My name’s Slaven. I’m an adventurer, writer and humanitarian from Croatia. I wasn’t always like this but I knew I had an adventurous spirit. After my injury where I broke my neck, I was given a “second life” and that’s when I discovered my passion for travel! Despite my disability (quadriplegia), I decided to live life to the fullest by traveling in my wheelchair.
I write about my travels and the problems I face on my blog, and try to educate people about my injury and life with a disability. The goal is to inform, motivate and inspire people to follow their dreams. I visit exotic destinations, outside the routes provided for people with disabilities, in the simplest way possible – breaking down all barriers and stereotypes.
How I Took on the Challenge of Traveling in a Wheelchair
“Luckily” I sustained my injury from a sea jump when I was 23. I say luckily because not many people with my injury live a “normal” life until 23 years of age, but rather sustain injuries much younger! Thankfully, by the time I was 23, I had already experienced many things in life and I’m grateful for that!
After sustaining my injury, and coming home from being in hospital for a year, I had a couple of choices. I could’ve stayed home and pitied myself, I could’ve done sports (which I had done up until my injury), I could’ve worked some stupid office job from 8am – 4pm or I could’ve gone traveling!
Back then, traveling the world in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic was a complete enigma and there was no information about it online. Since I wanted to embrace my situation, I decided to go for the most challenging option – exploring the world! It all started on the seaside when my friends took me on a speedboat trip, just a few months after leaving hospital.
Even though my family kind of panicked, I was determined to not let my disability stop me from doing the things I love. After that, I went to a music festival with my friend and slept at a camp. Then, I didn’t know what my body was capable of – how long I could sit or anything like that. Every trip was a challenge and a step above the last. Once I traveled through Europe, I felt it was time for a new goal: an adventure outside of Europe to Morocco!
The feeling that sailors had when they set off into the unknown has been lost over the generations. It was experienced by the first travelers, conquerors of mountains and those who’ll be able to travel interstellar.
Traveling in a wheelchair is a way of entering the unknown and I never know what to expect, what problems or challenges I’ll encounter and how I’ll go about solving them. That feeling is hard to describe and the hunger for that feeling is greater with every moment I spend at home. As long as it lives in me – I’ll be eager to travel, explore, discover and write.
What are the Most Wheelchair-Friendly Places in the World?
So far, I’ve been lucky enough to visit 40+ countries – but I don’t like numbers or bragging about how many countries I’ve ticked off! I simply travel to the places I like and where I’m going to feel fulfilled. Since I’m not interested in every country, my goal is never going to be to visit them all!
Considering that, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite destination because I love them all. I especially like the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. But if I had to choose one favorite, the one where I felt something different and unique, it would be Australia. The nature there is incredible!
The most wheelchair-friendly places I’ve been to outside of Europe are definitely Australia and Singapore. However, if we talk about places inside of Europe, I would say Berlin is the best. It’s completely flat and accessible!
It’s important to note that every disability is different, and so are the people’s needs and preferred ways of traveling. Personally, I like when it’s not too accessible because I like the challenge. But sometimes wheelchair-friendly facilities come as a relief! For wheelchair users things like accessible public toilets, accommodation, transport, and fewer cobblestone streets and sidewalks without obstacles are the most important.
On a personal level it’s the luggage, accessible bathrooms and toilets, and public transport which are the most challenging aspects of traveling in a wheelchair. Another difficult aspect is finding a travel companion that’s capable of doing the things I need and being compatible with me!
Important Tips for Traveling the World in a Wheelchair
In terms of tips for traveling in a wheelchair, it’s crucial to get used to being outside of your comfort zone. That way you’ll be able to adapt, not panic, get experience and find ways to improvise! For the less adventurous wheelchair users I recommend reading, researching and double-checking. That way, you will lower the chance of having any problems on your trip.
I have almost no thermoregulation in my body as a quadriplegic and considering the heat I expose to my body on my travels, I always carry a spray bottle to cool down. When it comes to flying and airplanes, I sit on the pillow I use in my wheelchair. I never pump up the air to its maximum, since there’s a possibility of the pillow exploding mid-air from pressure.
I always carry tools for my wheelchair, spare inner tubes for my tires, a rope and duct tape. You never know when you’ll need something! Regarding packing, I split my catheters. Some of them go in my backpack, some into my suitcase and some in the luggage of my travel companion. This ensures that if something gets lost, I always have some catheters with me.
For accommodation, I research them on Facebook beforehand and send them a message to request photos to ensure it’s accessible. All of these things help make your traveling experience in a wheelchair easier!