We travel to ensure we are keeping and forging connections with new people, as well as with each other. As a family of five living in Melbourne, Australia, we aspire to adventure as often as we can, and would describe our travel style as backpacker – with some luxury thrown in as a treat – and try to explore places that are less popular or touristic.
Our first trip to Vietnam was in 2009. At the time, Andrew and I had two children (aged 4 and 9 months old) and we decided to get married on the beach in Mui Ne with our closest family and friends. We spent a month travelling through this amazing country from south to north, jumping on and off trains and motorbikes, exploring the cities, beaches and hills. I carried my daughter in a sling and fed her amongst the hill tribe women in Sapa, while Andrew and Cooper loved trying all the new foods that were on offer. It was a country that seemed to have it all, to suit all types of travellers and we couldn’t wait to get back!
Now, in 2019, we travel with our three children: Cooper (14), Pepper (10) and Woody (7). Together we have explored 30 countries and the list of where we want to go keeps growing, as we each form our own opinions as individual explorers (right now we have Spain, Portugal and Morocco at the top of the list). Asia holds a special place in our hearts and we have plans to explore Myanmar this coming July; Japan is always on the list too.
We travel a little differently to most people. Cooper, our eldest son, uses a wheelchair as he received a brain injury at birth. He has a variety of mobility devices, so our travel planning is a little less spontaneous than most, and we need to research destinations so we know what to expect.
Often it’s the locals who open up their hearts – and often arms their and muscles – to help Cooper be included in it all. Throughout our travels, we’ve found that the places where disability isn’t as widely accepted is where people have thanked us for starting the conversation, and allowing disability to be more visible.
We returned to Vietnam in 2018; we spent two weeks exploring the southern part of the country, from Ho Chi Minh City up to Hoi An. One of the highlights of Hoi An was a street food walking tour. One of our favourite ways to explore a new town is by walking, and what better way than eating too?! We joined up with our guide Ha, who spent four hours introducing us to local foods, and teaching us about Vietnamese culture. Another thing I love about walking tours is that they can be great for wheelchair access; all the shop fronts and markets we visited were easy to navigate with a wheelchair too.
We decided to add to our adventure by catching a sleeper train from Hoi An back to Ho Chi Minh City. I love trains, as you don’t have to wait in line at an airport, there’s no passport control, no luggage limits and the scenery is often breathtaking. I love the connections made on trains too, meeting locals and other travellers, and hearing so many great stories. I don’t often sleep that much, but the kids love the rocking motion and always sleep well! To get onto the train we carry Cooper, fold up his chair, and stow it under the cabin table.
The Mekong River area of Vietnam is spectacular and the perfect place to balance out beach and city time. The highlight of our trip was visiting the morning river markets at 5am and eating freshly prepared noodles and pork on a long boat. Seeing people selling all types of fruits, meats and vegetables from the side of boats while the sun rose was amazing. We arranged this before arriving in Vietnam so that our guide and driver could meet us as soon as we hopped off the train. We hired a large van for transport so we could pop Cooper’s wheelchair in the back easily, and take it in and out at each stop we made.
A few tips for wheelchair travel
- When you book your flight into Vietnam (or wherever you’re travelling), make sure you tick the wheelchair services box or give the airline a call; that way, when you arrive at check in, it isn’t a surprise for anyone. Every airline and airport may handle things slightly differently, so try to go with the flow, yet be firm in your needs too.
- We are always the first to board, which gives us a little bit of extra time to get Cooper settled in his seat. This is when airline staff will come and introduce themselves and offer any extra assistance you may need; they’ll also discuss what happens when you arrive at your destination.
- Cooper takes his wheelchair to the door of the plane and then, with some support, he can walk to his seat. There are aisle chairs available if you need support right to your seat.
- We also add a little tag to Cooper’s wheelchair that has his photo and a few words about him, in the hope that baggage handlers will take extra care with his chair at each airport. So far, so good!
- We also strongly recommend travel insurance; we’ve used Covermore and All Clear, as they cover people with preexisting conditions.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. If joining a group trip is not practical we may be able to provide you with a private departure. Please contact our sales team for further information on any of our itineraries.