Around the world with Sandra Brühwiler

One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. In my view, ataxia doesn't prevent you from getting to know other countries and other people. Even on long-haul flights I feel that I am in good hands and can travel comfortably.

Whenever I can, I'm on the go. Some of my previous destinations have been:

Lloret de Mar, July 1994 (Spain)

I had a great time here, enjoying being away from school, with two of my friends. We drove to Spain by car. Just after my third year at secondary school, the symptoms of ataxia were not yet causing me a problem.

Mallorca, July 1996  (disco-dancing holiday, Palma di Mallorca)

Two fabulous weeks with my best friend at the time. We were out till all hours. Spent the afternoons lying on the beach, getting a tan. I didn't want to know about my illness, and didn't actually notice anything yet. For the two of us, this was the first big holiday by plane and without our parents.

Thailand, February 1998 (Bangkok to Kosa-Mui and Kosa-Met)

This was a great holiday with two of my friends. From Bangkok we traveled on by bus and boat. Ended up on Kosa-Mui and Kosa-Met for two whole weeks on the beach, interspersed with a few short trips inland, to take in some of the culture and art. Slept in a different bungalow every night. We did a lot of walking, despite my problems with my balance, which I had quite a lot of at that time. I flew back from Thailand by myself, since my friends wanted to stay on for a while. Flying on my own didn't bother me.

England, August 1999 (language-study holiday - Bournemouth)

I decided to take a three-and-a-half week vacation to learn English. I stayed with an elderly lady who showed me around a bit in her car, as by then my problems walking were becoming apparent. I also rented a bicycle to be able to get around more. I took a few days off to visit London with my then boyfriend. I neither needed nor wanted a wheelchair at that time. But that was one of my last trips abroad without one.

USA, August to October 2001 (language course in San Diego)

I took 3 months off to visit the States. This was the first time I had flown long-distance with the wheelchair. During my university vacation I decided to further my knowledge of the English language. So I spent three months at a language school in San Diego. It was interesting to be with so many young people from around the world.
We took short trips to Las Vegas, Hollywood, Miami Beach, L.A, San Francisco and Mexico. Everything in the States is all huge and wide open spaces. And… it's a real paradise for wheelchair users. Be it on the bus, train or boat: you can get to anywhere. Every hotel and restaurant, everything, is barrier-free, and you don't have to search around for a disabled toilet. It's great!

Several trips to the Netherlands (Scheveningen - The Hague)

My aunt and her family live here, in a house by the sea. Sometimes I just feel like taking a holiday. But no friends are around to come with me. In Holland I can find everything: friends and cousins of my own age, plus the sea, culture and entertainment.
The Dutch are very helpful and you can get to many more places in a wheelchair than at home in Switzerland.

Japan, July 2003 (Osaka, Tokyo)

Went to visit a Japanese friend whom I had gotten to know during the language course in the US. She showed me around her country, quite different from Switzerland. I was immersed in a totally different culture for three weeks. The food, the architecture, the people, their language and their habits - it's all quite, quite different. "I was very much the odd one out" -  European, and in a wheelchair! But my time there was fascinating.
Japan, at least Osaka, is not at all barrier-free. Their buildings are tall and narrow, and it's practically impossible to get from A to B without help. But then the Japanese are quite helpful. Tokyo, being an international city, is much more accessible.

Dominican Republic, January 2004 (Punta-Cana)

A two-week beach holiday in Punta Cana with my boyfriend. We stayed at an all-inclusive hotel. Access for wheelchairs is zero, even in the hotels, but then we didn't expect anything else. I guess it's because the country is so poor. But people at the hotel and outside were very willing to help.

Australia, September-October 2004 (Northern Territory)

With my friend we rented a camper van and drove through the tropical Northern Territory of Australia. To tell the truth we set out rather on an impulse, without much planning. We booked the holiday only two weeks in advance, over the Internet, and simply let it all happen. I experienced very little trouble indeed with wheelchair access, given that we were on an adventure/camping holiday.

Author: Sandra Brühwiler