"I am very blessed to have traveled all over the world"
To celebrate Travel Agent Appreciation Month, WheelsUpNetwork wants to share with you some incredible travel agents stories and thank you personally for your hard work! This week’s interviewee is Linda Vias!
Linda is a full-time wheelchair user and she has traveled all over the world. Linda has such a passion to ensure all clients are able to experience amazing places and share the incredible cultures from Africa to Europe to around the world!
Where are you located and what’s your position?
“Castle Rock, Colorado, USA Travel Haus, Inc. President/Owner”.
When did you open Travel Haus and what vacations are you specializing in?
“Travel Haus, Inc was opened in 1984 and we purchased the Agency in 1999. We specialize in many different areas based on the Clients travel requests. Adventure tours, all-Inclusive vacations, groups, family vacations, cruises, Europe, FIT tours and honeymoons.”
What are key accessibility concerns that suppliers should be addressing?
“I think the biggest issue/concern is not grouping all disabilities into one category! There are many different accessibility issues. For example, mine just happens to be a bit more “outward” because I’m a full-time wheelchair user. Too many suppliers are quick to say, “accessible room” or “we offer accessibility tours”..which is great because it usually means the room door is a little wider or that they are open to having a wheelchair. -However, I’ve had many rooms that they will reflect “accessible” and there are steps into the bathroom! Or, I’ve been told the transfer bus is accessible but when I show up they look at me wondering how I will conquer the 4 steps to get into the bus! I like to focus on the positive and the great news is there have been changes being made-much more awareness and I think giving feedback in a positive way to resorts, cruise lines and Suppliers the changes can be continually made!”
Tips on how to find the most accessible tours and resorts (any favorites of yours?)
There are many great resorts and tours that are now being offered as “accessible”. The biggest feedback is talk to an experienced Agent that has first hand knowledge of accessibility issues-not just that someone said it is accessible.”
“I feel the most important part though is to be willing to do be very open and candid with the Agent about their specific needs. This allows us to help ensure their travel needs are well taken care of with all components of their trip as well as their resort and Suppliers before they even leave!”
“For the traveller, being “adaptable” is the key with accessibility travel! Ask a lot of questions based on specifics-not just the general of “oh, I see they are accessible.” For example, there was a great cruise I was on and they were very happy to tell me they were 100% accessible. I applaud them for all their efforts and modifications but I laughed because I had to point out the small things that most people don’t think of…that there was no way to wheel around the jogging track as there was a wall at the end with 7 steps over a walkway to get to the other side! A funny issue was in the bathroom as the garbage can was a “open by pressing the lever with your foot” trashcan! Another issue was at a great resort in Mexico. They were so kind to place a ramp to get to the restaurant. However, I didn’t realize it wasn’t secured in place so as I wheeled onto it the weight moved the ramp and yes, I was happily back at the base with the ramp on the other side of the floor!”
“I have many favorite resorts as mentioned, they have come so far to accommodate and more and more resorts in Mexico, Caribbean and Europe are building ramps and offering accessible rooms. I will give huge compliments to many of the resorts I have visited as even if they don’t have a ramp or elevators the staff will go way above and beyond to help and lift me. A gigantic compliment to a great resort that I was just there in February in Mexico (Secrets Playa Mujeres) -They did something I will never forget-they put together a make-shift beach wheelchair and wheeled me to the Beach! They helped me in the water and a bunch of the staff and myself swam the Gulf of Mexico! To see and recognize that they did not have an elevator and take it upon themselves to accommodate me (as they knew I loved to swim) and allow me to experience the beautiful beach and swimming in the Gulf just like every other guest-PRICELESS!!!”
Do you remember your first trip? What is your most memorable travel story?
“Truly and not to sound corny but I feel like every trip I am blessed to take is a “first” trip! Travelling the world there has and continues to be such amazing and incredible experiences that I cherish!”
