For some time now, I’ve been wanting to start a blog about my rewarding experiences and adventures as a disabled traveler. First, however, I should probably introduce myself.
My name is Zuleika. I’m 33 years old and I was born in Queens, New York. I currently live in Lugano, a cozy little nook in the Swiss-Italian region of a land notorious for cheese and chocolate. How did a New Yorker end up in Switzerland? Well, let’s see. Where to begin?
I came to Lugano through a study abroad program with my alma mater, LIU-C.W. Post. Imagine the allure of Europe to a 21-year-old. Better yet, imagine the allure of freedom and no parents! Like India, Italy had always been a dream destination for me. When I was told LIU didn’t offer a program in Italy, I chose the next best thing: Switzerland. “Do they speak Swedish there?” Yes, that was my first (and very uneducated) impression at first too! But I soon realized just how culturally exquisite Switzerland was with its reigning snow-capped mountains and parade of nature-driven townsfolk. It felt good to be somewhere that didn’t have sirens whizzing by every 20 minutes. It felt comforting to see homes without bars framing the windows. I missed my parents, but I was too happy with this newfound freedom and joy for all things lush and green. You know that saying, “The grass is always greener”? Well, in Lugano it actually was!
It didn’t take me long to adapt to the college life in Lugano. In a matter of days I had found a group of international friends that I could relate to and be silly with. We traveled on the weekends, went to wine tasting events, and partied into the wee hours of the morning. We soaked up what the world had to offer, and it couldn’t have been any better.
One October morning my new friends and I decided to go to Amsterdam in celebration of Queen’s Day, a national holiday. We had heard many tales of the attractive nightlife, the Anne Frank House, the Heineken museum, and of course the Belgian waffles that no tourist should do without. That afternoon at the train station, we anxiously looked up at the timetable and glanced at our watches, curious, but ready for our latest European adventure to unravel.
I never made it to Amsterdam that day.
When I saw I was about to miss my train, I ran to it, lost my balance, and slipped, falling under as it was picking up speed. It was then that my life took an unexpected turn. When I woke up three days later, I realized I had lost my left arm and leg. It was then when I knew I would never be the same again. It was then when I went from being a young college student, enjoying every whim and fancy, to a grown-up with some serious decisions to make.
Suddenly my hopes of adventure and traveling the globe were replaced with uncertainty and fear. I thought being disabled meant having to give up my dreams of exploring, taking risks, and seeing the world. But slowly, that urge to travel began to grow again. I realized my disability couldn’t overshadow my hunger for life and my passion for learning.
So I began to travel again. I started with New York, then worked my way to Paris, Morocco, Germany, England, Austria, and most recently, India. I even made it to Amsterdam after all. Each city has had its advantages and disadvantages in terms of accessibility. Some have proved more challenging than others, and those that lacked accessibility more than made up for it in service. India, for example, may not have been the most accessible country, but I found the people and the culture the most endearing (I will post on my travel experiences there soon).
Too often we see disabled or elderly people who seem defeated with life. They actually believe their possibilities are limited or void because they’re confined to a wheelchair or a cane, or a physical disability that hinders their mobility. As a wheelchair and cane user myself, I know how difficult it can be to travel. But if we just look at it a little differently, we’ll soon see how much of an adventure it can all be.
I know what it’s like to give up and believe that life isn’t worth living just because it took a turn you weren’t expecting. But I believe there’s a vast, magnificent world out there, and a disability shouldn’t be a reason why we don’t discover it. Yes, it can be a challenge, and no, it isn’t always easy, but that feeling of accomplishment you take with you is priceless.
As a disabled traveler/blogger I hope I can offer others a chance to see just how much of that can be accomplished and how fun it can be. I will chronicle my adventures in the hopes of encouraging other fellow disabled travelers to take the plunge and embark on their own journey wherever it may lead them. 🙂