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At age 2, Cory Lee was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.  At first he could walk a few steps at a time as long as he was holding onto something, however over the years his muscles weakened and soon he could not walk at all.

A true inspiration, he has not allowed his circumstances to prevent him from his dream of traveling and exploring the world. Making his way through destinations such as Paris, London and Austria, he does not see himself as restricted to his wheelchair, on the contrary, sees the world as his to explore.

And, in an attempt to inspire others to step outside of their comfort zone, Cory has recently established a travel website ‘Curbfree with Cory Lee‘ with the message that anything is possible.  He decided long ago that if he couldn’t stand up, he was going to stand out.

Cory Lee is a truly inspiring traveler.

Cory Lee.  A truly inspiring traveler.

Cory Lee. A truly inspiring traveler.

What do you love most about traveling?

Everything! But… If I have to narrow that down, I love being able to go somewhere and just clear my mind for a while. There is no time for worrying about school, money, or life’s other issues. Instead, I just get to relax, meet new people, and see remarkable sights. Currently I take a couple vacations per year, but I’m hoping to turn traveling into a full lifestyle in the near future.

What inspired you to start traveling?

I think that it was a culmination of a lot of things.  The desire to travel has always been inside of me in some way.

When I was younger, my mom and I would take a trip or two every year. It was usually to Disney World or a beach in Florida, but when I turned 15 we went to the Bahamas. This was the first time that I experienced another culture and it really opened my eyes as to how big the world is. This fueled my wanderlust more than ever.

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Swimming with the dolphins in Florida’s Discovery Cove

What is Curb Free with Cory Lee all about?

Curb Free with Cory Lee is my new travel blog that is devoted to sharing the world from a wheelchair user’s perspective. I don’t like to say that it is strictly a “wheelchair accessible travel blog” though because it is about more than accessibility.

I share the places I have been and experiences I have had, while providing information on what is and what isn’t accessible. My goal is to inspire everyone to venture out of their comfort zone and see all of the beauty that the world has to offer, regardless of what obstacles life has thrown their way. Anything is possible.

How long have you been restricted to a wheelchair for?

I got my first wheelchair when I was four years old, but I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of two. I could walk a few steps at a time as long as I was holding onto something for the first couple years, but soon I could not walk at all.

SMA has weakened my muscles over time so throughout the years I have gradually gotten weaker. I am doing well though and while I am in a wheelchair, I don’t feel “restricted” to it. The world is mine to explore.

Exploring Salzburg, Austria.

Exploring Salzburg, Austria. “The World is Mine to Explore”.

Does your wheelchair make travel difficult?

At times, traveling in a wheelchair can be quite the challenge. This is especially true in older European cities because places may not have curb cuts, elevators, or even ramps to get inside buildings.

It definitely takes a lot of patience and determination, but it can be done.

Do you travel alone or with company?

I always travel with someone because I need help with different things. I have traveled with friends a few times, but it’s usually just my mom and I. She is the strongest, most caring person that I know and is always up for a great trip.

Growing up, she always told me “If you can’t stand up, stand out” and I try to live up to that every day.

My mom and I inside Hard Rock Café in Munich, Germany.

My mom and I inside Hard Rock Café in Munich, Germany.

What kind of things do you need assistance with while traveling?

I try to be as independent as possible, but I do need help with different tasks while traveling.

I am unable to transfer myself so I need assistance getting in and out of my wheelchair, the bed, the shower, etc. Getting into a plane seat is especially interesting as well. My mom, with the help of a flight crew member sometimes, has to pick me up and put me in the seat.

What makes this so difficult is the fact that the aisles are so small on a plane and it doesn’t leave much room to maneuver while lifting me. The armrests on many seats do not lift out of the way either, so it can be difficult to lift me that high over the armrest. However, once the whole flying part is getting easier over time.

Have you ever missed out on a destination due to your wheelchair?

No, I haven’t. I tend to do a LOT of research about a place before I book it and go, but so far I have been pretty fortunate to always find accessibility in some way or another. In most cases if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Have you ever encountered a country or place where it was incredibly difficult to get around?

The only place that I had immense difficulty in was Paris, but luckily we were only there for one day. The trains were not accessible so I booked a wheelchair accessible taxi to get us around.

