2017’s most epic, talked-about travels – Zafigo.com, December 26 2017

Every now and then, you hear about someone who explored the world in such a way that it makes you want to book your next trip right away. As 2017 draws to a close, we recall six inspiring women travellers and their epic journeys.

Expedition 196

 

Cassie braved deathly cold temperatures at Paradise Bay in Antarctica.

Cassie braved deathly cold temperatures at Paradise Bay in Antarctica. (Photo Credit: Cassie De Pecol)

Hands up if you have a travel bucket list that grows by the minute? If so, Cassie De Pecol is bound to make you green with envy. In February, the 27-year-old American jetsetter became the first woman on record to visit every sovereign nation on earth. On completion of her journey in 18 months and 26 days, she also set the record for the fastest time to complete the global trip, beating the previous record of three years and three months held by Yili Liu, a professor at the University of Michigan.

Cassie’s trip, which began in Palau in 2015, spans 196 countries and saw her crossing through some difficult and occasionally, unwelcoming terrain. Her adventure wasn’t just about smashing world records and gaining passport stamps; as an ambassador for the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, she promoted sustainable tourism through meetings with dignitaries, tourism ministers and students across the globe.

Worldwide wheeler

Tackling the chaotic streets of Hanoi, Vietnam is no mean feat but Jin takes it in her stride.

Tackling the chaotic streets of Hanoi, Vietnam is no mean feat but Jin takes it in her stride. (Photo Credit: Jin Jeong)

Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently (unlikely behaviour for our adventurous Zafigo readers!), you’re sure to have heard of Jin Jeong. When she was 24, this South Korean solo cyclist set herself a goal: To spin around the world alone on two wheels. Many told her it was an impossible feat, others warned her that the ambitious plan could prove dangerous for a woman on her own. Yet, despite discouraging opinions and setbacks ranging from accidents to sexual harassment, the bold explorer hasn’t looked back since setting her wheels in motion six years ago.

Sixty-seven countries and 62,000 kilometres later, Jin is as eager to travel as ever, and aims to inspire others to follow their own dreams. She certainly left many of us motivated to get pedalling after her talk at this year’s ZafigoX, an event dedicated to women empowerment and travel.

Turning tragedy into triumph

When the phrase ‘bad things come in threes’ proved true for Megan Sullivan, she bit the bullet and decided to embark on the trip of a lifetime. (Photo Credit: Megan Sullivan)

When the phrase ‘bad things come in threes’ proved true for Megan Sullivan, she bit the bullet and decided to embark on the trip of a lifetime. (Photo Credit: Megan Sullivan)

Receiving devastating news will either make or break you. For American native Megan Sullivan, a diagnosis of skin cancer was something that presented her with a new goal: to “live more now.” Her diagnosis, which occurred in the same month as a 50-feet fall in Yosemite and a road accident, encouraged her to embrace her wanderlust and embark on a long-awaited dream trip to the seven wonders of the world. Over 13 days, the 31-year-old made footprints in Chichen Itza in Mexico, Machu Picchu in Peru, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, the 98-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Roman Colosseum in Italy.

Documenting her journey on her personal website as well as her Instagram feed (@megthelegend), Megan invites the world to take inspiration from her whirlwind adventure. “The only regrets that I have in my life are from the missed opportunities that I never took a chance on. This year I took a chance and I will continue taking chances to experience the greatest adventure of all: My life,” she wrote.

Running for change

Claire getting to know some new friends in India before running together along the sandy shoreline. (Photo Credit: Claire MacFarlene)

Claire getting to know some new friends in India before running together along the sandy shoreline. (Photo Credit: Claire MacFarlene)

At the age of 19, during a stint in Paris, every woman’s worst nightmare became a reality for Claire McFarlane. Raped and brutally attacked on the streets of one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations, the South Africa-born Australian was lucky to escape with her life. But 10 years later, she was forced to confront the traumatic experience when asked by French authorities to identify her suspected attacker. She did, and followed through with the legal proceedings that helped to put him behind bars.

