As we say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016 it seems a good time to look back at how our family and Have Wheelchair Will Travel travelled through 2015. I definitely think I’m getting older because I find myself musing, “Where did the year go?” I also find myself anxious that another year has passed and I haven’t accomplished all I’d hoped for BJ. In saying that, 2015 was a positive one for our family for so many reasons.
What most people don’t know is that this year was to be a defining year for Have Wheelchair Will Travel. I was discouraged at the end of 2014 with the uphill battle it was to get support. I seemed to be talking myself blue about the need for information about accessible and inclusive tourism and the powers that be in that area were really only interested in numbers: how many visits to our website, how many Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers we had. In my ideal world everyone should want to support inclusive and accessible tourism so I was feeling jaded by the need to strive for numbers and prove the worth of the website. The website had no advertising, no sponsorship and it was hard work.
It seemed that at the point when I felt like throwing in the towel, someone would intuitively know and send me a message thanking me for providing information that had allowed them to seek out an experience with confidence. I’d get the encouragement I needed at the time it was needed to keep pushing ahead. Although I didn’t make my goal of 10,000 Facebook friends by 31 December, I have achieved something greater than a number. We have an engaged and enthusiastic community. We may not have a hundred thousand ‘likes’ but we have a sense of community and to me that means more.
The year was filled with travels, first time experiences and a mixture of good and tricky times. The year started with a holiday to one of our favourite places in Australia, Port Macquarie. A place we consider our second home making our stays relaxing and familiar. We stayed at Rydges Port Macquarie and I wrote about their accessible accommodation here.
AJ started high school and took to it well, enjoying the change of scene, teachers and independence. The new workload was less exciting for both of us and I struggled to feel I was giving her enough time.
It doesn’t seem that long ago she was showing off her princess backpack as she proudly headed off for her first day of pre-school. Parents be warned, they grow up quickly. I didn’t feel ready for a high school girl but life happens like that, whether you are ready or not.
BJ started his second year at his day program and he greeted the year with enthusiasm and embraced the staff with his usual exuberance. I am grateful to see him so happy. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster for Hubby and I as we struggle with the fact that we will have to continue to push and ensure he has opportunities to learn and be stimulated. The staff that are good are very very good but some just don’t have the passion. Working with people with a disability isn’t a job to take as a filler job. You really need to want to do it. It’s better for everyone that way.
Respite (weekend stays) and flexible respite (respite we book when we need help at odd times) has given BJ his wings. The independence he has gained has been empowering for him and great for us to see. New foods, experiences and expectations are all part of growing up.
Our travels took us to familiar and new places. A trip to the Blue Mountains is always a winner with all members of our family. If you are thinking of taking a trip to the area make sure you read more about it on the blog here.
Stockton Beach near Newcastle was a new destination for us and despite the cooler weather we found lots to do it the area. You can read more about our accessible villa here. We also found that Newcastle has lots of accessible fun to offer visitors which I wrote about here.
The Gold Coast was the perfect place for a winter break and we had a fun-filled long weekend. We stayed at Treasure Island Holiday Park which has fantastic accessible facilities including a beach wheelchair for use in their water park. You can read all about the park here. A trip to the Gold Coast wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the theme parks and BJ and AJ thoroughly enjoyed visiting Sea World and Movie World.
In June I became a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. A big thanks to Rob McFarland and Aleney from Boy Eats World for your encouragement and support. I now have the opportunity of meeting lots of tourism representatives at the monthly luncheons and the food isn’t bad either.
In July we headed to the Cairns area for a 10 night holiday. We had such a fabulous time. 10 nights seemed plenty to enjoy all the area had to offer, especially seeing it was our second visit but we soon realised we could have stayed longer. Highlights included Fitzroy Island, Skyrail and Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas. You can read more about Skyrail here and Fitzroy here. We also managed to scope out some accessible accommodation options while in the area which I wrote about here.
In August I left the family behind and attended the ProBlogger conference. 700 people and only 3 people I knew from real life, the rest were virtual contacts. I had room-mates I had never met (who were lovely and did not snore) and I felt like a kid heading off to camp, with a mixture of nervous energy and excitement. It was 3 days of learning and socialising with people who understood the world of blogging. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about accessible and inclusive tourism and make lovely contacts. People responded well and it encouraged me further in my pursuit. The food was a definite highlight and I sent many photos home at each break during the day which didn’t earn me any brownie points with the family.
While wandering the market at Broadbeach after the conference I was lucky enough to run into one of our Facebook friends Marlena and her friend Bert. Marlena has a jumping castle business so drop down and support her if you are on the Gold Coast. It’s always lovely to meet our Facebook friends in real life.
