in Thailand.

I studied in the United States and we traveled a little after I graduated. We visited the "historic triangle", Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown, this beautiful Washington, D.C. and unforgettable New York. During my studies at Business School in the Czech Republic, we traveled mainly during summer holidays. What a great gift it was to get two plane tickets to Ireland after I successfully graduated.

And my family? This is my mom, my dad and my dog. I do not plan to have children of my own, but I'm aunt of five nephews and nieces, so I don´t feel sad. My mom and I are passionate travelers, and my daddy does not enjoy traveling that much. So he stays home and takes care of the dog instead, when we are away.

9) What other plans do you have in mind? What's your biggest dream?

Had a dream to see the West Coast of the United States. Los Angeles is very interesting, also the crazy Las Vegas, the magnificent Grand Canyon, the breathtaking Monument Valley, beautiful city of Santa Fe, that's what we accomplished last year. Mummy's dream was to take a look at Albuquerque and the view from Sandia Peak was beautiful, great experience it was this famous highway Route 66, then the stunning coast of Big Sur and this picturesque city of San Francisco, and also the town of Bolinas. All her wishes did come true on that trip. Just absolutely incredible experience.

And our plans? So many of them... we have still enough courage, but it's all about money. Our big dream is to visit Australia, my mother would like to go to Bali, to Puerto Rico, maybe Chile, Sri Lanka, and Japan, Mexico ... Well, let's see what we´ll see...

10) You are very inspiring, what keeps you going forward?

What would you say to others ... my mom always says that one has dreams to have something to look forward to. And it does not matter whether you´re disabled or able-bodied. Have dreams and goals, take all the courage, travel and do not worry. Good people are everywhere and they´ll help, if needed.

The one, who travels around the world and sensitively observes life elsewhere, likes to return home. Sometimes it makes you realize and appreciate what you have. Simply, be happy!