This article from The Telegraph shows the inspirational journey of the founder of Limitless Travel, a UK-based organisation that runs premium coach holidays and escorted tours both in the UK and abroad for disabled travellers.
Angus was working in London in investment banking, an avid traveller in his spare time, when he received the news that changed his life. At the age of 23, he was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy that would alter his course and all his plans but ultimately, he hopes, re-shape what it means to be a tourist with a disability.
Before being diagnosed, Angus had already hitchhiked from London to Marrakesh, lived in Barcelona for a year, and driven across the US. He was nowhere near finished with his globe-trotting, but his future suddenly looked very different.
“I was told that in 10–15 years, my muscles would waste to a point where I would be unable to stand, walk or pick things up,” Angus tells Telegraph Travel of his rare genetic disorder: limb girdle muscular dystrophy type 2A.
“Over the next year I really struggled to accept my diagnosis and no longer felt like myself,” he says. “After a number of internal battles, I decided that I just wanted to get away and do what I love – I wanted to travel.”
So Angus and his partner Lucy quit their jobs, packed their bags and bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. The next year was packed with seeing as much of the world as possible. They explored South America, visiting the Atacama Desert, Iguazu Falls, Salar de Uyuni (the Bolivian salt flats) and Machu Picchu. They spent time in Brazil and Colombia, trekked the Amazon Rainforest and made it to the Galapagos Islands.
The next stop was South East Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka. “Nothing has ever made me happier or made me feel more free,” he told me. “The trip ended with a surprise for Lucy – we went to the Maldives and got engaged.”
The effect that the journey had on Angus’ life was profound. “For me, travelling was an incredibly healing experience. It gave me the time away from the stresses of everyday life to just spend time with Lucy, and with myself,” he explains.
“It gave me the time I needed to come to terms with my condition, its implications and face up to the problems that were slowly encroaching on my everyday life.”
During this period, Angus’ mobility began to decline. “I became increasingly nervous about going to new places,” he admits. “I struggled to find information for people with disabilities who wanted to travel and I had no idea about what to expect and no idea who would support me. The mainstream travel companies were reasonably useless and the information that did exist was dated, uninspiring and ‘medicalised’. It felt disabled by its very nature.”
He goes on: “Until now, my experience of travel had been liberating – it shouldn’t be stressful. But as my condition worsened, I began to understand that for those with a disability, travel was a hassle.”
Indeed, it is estimated that there over 4 million disabled people in the UK who do not travel – primarily because they don’t think that they can. “They don’t know where to find the information,” Angus remarks. “They don’t know how they will be supported and they’ve lost the confidence to get out and explore the world.”
Armed with these disheartening statistics and frustrated by his own experiences, Angus decided that there was no returning to his demanding life of an investment banker. “I was going to use my experiences to make sure that all people with disabilities could travel without worry, without stress and without hassle,” he says.
After time working with a range of disability groups and charities, he set up Limitless Travel . “For me, the people I wanted to help the most were those that either stopped travelling, or had never felt able to travel because of their disability. It was a problem that I wanted to solve. Everyone should be able to experience the freedom and wonder afforded by travel.”
Still in its early years, Limitless Travel now runs premium coach holidays and escorted tours. For those that have avoided travel for years, there are a range of UK tours and experiences, with locations including London, Devon, Scotland and the Lake District, to build confidence.
And for those looking for an adventure further from home, there are trips to Europe, including a beach break in Tenerife and an exploration of Amsterdam. Next year will see the addition of destinations including Llandudno, Barcelona, Paris, Sicily, Crete, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, as well as a Scotland Grand Tour.
“One day we will lead groups to the islands of Thailand, the historic sites of Rajasthan and the depths of the Amazon Jungle,” Angus states.
Each of the trips on offer are tried and tested by his team, more than half of whom have a disability themselves. “I wanted to create a travel company for people with disabilities, run by people with disabilities,” he says. “And to revolutionise the sector.”
How? “We travel on wheelchair-accessible transport, stay in wheelchair-accessible and disabled-friendly hotels, arrange equipment for all of our customers and, most importantly, we take professional and friendly carers on each trip to support anyone’s needs whilst away should they need it,” he explains.
With the growth companies like Angus’, he hopes there will be more pressure on hoteliers and transport providers to offer better access. Not just for wheelchair users, but for those that face other difficulties with mobility, sight or hearing – something that we at Telegraph Travel dedicated to championing in 2018 with our safer, fairer, better campaign.
“Our ultimate goal is to enable disabled people to one day travel to space,” Angus says. “So if I were ever to meet Richard Branson or Elon Musk, I’d ask them how they plan to cater to disabled people on their first space tourism missions – whether you even need a wheelchair in space at all.
“There is a saying that if you aim for the stars you will reach the moon,” he concludes. “We say that if we aim for the moon, we will achieve the world.”