In September I headed to Melbourne, once again by myself. Have Wheelchair Will Travel was nominated for two awards in the Ausmumpreneur Awards. We were a long shot. We were up against other blogs who had hundreds of thousands of followers but thanks to our awesome audience who are enthusiastic and loyal we managed third place in the Social Media category. A surprise award was to follow which was a Heart and Edge Award. This came with a $500 travel voucher and a spa voucher which I am yet to enjoy. You can read about the great accessible accommodations I found here and here.
In October BJ was lucky enough to be presented with his own Sandcruiser wheelchair, complete with flash embroidery with the Have Wheelchair Will Travel logo on it. The Hastings Lodge of Port Macquarie generously donated this. You can read about the wonderful liberating feeling this gave us here and my review of the Sandcuiser and Sandpiper beach chairs here. Having our own chair has given us choice and that is something that is often missing in the world of special needs and disability.
In early December Have Wheelchair Will Travel turned 3 years old. It is hard to believe what has evolved from the small idea I had to share our tips on our American trip in a basic format. That was all it was going to be in the beginning. I feel so lucky to have seen it grow into an enthusiastic and engaged audience. It’s a juggle sometimes with the family demands and sleep deprivation more often than not, but I love it.
In a continued effort to ensure AJ feels appreciated and gets her time to shine I took her away for a short break at the end of the school year. It was part of her birthday present. A trip to see her cousins in Queensland and a special 2 night stay at Tangalooma Island Resort (I’m still editing the pics and writing this up at the moment). It was all I hoped it would be and more. Reconnecting with her cousins was wonderful but it made us sad that we only see each other once a year.
Lastly, one of my passions is to see more positive representation of disability and special needs in mainstream publications so I was thrilled to write for Bupa and Kidspot this year.
None of these things would be possible without the support of our wonderful family (especially my parents who help out daily), friends and of course you.
I’d like to thank the fantabulous Victoria from Reindeer Riot for her ongoing support and our brand new website design. If you need web or graphic design work please think about using Reindeer Riot because she has been fundamental in taking HWWT to the next level without charging us a penny.
From our family to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and progressive 2016. We look forward to sharing our travels and experiences.
If you want to continue to support us please spread the word about HWWT because those pesky numbers still hold weight with the powers that be!
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Brian & Carolyn BLEVINS (YABBY INDUSTRIES) says
Julie, B.J A.J & Mark It was great to read your year of excitment & look forward to even greater things,in 2016, I was reading about your visit to Cairns & wondering if you visited the cairns casino zoo? It is not advertised very much & it is wheelchair accessible, it is dedicated to australian wildlife & they roam around the zoo with the visitors, of course not the crocadiles & snakes, It is situated on the top floor of the casino and is a giant bird aviary well worth a look. This year will see us donating another Beachchair to some lucky family perhaps you may assist us in selecting the reciepent , I would like your family’s involvement. Please keep up the good work JULIE & FAMILY P/S If I can Help Please contact us Love Carol &Brian BLEVINS
Hi Brian and Carol, Well, another great pleasure was meeting you two. We can’t thank you enough for the gift of the beach wheelchair which will definitely get a work out this summer. We haven’t visited Cairns Casino Zoo. I had seen some bits and pieces about the climbing they had in the rooftop over the animals but we simply ran out of time. When we go back we’ll have to check it out. Another beach wheelchair to be donated. How exciting. Of course we will happily be a part of that. Thanks again and I hope to catch up with you next time we are in Port Macquarie. Love the Jones family.
Seana Smith says
A very very happy New Year to you and all the family. Blogging and raising awareness can be so demanding, and exhausting too. But we learn so many fabulous skills and as we ‘work’ for ourselves, we can take time off when we need it so that we can recharge.
In the travel field any holiday can feel like work and I was so glad that I really did take time off when we went to Fiji just recently. I didn’t need to post a thing or take a photo and it felt very different to my usual holidays and trips away.
And a very happy New Year to Seana. Thank you for all your advice and encouragement too. There are actually so many people I could thank. Thanks for everything. I’ve just been researching Jervis Bay via your hellosydneykids.com.au You have so much wonderful information. Makes our planning much easier. I hope 2016 is a great one for your family. Julie
A very happy New Year to you too Seana. Well the blogging break you talk of occurred when we visited the South Coast last week. Staying at Bawley Point we had no phone or internet service. It was only when we ventured further afield that we had service and then we were too busy exploring.
I hope the New Year is a good one for your family and I look forward to catching up soon.