We have met so many people on our travels that have thanked us for showing them that all kids can travel and that disability can be seen, embraced and enjoyed rather than hidden away.
As you will probably know, we are not just about the ‘Places We Go’, but also the ‘people we meet’. This extends to our very own travel tribe – people like YOU who are part of our community and love to celebrate our world and the adventures to be found in it just like us. That’s why we love to meet you all.
This month we wanted to get to know one family a little better.
Smiths Holiday Road is an online blog and Instagram account founded by Melburnian Bronwyn Leeks. Bron shares the incredible adventures she has with her husband Andrew, and her three kids Cooper (12), Pepper (8) and Woody (5), all over the world. This includes the reality of travelling with one of her children in a wheelchair.
Bron has inspired an entire community through her blog and Instagram about not only the incredible rewards of family travel but also that travel can be accessible and inclusive. We got to know Bron and her family more and wanted to introduce you.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
We are a family of 5 who live in Melbourne, Australia. Our three kids are aged 12 ,8 and 5 and are in Primary School. The younger kids attend full time while our eldest does a mixture of homeschool and traditional school. I have always travelled as my parents met working for an airline in 1974. Its a big priority for us to experience the world together.
How did you come to start your blog and Instagram?
Two years ago we took the kids to Europe for 6 weeks so we started a blog as a way of them sharing their adventures with our family and school friends. We started Instagram shortly after as I have a passion for photography and loved sharing stories of our adventures.
Tell us about where you have travelled as a family?
Our first family trip was when Cooper was 18 months old to Singapore to access some alternative therapy for his disability. Cooper has Cerebral Palsy from a brain injury at birth. We loved that travel gave us time to connect and get away from the usual routine. Once we had our daughter Pepper we explored Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and interstate holidays within Australia. We then had our son Woody and have been to Europe, UK, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, and NZ.
Why is travelling the world with your kids so important to you?
Travel gives us time together to connect away from the usual work/school routine. It challenges us to push ourselves and test ourselves in new environments. It exposes us and our kids to a variety of cultures, people, food and landscapes. The kids make new friends, communicate with different people and see and learn by being there and doing.
What is your favourite kind of holiday?
It would have to be overseas and to countries that have really different language, food and landscapes. We like a holiday with a challenge and that has us returning with good stories!
Can you name a couple of your most treasured memories travelling with your family?
Without a doubt it was travelling to Cambodia. A few months prior our eldest son had completed a 1km walk (in his walker) to fundraise $15,000 for a Cambodian charity New Hope. We jumped off the plane and were greeted by 70 school kids holding posters to welcome us at the airport in Siem Reap.
Another experience we loved was travelling across Sri Lanka by train and chatting and sharing food with all the locals in the 3rd class carriage.
How has travelling with a wheelchair changed the way you travel?
I think we actually travel better because of Cooper. We push ourselves so that he can experience everything that we do and that our other kids do. We make it happen in a way to show him he can do anything. We have met so many people on our travels that have thanked us for showing them that all kids can travel and that disability can be seen, embraced and enjoyed rather than hidden away.
Can you name some of your top tips for travelling with a wheelchair?
It does take more planning from the moment you book your ticket! We need to notify the airline about Coopers wheelchair, how much it weighs and the dimensions. We always get to the airport early too! Each country is very different with their level of wheelchair access, do your research so you know what to expect and sometimes things do go wrong or not to plan but thats part of the adventure. Our top tip is get travel insurance!
Are there any places that are more wheelchair friendly and accessible than others?
The more modern cities do have better access places like Tokyo, Melbourne, London. Then there are countries like Cambodia, Laos where access is really hard but the people are so helpful that you can make it happen! It really depends on how the city/town/area sees disability and if they have priortised that in their planning. Everyone who uses a wheelchair does so for different reasons. Cooper uses a manual chair while we travel and we push him. He can also now walk a little independently and self transfer. Its very individual to what supports you may need so its always good to research, send emails, ask questions and get a feel for a place. Some wheelchair users need information on transport options and actually getting around while others might need more support with self care options, charging a power chair or availability of hoists within a hotel room.
What is planned for your next travel experience?
We have a big adventure planned for a school term to China and Mongolia. We are catching the Trans Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulan Bator which takes 27hours. We will be homeschooling the kids at this time and cant wait for this time together.
What is your number one bucket list destination?
Right now its seeing the Great Wall of China and the Nadaam festival in Mongolia.
Name four things you always pack, that others might not necessarily think about?
- A sarong to use for temple visit, sun protection and to cover the kids while they nap on a train ride.
- Kids journals for writing and pencils for drawing.
- Vomit bags because without a doubt someone always vomits!
- A change of clothes for everyone!
Any tips to keep kids happy on long flights?
We research a lot prior to an adventure. We read lots of books about airports and planes so the kids knew and know what to expect. Now that they are a little older they are great travellers and keep themselves occupied for the majority of the journey. We pack little surprise bags for them with new pens/pencils, small toys like matchbox cars, a few new iPad games/movies and small treats like lollipops, biscuits and fruit bars. We order kids meals for the younger kids and make sure we take a few foods the youngest (fussy one) eats!
How do you keep the wanderlust at bay between trips?
We love watching travel documentaries on NetFlix and looking at some amazing photos on Instagram.