Claire’s appalling experience, coupled with her fighting attitude, inspired her to make a change in the world. The result? Footsteps to Inspire, a challenge that will see Claire run 16 kilometres of beach in each country across the globe, to raise awareness for survivors of sexual violence. Though her endeavour hit the ground running – literally! – in July of last year, it was in 2017 that it really took off as Claire became a regular feature on the airwaves and in newspapers. At time of writing, she has run 33 countries across five continents, carrying her message every step of the way. In February, she visited Malaysia, where she ran 16km along Batu Ferringhi, Penang. Read Zafigo’s interview with Claire here.

Young explorer

Jaahnavi getting cosy midway through her climb up Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. (Photo Credit: Jaahnavi Sriperambaduru)

Jaahnavi getting cosy midway through her climb up Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. (Photo Credit: Jaahnavi Sriperambaduru)

Jaahnavi Sriperambaduru’s mountaineering feats have brought her more news headlines and world records than she has had birthdays. At only 15, the Indian adventurer has scaled the highest mountains in four of the world’s seven continents as part of her #Mission7summit challenge. She is the youngest girl in the world to scale Mount Elbrus, the youngest Indian girl to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the youngest person to have reached the summit of Stok Kangri in the Himalayas… the list goes on.

She encourages others to aim high through her TED talks, guided treks, and involvement in worldwide campaigns. Jaahnavi now has her sights set on the final three: Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount Vinson Massif in Antartica and Mount Everest. She plans to conquer the ultimate peak in April 2018 and has set up a crowdfunding campaign to help her to achieve her goal.

Flying high with the family

The Zapp family flying high in Tibet. (Photo Credit: )

The Zapp family flying high in Tibet. (Photo Credit: Zapp Family)

It’s standard for most to plan their travels before we ‘settle down’, believing that footloose living and family life exist worlds apart. Yet when they hit international headlines this year, the Zapp family from Argentina proved to us all that it’s entirely possible to bring the whole family along for the adventure.

In 2000, inspirational couple Herman and Candelaria Zapp loaded their bags into their vintage car and set off on what they intended to be a six-month trip from Argentina to Alaska before starting their family. One might say that they took one heck of a detour, as 17 years and 80 countries later, the ambitious adventurers are still on the road, only now, with their four children in tow. Despite running out of money in the first six months of their journey, the couple have kept pushing ahead with their dream, thanks to sales of their paintings, their book Spark your Life and the kindness of strangers. In 2017, the family began the final leg of their journey across the Atlantic and will soon return to Argentina to begin the next chapter of their lives.

(First published on Zafigo.com on December 26 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/2017-epic-talked-about-travels/)

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Four travellers who aren’t letting their disabilities stop them from seeing the world – Zafigo.com, July 26 2017

Even the best laid plans can go awry, and if regular travellers inevitably face that while trotting the globe, imagine how much more difficult it is for those with disabilities. But, as these four bloggers/YouTubers and intrepid travellers share with us, it’s no reason to not explore the world.

Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi @ The Pickle Sandwich

Dilaraand Justine of THe Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Dilara and Justine of The Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Jet-setting duo Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi are shining a light on accessible travel through their hilarious and thought-provoking YouTube channel, The Pickle Sandwich. The duo joined forces after meeting through AirBnB. Justine, an Australian, is legally blind while Dilara, a Scottish, is profoundly deaf. Since then, they have travelled across Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Scotland together, documenting their adventures as they go.

“We want to raise awareness through sharing our experiences and through comedy. If one person out there realises not to walk away when talking, or not to downplay our disability when we’ve explicitly told them that it’s real and it’s serious, then I’ll be happy!” says Justine when asked about their goal.

Dilara and Justine in Spain

Dilara and Justine in Spain (Photo Credit: The Pickle Sandwich)

Biggest challenges “I have to prepare my equipment really well,” Dilara shares. “I need a million chargers and adapters to make sure I can recharge all my batteries on the road. I also have to try and remember to tell reception to come and get me if there is a fire.”