“Long answer to a short question but I have two truly memorable travel stories (actually gazillions of awesome stories but two that really stand out and made an incredible impact on my life.). The first is I went to Tahiti and Fiji-visiting each Island and experiencing their wonderful culture. I was wheeling one morning from point A-B (as they told me sadly they did not have accessible vehicles). I ended up getting stuck between a rocky point and this gentleman with his daughter drove up about 20 minutes later. (I was laughing because I just kept waving to everyone for help but they just smiled and waved back and passed by!) Nonetheless, he said he had watched me in my chair and that as we spoke he explained he had been hit by a car and was in a chair during his time of healing. He and his daughter helped and put me in the back of their pickup and said they wanted to show me their home! Happily I smiled and the day I can’t even begin to put into words what a joy it was. They graciously took me all over in their old Toyota truck with over 390,000 miles on it and showed me the local tree ceremony, how they dive for pearls, the top of the island looking down in their handmade rock pile of a mini-theatre…only to finish by him taking me to their house and offering me two bottles of water. Their prize possession as there were 9 living in one room and yet he wanted to bless me with water! I finished the day by swimming with sharks and what a life-long memory that I will always hold for the incredible Tahitian people!”
“This next story is my favorite because it is something that changed me forever! I was super blessed to travel to Africa last summer. Most clients thought “oh that’s so nice how was the AC in your room and how many Safaris did you go on!” It was definitely not a typical tourist trip as I went with a group to a very remote area of Northern Africa-no water, no power, they had never seen a wheelchair let alone a “wheeling white woman” as one translator told me! I was able to help build bricks from scratch as they are being used to help the first medical clinic for the area (the next closest is over 37 miles away!). The BEST MEMORY that I hold tightly is the people. We have soooooooo much here and have so many choices – I think about just going to the grocery store, about the choice of over 100 different cereals on the shelf! The people are filled with compassion and joy and their curiosity about our lives was amazing. We took their pictures and they were amazed because they had never seen themselves! I marvel at their willingness to make the best out of their circumstances and yet something so simple as a lollipop and a pen was like they had just received a zillion dollars! The trip humbled me and motivated me even more to ensure each day that I hopefully can continue to always make a difference in the lives of anyone that I am sooooo blessed to be around!”
Is there something you always do while traveling? Like your personal travel traditions.
“I love to meet the locals and hear their stories. I love to experience what they do on a daily basis, eat their foods..ok, truthfully, eat dessert!! I love chocolate (yes, the real reason I love to workout and race in my wheelchair!) I love to “experience” their Culture-especially because I am so thankful to be visiting their homeland! Besides bringing back a unique local handmade souvenier (like the young blind artist in Dubrovnik that painted his view of the St. Lawrence Fortress for me)) I also collect a rock from everywhere I travel -It reminds me of the many people that have walked (or rolled!) before me that opened the door for all of us to be able to travel there!”
What advice would you give people who may feel hesitant to travel because of their mobility?
“I think having a mobility makes people “think” that they can’t travel or do something. I think that is sooooo far from the truth. Yes, there are always “realities” like am I going to ask the Guards at the Pyramids to make them wider so we in chairs can go inside? Or am I going to ask for a ramp to be put into a 2000 year old building? No that would be silly! I will though ALWAYS ENCOURAGE anyone to reach deep and challenge themselves to travel! There is so much out there to experience and to be so blessed by the different areas, people, foods and Cultures that are available to go to! It just takes a willingness to say, “ok, I can do everything everyone else does..I just may do it in a little different way!”
What do you like the most about your job?
“I love being able to help clients! To be in our awesome industry to share travel opportunities with them and the excitement I have about travel. To have a platform to be able to share with clients and open their eyes about the incredible world of travel is something I never take for granted. It is so much fun to work with a client that is wondering where they should go and following them along the process from start to finish and then getting to hear all of their excitement and experiences is so rewarding!”
“I think one of the greatest parts of my job is that I truly feel so blessed to do what I do. We all have something and for me personally, it is the passion of travel and being so thankful for the stories and opportunities of travel to share with others. It is too easy to come up with excuses of why ‘not” to travel but I encourage anyone to turn it around and look at the endless opportunities of the “YES!” to travel!”