Seven continents, 37 countries, a renowned travel blog and now an acclaimed children’s book. There are few lengths to which Cory Lee won’t go to when it comes to opening up adventure to anyone with the urge.
For the founder and wordsmith behind Curb Free with Cory Lee, making travel visible and accessible for people with disabilities is his raison d’etre. With time zones and a pandemic between us, Cory and I caught up via Zoom to talk about the latest notches in his proverbial travel belt: a bucket-list trip to Antarctica and the July release of his children’s book, Let’s Explore with Cor Cor.
Where it all began for Cory Lee
But first, back to the beginning and a trip to the Bahamas.
Diagnosed at the age of two with spinal muscular atrophy type 2, Cory got his first wheelchair when he was 4 years old. He travelled extensively on road trips around the US with his family. When he was 15, Cory embarked on his first international holiday to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
“That was the first time I got to see a different culture and country,” he says, “so it really sparked my interest and made me want to explore further. That was where the travel bug was born within me.”
Years later, this very travel bug saw Cory researching a trip to Australia. Although he managed to find the odd website, he was stumped by the dearth of accessible travel bloggers and information about accessibility online.
Thus, Curb Free with Cory Lee was born, about six years ago.
“I wanted to create a website where people can go to learn how to travel, where to travel and why they should travel as someone with a disability.”
Cory Lee’s top travel picks
The blog documents Cory’s extensive travels, including his recent trip to his seventh continent, Antarctica.
“It was a lifelong dream for me to go to all seven continents and visit Antarctica,” Cory says.
His cruise started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and took a week to reach Antarctica where the ship spent four days.
“It just blew my mind,” says Cory.
“It is so much more beautiful and grand and spectacular than I thought it would be. I saw whales, penguins and seals every single day, and huge icebergs that towered above the cruise ship. I really never thought I’d be able to go as a wheelchair user. Once I finally got there, it was such a surreal experience unlike anywhere else I’d been.”
While Antarctica was firmly and undoubtedly at the top of Cory’s list of travel experiences, Morocco came in at a close second.
He visited the north African country in 2018 on the inaugural Curb Free group trip, on which he was able to cross another experience off his bucket list.
“I always wanted to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert, but wasn’t sure how I would be able to stay on it because I’m not stable or able to sit independently. The fact that they built an adaptive seat is incredible.”
Cory, who was joined by some followers of his blog, travelled with Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants. They had built what Cory describes as a ‘half wheelchair’ with a full back rest and strapping, sitting on top of the camel.
The moral of the story is that there is a way around almost anything when you’re on the road.
“Accessibility can be where you least expect it. You just have to be willing to do a little bit of research.”
Cory Lee’s top tip
Research is, in fact, Cory’s number one piece of advice for the first-time traveller in a wheelchair. He starts planning as early as 12 months in advance of departure. This allows for plenty of time to secure accessibility on flights, accommodation and transportation.
“Now when I travel, I ask a tonne of questions regarding accessibility,” says Cory. “Find out if the hotel has a roll-in shower; how wide are the doorways; is there an elevator or is the room on the first floor – all those details I overlooked when I started. I’ve become a much more prepared traveller over the last 15 years or so.”
That’s not to say that it isn’t possible to be spontaneous when you use a wheelchair, Cory emphasises. Nor is it a guarantee that you’ll have a seamless trip. Planning might make things easier, but sometimes things go wrong.
“Travelling as a wheelchair user is going to be tough,” Cory advises.
“The first time that I ever went to Europe, I went to Munich, Germany. I use a powered wheelchair so we have to charge it every night. I showed up to the hotel with an adaptor and a convertor, and as soon as we plugged it into the outlet, it blew up and my wheelchair charger blew up. Sparks were flying and the power went out.”
The following day, Cory found a wheelchair repair shop and a brand-new replacement wheelchair charger.
“Always remember that it is going to work out in the end,” he says. “The ultimate result is that you’re going to be able to travel and have a really cool experience that you wouldn’t have at home. Keep a really positive attitude.”
Let’s Explore with Cor Cor
This message is the inspiration behind Let’s Explore with Cor Cor, Cory’s recently released children’s book. The book was co-authored with his mum, who frequently accompanies Cory on his travels.
“We wanted to create a book about a kid in a wheelchair who travelled the world because when I was growing up, we never saw another character in books or on TV who used a wheelchair like I did. We hope that today’s generation of kids with disabilities can finally see themselves represented.”
The book’s title character visits Iceland, Australia and beyond – all destinations to which Cory himself has travelled. Cory’s hope is that it makes his young readers realise that all those destinations are accessible to them too.
This, ultimately, is why Cory keeps doing what he’s doing.
“What keeps me travelling is remembering why I’m travelling,” he says.
“The ‘why’ is that I want to show people that the world is accessible. I hope that my readers and followers feel inspired to break out of their comfort zone and get out on the open road.”
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.