Recommended destinations Though unable to pinpoint a place that ‘has it all’, Justine and Dilara find that anywhere with big signs, warnings on the walls, step railings and good lighting are easier to get around. Streets that have lots of street art and musicians playing are always going to be easy on the eyes and ears! The secret to it is the locals though. If the people are willing to help you out and reach out to make your day easier, we never forget it,” says Dilara.

Top tip “Your disability can be a healthy part of your identity! The deaf culture and community is amazing, for example. But don’t let it define you. Let your curiosity and love for the world define your experiences of life instead,” says Dilara.

Jeanne Allen @ Incredible Accessible

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

With limited information about accessible travel online, planning a trip can be a feat in itself for someone with a disability. Jeanne, who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years, learned this prior to visiting Chicago several years ago, when it took hours of online research and phone calls to concoct the perfect itinerary. “When it was over, I was about to throw away the itinerary that I spent hours putting together and thought, this is crazy, I could share this with others. So, I decided to start a blog,” explains Jeanne.

Biggest challenges On day one of her ongoing 66-day European trip, Jeanne was presented with one of her greatest challenges yet. “Upon landing in Oslo, the plane crew couldn’t find my chair. It was eventually found but the right arm with the controls was dangling off the side and it was broken,” recalls the US native. “Fortunately, it was still drivable but I had to bend forward so it wasn’t very safe.” Jeanne quickly took action by filing a claim and making contact with the wheelchair manufacturer. “They tracked down a manufacturer in Scandanavia and miracle of miracles, things were set into motion. A day later, the repair man drove to Oslo and fixed my wheelchair on the spot.”

Jeanne’s experience didn’t dampen her spirits but rather, gave her a renewed appreciation in the kindness of strangers worldwide. “While waiting to get my chair fixed, our hotel was tremendous. They found zip ties and duct tape and used them to bring the armrest to the right level. They then propped an umbrella under the armrests to keep them upright so I was going around Oslo with an umbrella across my knees. I felt like MacGyver!”

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com)

Recommended destinations Having toured the United States (US), Canada and now Europe too, the city of Victoria, Canada currently tops her list of accessible destinations. “Our hotel there had something I had never seen before. My husband went to the room before me. By the time I got there, he was grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. He handed me the key card and said to open it. I did…the door automatically swung open, and stayed open long enough for me to roll in with my scooter.”

Top tip Plan in advance and be specific with your hotels about individual needs. Using all available tools is also a message that Jeanne tries to spread. “We all hate the idea of disability and giving in to it. But once I did, I found life so much easier. For example, I recently got a van ramp which allows me to travel completely independently,” she explains. “If the tools exist, don’t resist them. They really will change your life.”

Cory Lee @ Curb Free With Cory Lee

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: )

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee)

Despite being diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at age two and getting his first wheelchair at four, Cory has never allowed his disability to restrain his wanderlust. “I started travelling at a young age in the US and that sparked my love of travel. I never saw any limits, even though I use a wheelchair on a daily basis,” he says. “When I was 15, I took my first international trip to the Bahamas. It was the first time that I saw a different culture and way of life and I decided that I wanted to go much further. I have since been to six continents, with just Antarctica to go.”

In 2013, Cory set up his blog Curb Free with Cory Lee to share his adventures with friends and family. He documents his experiences in faraway and unusual places, from hiking through the Amazon rainforest to soaring over Israel in a hot air balloon. Before long, he was being featured on the likes of Travel Channel and Lonely Planet. “People have contacted me to say that my blog has inspired them to travel to Africa or Israel. Some are travelling for the first time. For many people with a disability, it can be hard to get out of your comfort zone and go abroad. When I go out to different places and write about them, I’m testing the waters for these people,” explains Cory.

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreebycorylee.com)

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee.com)

Biggest challenges While Cory’s posts are brimming with positivity and snaps of enviable locations, he remains honest about the challenges that he faces. Air travel can prove particularly problematic and on several occasions, he has arrived at his destination only to discover that his wheelchair was damaged. “I’m always worried about it being damaged but I try to have a backup plan. It is important to know of wheelchair repair shops in any place you go to,” he advises.

