Bron Leeks on why you should wander the world, wheelchair or not

There are very few places on our bucket-list the Smiths have not visited. This family of five loves to test out remote destinations, wacky foods and bumpy train rides – they’re willing to give anything a shot! Cooper, who sometimes uses a wheelchair, Pepper and Woody, were 12, 8 and 5 when we first spoke to Bron in 2018. They often globe-trot with their dad, Andrew, and mum, Bron, who spoke to us about accessible travel and why she loves exploring the unknown with her family. For more fantastic tales, check out their blog, Smiths Holiday Road. This story will get you salivating and dreaming of travel again; a great way to start imagining your next adventure.

Bron Leeks wheelchair travel
The Smith family are no strangers to travel! Credit: Bron Leeks

The top picks

Why is travel important to your family?

Travel is important to us because it allows us to step outside our comfort zones. It tests us, pushes us and challenges us. It allows us all to see and embrace difference.

Read more: The Smiths spill on why Japan is awesome for families with wheelchair users

Do you have any special memories from your travels?

I have a million! Because we travel with kids, one of whom uses a wheelchair, we are forever making connections with people we might not have otherwise met. Most recently we connected with a family in Malaysia who also had a child with a disability and there was just an instant connection. My other experience was with a local Cambodian woman who also had a child with Cerebral Palsy and we sat and cried together on the beach as she shared her story.

A fearless Pepper conquers Laos via motorbike! Credit: Bron Leeks

What has been your favourite destination as a family and why?

This is such a hard one to answer as we love going anywhere! My top pick would be Borneo because it’s so rustic and adventurous and family-friendly. The kids get to engage in nature and learning and it’s just a beautiful place.

Cooper loves South Korea because it’s modern and has amazing food! Woody loves New Zealand and spending time adventuring in a camper van, Andrew loves Japan for amazing food and music and Pepper loves Malaysia for its mix of cultures and amazing Indian street food.

Japan wheelchair Smith Holiday Road
Japan’s fascinating and busy streets, wheelchair in tow. Credit: Bron Leeks

What has surprised you the most about travelling with kids?

I am always honoured when I see the kids engaging confidently with new people and chatting with new friends. I love that it opens up so much communication with new people and is such a great ice-breaker.

Read more: how my travelling life has changed since becoming a dad

Travelling with a wheelchair

How is it different traveling with a wheelchair than without?

It is our normal so we don’t really think about it being too different. It’s only when I think back to my own childhood travels or go out for the day without Coop that I realise that it is a challenge and that it requires lots of pre-planning.

Taipei Bron Leeks
Splashes of colour in Taipei make for great travel shots! Credit: Bron Leeks

How do you approach travelling with a wheelchair in developing countries? Is it any different?

It is harder for sure, as access is a big issue. The people who make our adventures happen are amazing. When we were recently in Mongolia, we went to visit a temple on a mountain. It was never a question that Cooper wouldn’t do it; our Ger host just piggy-backed him up that mountain and it’s something I’ll never forget.

Are there any places or attractions around the world that offer outstanding accessible and inclusive options?

Not that we have seen or experienced! Things are slowly changing as tourism operators realise there is a big market in accessible tourism. Everyone has different needs, so most of the time it is a case by case thing. There are new bathrooms popping up in Australia and the UK called Changing Places, for use by people of all abilities. There are accessible water parks being built and more accommodation options to suit all abilities.

The logistics

Do you have any tips or routines for dealing with airports?

Get there early. We are always early but it eases my mind that everything will be organised if we check in on time and have a chat with the airline staff. We travel with carry-on only but we always need to go and get the wheelchair tagged and checked in and talk about Cooper’s ability to use stairs or not.

wheelchair Nam Song River Bron Leeks
Crossing the Nam Song River as a family. Credit: Bron Leeks

How about for managing hotels and accommodation?

I love using booking.com and Trip Advisor for reading reviews. I love travel blogs for some good info on where to stay. Sometimes I will email the accommodation and talk to them about Cooper’s wheelchair. Although we don’t need everything fully accessible, we don’t want to be on the 10th floor with no lift.

Anything else about planning and booking?

My favourite part of travelling is often the planning! Reading and researching and dreaming! We love reading Lonely Planet guides, watching documentaries and speaking with other travel families.

The last pearls of wisdom

What general advice would you give to families requiring accessible travel options?

Everyone’s needs are going to be different so it’s always best to communicate with everyone involved in your trip. Always double or triple check too! We book everything ourselves but you can also use an agent or tour operator who knows your needs and can book things on your behalf.

Find activities to keep you occupied at home and abroad. Credit: Bron Leeks

My number one tip is to just try it and not to give up. You don’t have to be off exploring overseas, you can start in your own backyard by exploring botanical gardens, museums, parks. You can have a ‘staycation’ in the city, or interstate. It’s about doing something different, stepping outside your normal.

Don’t forget to have a peek at the Smith family blog, Smiths Holiday Road, for more wild and wacky adventures.

The Smiths also featured in our list of top travelling families on Instagram

READ MORE:

Off the beaten path with the Lucas family

Accessible Australia in a nutshell

A version of this story first appeared on the website in February, 2018.

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