By Seth McBride
Before a skiing accident left me with quadriplegia at the age of 17, I had never traveled out of North America. Not that I didn’t want to. The opportunity just hadn’t presented itself. In the 11 years since, I’ve traveled all over the world — to 14 countries on five continents.
There’s no doubt I’m infected with a certain amount of restlessness, but I suspect that everyone is to some extent. Most people are intrigued by the foreign. This is why we travel: to recapture some of the wonder we had as children, when the world still seemed a huge and marvelous place. Yet, invariably when I travel to exotic-sounding destinations like Laos, Cambodia or El Salvador, people question why I would to go to such “out of the way” places.
In the disability community the question is often related to accessibility: Why would I voluntarily travel to places where there are no ramps and curb cuts, where elevators are few and far between, where there’s no guarantee I’ll ever be able to fit into a bathroom? The simple answer is there’s a great big world out there and very little of it is accessible. Going only to those places designed for people with disabilities is extremely limiting.
Here, I think, a distinction needs to be made between travel and vacation. People vacation for fun and relaxation, to leave the stress of their everyday world behind. Vacation is a necessary enterprise, one I have to engage in from time to time, and I will throw no stones at those who choose to idle on a cruise or sip Mai Tais at a resort pool. Accessibility makes a vacation easier to enjoy.
But travel is a different thing. Travel can be dirty. It can be stressful, arduous, full of mental and physical effort. But for those willing to leave the shell of the comfortable and the familiar, travel can be rewarding beyond anything vacation has to offer.
One of the most beautiful days of travel I’ve had was sitting on the roof of a ferry in the blistering Cambodian sun. I had been piggybacked up there by one of my friends I was traveling with on a two-month tour of Southeast Asia. It was brutally hot and totally uncomfortable. But balancing on my wheelchair cushion with no backrest for five hours with no shade and very little breeze, I wouldn’t have wanted to be any other place in the world.