Recommended destinations “Australia was great; Sydney in particular was spectacular. I could ride every ferry, see every attraction and all of the restaurants were accessible. Iceland also really surprised me. The Blue Lagoon even had a special chair to get into the water,” he says. “Also, the people in Iceland were really friendly and willing to help.”

Top tip Cory is constantly thinking about his next destination and when it comes to accessible travel, he believes planning is key. “Start planning as far in advance as possible. Reach out to other wheelchair users that have gone to the destination. Look for blog posts and get that first-hand perspective.”

(First published on Zafigo.com on July 26, 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/travellers-who-arent-letting-disabilities-stop-them-seeing-the-world/)

Clonard native Emer Mulhall makes a toast to the year ahead as Wexford Toastmasters president – Wexford People, October 22 2016

Having been born with a visual impairment, Clonard resident Emer Mulhall has faced many challenges throughout her life yet she has embraced each one with great enthusiasm.

Now, on recently been elected this year’s President of the Wexford Toastmasters Club, she is gearing up to take yet another one on board. Though such a responsibility could send even the most organised person into a frazzle, Emer is ready for anything that comes her way.

‘Its a challenge but I’m well used to challenges,’ said the Ashford native. ‘Despite being visually impaired, I have gone skiing and have a degree in Modern English and History from Trinity.’

Emer, who has been a member of Toastmasters for seven years, initially put herself forward for another role on the committee. However, she was thrilled when her fellow members suggested that she take up the reins as president.

‘It was a very nice feeling to be honest. I felt really good because it showed that the committee had faith in me,’ she said.

Following a survey of the members to see what changes they would like to be made, Emer made some plans for the year ahead including increasing the number of speeches people make and the incorporation of a questions and answers corner.

‘The questions corner will give new members a chance to ask anything they like about Toastmasters. It gives them an opportunity to learn what it is all about,’ she said.

Emer, who is completely blind, said that public speaking was something that once terrified her. Since joining the club in 2009, Emer said her confidence has greatly increased.

‘Toastmasters has done an awful lot for me and can do so much for so many people,’ she said. ‘When you are visually impaired, your spatial awareness is affected. If you get up to make a speech, you aren’t sure where the audience is, whether your movements or gestures are ok, whether you are doing anything wrong or whether you are facing the audience. The thing about Toastmasters is, when you are finished your speech, somebody evaluates it. People will offer you constructive criticism.’

‘It’s marvellous and has helped me enormously. I’m now much more confident standing in front of people. I’ve done ten speeches so far and an advanced manual.’

Though she reads braille,’ Emer tries not to use it when making her speeches.

‘If you don’t use notes, then you have a fluidity when you are speaking,’ she said.

She does bring one thing with her when making her speeches however: her guide dog Trudy.

‘I always have Trudy there beside me. She’s really well-behaved,’ she said.

With the Wexford Toastmasters Open Night coming up in Greenacres this Thursday night, Emer is looking forward to meeting potential members. She urges anyone with an interest to come along and discover what the group has to offer.

‘I found it all so nervewracking at first. For me, it was mainly because I didn’t know where the audience was. But you find ways around these worries,’ she said. ‘If I can do that, anyone can!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/clonard-native-emer-mulhall-makes-a-toast-to-the-year-ahead-as-wexford-toastmasters-president-35137560.html)

A Wexford man with a happy future in his sights – Wexford People, July 7 2015

Vincent Mulligan is a man who has overcome all of his obstacles, regardless of what has been thrown at him.

At only 26, when he lost his sight due to diabetes, the Wexford resident witnessed his whole life being taken away overnight.

‘I woke up one day and couldn’t see very clearly,’ explained Vincent, who is originally from Kilmuckridge. ‘I panicked and went to the hospital where they told me that I had diabetic retinopathy.’

In the following months, Vincent received laser treatment and an operation on his right eye, both of which were unsuccessful. As a result, he found himself completely blind on one side.

