What a pandemic taught me about accessible travel

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I’m Carrie-Ann. I’m a wheelchair user, a writer, a marketing manager, a dog lover, and a cheese addict – but none of these things define me as much as my love for travel. For the last 15 years, I’ve worked, lived and loved accessible travel. It’s the theme running through all of my writing and the reason why I blog, it’s a key part of my work, it’s one of the things I look forward to in life, and since I was 18 I’ve felt that travel is a huge part of who I am.

Carrie-Ann on St Andrews Beach

Adapting to COVID-19 as a travel blogger

Then along came a global pandemic, grounding flights, leaving trains on the tracks, clearing our roads and keeping me, just like everyone else, at home. I’ll be totally honest with you, readers: I panicked. Not just about the risk to my health, and the health of my loved ones. Not just about job and financial security. Not just about the thought of spending weeks and months isolated in the house. Not even just about the fact that my dream trip, which had been in the planning stages for years – to Bali, Australia and Singapore – would now have to be cancelled. But also, because for the first time in my adult life, just like all of those flights, I was grounded. I’d worked so hard to build a career and a reputation as one of the leading voices on travel for the disabled community, and all of a sudden I found myself asking: who am I without accessible travel?

I threw myself headfirst into doing everything I could to develop my work and skills during lockdown. I worked hard on my blog’s SEO and my social media strategy. I launched a newsletter, and a series of interviews with accessible travel providers about the measures they were putting in place to safely welcome disabled guests post-lockdown. I took part in countless podcast interviews and livestream collaborations. And yet, the love wasn’t there. I had proved to myself that I could stay relevant, that I could still be seen, and that I still had an engaged audience who wanted information about accessible travel. But what I was truly missing was the travel itself.

Be a tourist in your hometown

I started off small, with some alternative dog walking routes, remembering my own advice: you can be a tourist in your hometown. Sometimes all it takes is a different view, a mindset shift, and you can still get that ‘travel’ feeling without breaching lockdown restrictions or going very far. I worked up to a trip to the nearest seaside with friends for fish and chips. Even without leaving the car, the smell of the sea air, the tang of salt & vinegar and the stunning sunset view transported me to a ‘holiday’ state of mind.

Sunset view on Arnside beach, Cumbria, watch whilst eating fish and chips

Into Autumn, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to have a couple of short trips, which at the time of my travels, restrictions allowed. The first of this year, to Scotland’s Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This was a trip that had been planned many times, first for March and then June, and finally, in September I had the joy of packing a suitcase. I had been invited by the owners of Wood Leisure, a caravan holiday business in Scotland, to review their new accessible caravan holiday home at Callander Woods Holiday Park in Perthshire.

Carrie-Ann using an all-terrain wheelchair, sitting in front of a waterfall near Callander, Scotland

Here’s an extract from my review:

“I won’t pretend that accessible travel is ever easy, and travelling as a disabled person during a pandemic certainly brings an extra level of things to worry about – but, during my first trip of the year, the stars seemed to align, to remind me exactly why I love to travel. A September heatwave, comfortable accessible accommodation, an amazing piece of mobility technology, and stunning accessible natural environments all combined to make me fall in love with Scotland’s Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.”

What a pandemic taught me about accessible travel

So, what has the pandemic taught me about accessible travel? That it is, and always will be, one of the things I love the most. That ‘travel’ can be defined as simply looking at a different view, taking a different route, or slowing down to appreciate your surroundings. That you definitely don’t have to go far to have an amazing travel experience. And that I’ll never again take travel for granted.

Carrie-Ann Lightley is one of the UK’s leading accessible travel bloggers, a freelance travel writer, and she also heads up the marketing team for national disability organisation AccessAble. Through her blog she aims to encourage and inspire disabled people to travel to, explore and discover new places.

Carrie-Ann’s blog has become a firm favourite with her followers and led her to write for the Guardian, the Sun, HuffPost and TripAdvisor, as well as many other websites, magazines and industry publications.

In 2019 and 2020, Carrie-Ann was named as one of the top 100 most influential disabled people in the UK, on the Shaw Trust  #DisabilityPowerList100.

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