I'm writing my 2016 summary from Poland. Having been here for a few summer time visits, it's definitely on the colder side now. However the people, food and culture has been very warming.
It's also been nice to raise the temperature by looking back at this year's travels, projects and favourite memories. Having noted my top ten memories, I've simply expanded them into this fun little post:
1) Husky Dog Sledding in Finland
It seems like years ago but back in January 2016 we visited Helsinki and its surrounding areas. It was for the Nordic blogging programme. Alongside around 40 other travel bloggers from around the world, we saw the sites and swapped travel blogging tips.
During one of our exploring days, before the travel market, we had a very cool activity to try out - Husky Dog Sledding. This involved -32° temperatures, being lifted out from my wheelchair, and towed by these mysteriously beautiful animals.
2) Speaking at the Naidex exhibition
Having never attended Naidex before, I finally managed to get to Birmingham for it this year. Instead of just attending, we had a double whammy for Disability Horizons. We exhibited our own stand and got to meet some of our amazing community. Also I was asked to speak on the speakers stage.
It was fantastic to share my story of disability, independent living, travel and about my career. The audience was very friendly and engaged. I've already been asked back too, so I can't have been so bad :-)
3) Accessible Travel Week with Virgin Atlantic and Holiday Inn
Around the same time as Naidex, George Baker and I launched Accessible Traveller. It's a premium subscription newsletter and discount club for disabled travellers.
For the launch we created 'Accessible Travel Week' with lots of free resources and awareness raising. To also highlight that disabled people are part of mainstream tourism too (when inclusivity is considered), we partnered with Virgin Atlantic and Holiday Inn.
The videos were unsurprisingly about flying and accommodation. I presented/filmed them at the Virgin Atlantic headquarters near Gatwick (called 'the Base'), and at a flagship Holiday Inn hotel near Birmingham. The feedback we received was great.
4) Spending time with family
Who doesn't enjoy adventure travels, and world changing projects? Well, I certainly love them. There is something else I've become more fond of recently though. That is family time.
When growing up I wanted to fly the nest. Despite all of the odds. Once I flew, I was busy at university, busy working in London and then busy seeing other countries. The last couple of years I've returned to the nest more often and am cherishing every moment with my loved ones.
5) Super Hotels and Adapted Gondolas
In May we had our usual trip to Spain. This time it began with BaskForAll and a beautiful project in San Sebastian. We stayed at "the most accessible hotel I've ever seen!". With an adapted bed, ceiling hoist, wetroom shower, and autonomous controls for doors/lights/curtains - I was in Independent Living heaven.
This was swiftly followed by our annual stay in Barcelona and later onto Poland. Inbetween we drove up the Costa Brava, into France and through Italy, up to Austria, and Czech Republic. We stopped in Turin, Lake Garda, Venice, near Salzburg and Karlowe Vary.
Of all the places and foods and people, I had a very memorable occasion in Venice. I'd met the guys from Gondolas4all at a conference the previous year in Madrid. Upon passing Venice we arranged to try out the adapted Gondola.
After a worrying start (how would it all work?), I relaxed more and more. Sat in my 150kg wheelchair I was lowered into the historic Italian boat. I soon realised why this simple transport method was so famous. We bobbed along looking at years of history. It was stunning and beautiful.
As I've said many times since - if a Gondola can be accessible, anything can!
6) Buying a bungalow
Having lived in a barely fit-for-purpose flat for a couple of years, the rise in property prices meant something amazing. The profit made gave enough deposit for a more suitable bungalow. It's still being adapted with ramps and a hoist, but I'm excited to get in there soon.
7) Mountain trekking in Mallorca
At the end of November we flew to Mallorca for yet another accessible tourism project. Tough life hey? I'm still yet to write my blog post about it, but the memory of driving an adapted 4x4 mountain trekker leaves a huge smile on my face everytime. Blog post coming in January.
8) Being chosen as Britain's third most influential disabled person
I'd provided information on my projects two months earlier to the disability Power 100 organisers. During the week in Mallorca I found out the most amazing news. I'd been voted at number 3 by a judging panel headed by Tanni Grey Thompson! Amazing.
9) Surviving 2016
This does sound a little melodramatic. However looking back at this year's news it's not so crazy. There's been so much fear. So many negative prophecies. So many celebrity deaths. It's easy to see how we all could have given up.
We didn't though did we? We're still here! Whether you wanted Brexit, Trump or any other media hyped event (or not!) - here's the real deal. Only you can control your thoughts and actions. So ignore the fear and hate. Love yourself and give compassion to others. Then things will be fine. I promise!
10) Learning, growing and contributing
I've soul searched a lot in 2016. I've thought about all of these horrible news events. I've thought about if I can really control anything. The biggest self improvement lesson I came across was this:
- Try to experience and enjoy every day.
- Learn from the gurus but mostly from yourself. Everyday is an opportunity to grow.
- Always give something to others. Contribution is probably the simplest key to happiness
I hope you had a great Christmas and a good year. For me I'm now filled with excitement. Excitement of new opportunities, new travels, new people and new projects. Naturally I'll bring you along every step of the way!
Image Credits: Martyn Sibley & Kasia Miszczak