‘The doctors then concentrated on my left eye and stabilised it with laser treatment,’ he said. ‘I am registered blind in that eye too but I can see light and can read or watch television if I readjust myself.’

It was not only sight loss that Vincent had to learn to cope with. As a qualified electrician, Vincent was forced to come to terms with the fact that he would no longer be able to continue in his profession. In the beginning, he found this difficult to accept.

‘I was feeling sorry for myself for months,’ explained Vincent.

This wasn’t the first period of hardship in Vincent’s life. Only a year previously, he fell from scaffolding while working abroad, an accident which left him in a coma.

‘When I woke up to find the tubes in my throat, I panicked and pulled on them,’ he said. ‘This caused a leak in my throat but I didn’t know this so I went back to work.’

One week later, Vincent was wiring tunnels in Paris when he began experienced breathing difficulties.

‘I jumped into the car and drove myself to hospital, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do,’ he laughed. ‘I had to get a throat operation which went well but the whole event had affected my body. I couldn’t speak for a while and had to learn how to walk again.’

This physical trauma coupled with Vincent’s diabetes eventually led to his sight loss. For the young man, this was the final straw.

‘The sight loss affected me in ways that I thought were life-ending,’ he said.

Thankfully, a family member introduced Vincent to the National Council for the Blind (NCBI). He was put in touch with support worker Michael Benson and for the first time in several years, began to feel hopeful about his future.

‘They encouraged me to do a computer course and this completely opened up my world,’ said Vincent. ‘I realised that, although I may not be able to do practical work anymore, I am capable of other things. So I turned my attention to learning.’

Vincent didn’t enjoy school as a child and left at the age of 16 to do an apprenticeship. However, through working with Michael, he was persuaded to give studying another go.

‘Michael told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to do what he did – to empower people and encourage those in unfortunate situations,’ he smiled.

The pair researched numerous colleges until they came across a course in Applied Social Studies in IT Carlow’s Wexford campus.

‘They took me in straight away which is an important thing to highlight,’ said Vincent. ‘People with disabilities can get into college and be supported while they are there.’

Vincent’s four years in college were anything but easy. His vision impairment made college life incredibly difficult, especially when it came to reading books and completing assignments. Yet, aided by some special equipment and Aidan Barry from the NCBI, he managed to secure a 2:1 degree.

‘They were the most difficult years of my life, but definitely the most rewarding,’ he said. ‘I suppose when you are interested in something, you will do well.’

Following college, Vincent had another challenge to face: finding a job. For him, the key thing was to be optimistic.

‘I tend to be quite positive and do well in interviews anyway. Though, I am fortunate as I am on the right side of vision,’ he said. ‘I see so many others with bad vision impairments who have more talent and ability than me yet, are unable to find work.’

As a man who has experienced sight loss first-hand, Vincent believes it is important for employers to recognise the special skills that the visually-impaired have.

‘I can pick up on hints to tell how a person is feeling, but I couldn’t do that before. I was a typical man!’ he laughed.

Vincent now uses these skills to help others. At present, he works in a residential unit for men with autism, a role that he finds ‘really rewarding.’

‘My job requires me to educate, support and look after their needs in society,’ he explained. ‘I give people hope and show them that their situation can improve.’

Vincent’s own unfortunate experiences have given him this newfound positivity which he enjoys passing on to others.

‘It has made me appreciate the little things in life,’ he said. ‘I used to work hard so that I could get things for myself. That doesn’t really matter. What’s important is having people that you can depend on.’

Soon, Vincent will be welcoming a new addition to his life who will be dependent on him. In October, Vincent and his wife Labhaoise will welcome their first child into the world. The due date is October 1, which also happens to be Vincent’s birthday. According to the father-to-be, the couple are nervous, yet excited.

‘I suppose we’re like every couple though,’ he smiled. ‘It’s going to be the best birthday present ever!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/a-wexford-man-with-a-happy-future-in-his-sights-31360318.html)