Guest post written by Tarita Davenock
It was a month before my 30th birthday. I woke up with extreme vertigo and loss of vision in my left eye. Brushing it off as a virus, I wasn’t overly concerned until my symptoms progressively got worse and I developed a high fever. A trip to the emergency room, hundreds of tests and an MRI later, I received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS).
As a young woman with a demanding career as a social worker and her whole life ahead of her, I was stunned. I worked with people who had developmental disabilities and my job was fast-paced and required extensive commuting, so my neurologist suggested I slow down professionally to reduce stress. It was a challenging but rewarding job and it was difficult to let go. But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. I had always loved to travel so I used my wealth of travel knowledge to get a job as a travel agent.
As someone living with MS, I soon realized there was a need for a travel agency that catered to people with special requirements. There was limited information and few resources for such people to be able to travel. The reality was harsh, but what I saw was an opportunity to support people like me who needed a little help to accommodate their travels.
With that in mind, I opened my own agency 10 years ago, Travel for All, and we have since become a very well-known agency with over 5,000 trips planned to meet the needs of people who require special accommodations. We operate on the premise that travel should be inclusive. No one should miss out on the joys of seeing new and wondrous places because of circumstances beyond their control. Most of our clients are genuinely appreciative of having the opportunity to travel at all and seem grateful for the services we provide. Travelers with various disabilities do not expect perfection; however, they do expect to be accommodated.
The MS community has been a big part of my journey and I wanted to give back, so we started partnering with MS organizations to give them part of the proceeds from each trip booked. We also offer discounted rates and have a fund set up for people who are unable to afford the trips. Through our trips, I’ve connected people living with MS with others from around the world as I fervently believe that we are stronger together and fostering friendships with other chapters globally is a great idea!
My advice for anyone planning an accessible trip is to plan thoroughly, start slowly and let your body dictate how much you can cope with. Begin planning well in advance and do your due diligence – don’t believe everything you read online! Just because something is advertised as ‘accessible’ doesn’t always mean it is, so call ahead and confirm. Make sure that, if need be, you have someone with you for assistance.
Even though MS has taken a lot away from me, I feel like I’ve gained a lot back. I’ve been to so many beautiful places that have taken my breath away. I’ve tried foods from numerous cities and cultures. I’ve experienced different customs, been up-close with historical wonders and met fascinating people from all over the world. Every trip I take leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder about how much there is to see and learn about the world.
After my diagnosis, I thought my life had forever changed for the worse. I was only half right. My life has changed but in the best way. A decade after opening my own agency, I am elated to say that I still work in my home office, in my slippers and we have become a very well-known agency that has customized thousands of vacations to and from global destinations. I’ve helped people living with mobility issues discover the joys of seeing new places and meeting different people. Most importantly, I have not allowed my MS to dictate the trajectory of my life and continued to follow my dreams and passions.
Travel for All arranges and sells fully accessible travel, with a goal of providing vacation opportunities for individuals and families with accessibility challenges. Their founder and CEO, Tarita Davenock, lives with MS, and is passionate about accessible travel.
Travel for All has committed to supporting the MS Society through a campaign where 10% from referred vacations will be donated to the MS Society of Canada.