Apparently, this was the only accessible taxi in the whole city however so we ended up having to book it for the entire day. This cost us a whopping 650€. Our driver was very nice and we enjoyed seeing the sights of Paris, but if you’re in a wheelchair and going to Paris be prepared to spend the big bucks.

My mom, her boyfriend and I at Notre Dame in Paris.

My mom, her boyfriend and I at Notre Dame in Paris.

In your view, what could countries do to make destinations more accessible for wheelchair users?

I would love love love (times infinity) to see more accessible transportation within cities. Many cities have wheelchair accessible taxis, but there are nowhere near enough of them in a lot of places.

I have had to wait on an accessible taxi for over three hours before. When you’re waiting that long, you are missing out on getting to see the sights. If there was more accessible transportation then I could also be more spontaneous and wouldn’t have to plan my trips out so far in advance.

Describe your travel personality – what do you like to do while abroad?

I love experiencing all of the typical touristy things such as seeing the landmarks, eating the local cuisine, and souvenir shopping until I drop. I always go with the mentality that I may never get the opportunity to visit that place again, so I try to do everything that I can while I’m there.

Three things you can’t travel without?

First and foremost, my wheelchair battery charger. Without it, I can’t do anything really because my wheelchair will be dead! Using my charger in countries with a different voltage can be quite interesting and I have even managed to blow up a couple chargers (accidentally) when plugging them into the hotel outlets.

Secondly, my iPhone AKA the love of my life. It serves as my camera, phone, GPS, and more. Lastly, my MacBook Air. It’s extremely lightweight so it’s easy to travel with and I usually have to stay caught up with school work while on the road.

Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?

Australia has always been my number one dream destination and I am finally going to Sydney and Melbourne at the end of February. I am beyond ecstatic! Other bucket list destinations include Iceland, China, Kenya, and Egypt.

Do you think the world is seen differently from a wheelchair user’s perspective?

I think that us wheelchair user’s are more conscious of our surroundings while traveling. We study the destination in advance more, and are constantly looking to see if places are accessible or not.

If an attraction is not accessible then we may have a different opinion of it than everyone else. For example, people always tell me how amazing Paris is and I just can’t agree. When I think of Paris, the first word that comes to mind is “inaccessible” due to the lack of accessible transportation in the city.

Viewing the world

Viewing the world differently.

Most practical piece of travel advice for wheelchair users wishing to travel?

Whew, the list could go on and on… Seriously. I actually wrote a blog post on the 7 most important travel tips for wheelchair users. But aside from those tips, I would say to never be afraid to travel.

I know so many disabled people that are scared to travel because the destination might not be accessible. To that, I would say “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”.

Cory Lee is a 23 year old travel addict and college Senior. He is also the founder of Curb Free with Cory Lee, a travel blog devoted to sharing the world from a wheelchair user’s perspective. His life goal is to visit all 7 continents and inspire others to see all of the beauty that the world has to offer.

You can find Cory on Facebook and Twitter.

 About Megan Claire

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

    30 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me Megan! It’s a true honor to be included in your Inspiring Traveler interview series. You’re a rockstar! :)

    • Thanks for providing such a great interview! My favorite so far :)

  2. Great story, and what a wonderful mother Cory seems to have. I love the attitude she seems to have instilled in Cory.

    • The world definitely needs more mothers like this!!

  3. Megan, I’m so happy you introduced us to Cory. Both he, and his mom, are so inspirational. I have been working with Lonely Planet on their “Travel For All” project which aims to make travel more accessible for people with any type of special needs. I will follow Cory on his blog, which sounds fantastic by the way, and will get in touch with him. Thanks!

    • Thanks Kerry – that’s wonderful! I’m sure he will be absolutely stoked to hear from you to help work towards making destinations more accessible. We don’t appreciate just how difficult it is to get around for part of society without hearing these stories.

  4. That is nice. Thanks for sharing. If you’re looking for some wheelchair ramps we got all kinds of stuff. Come and check us out.

    • Thanks guys :)

  5. Wow…very inspiring. like it! i always think around the world with my mom or alone. thanks

    • Thanks Bob! I travelled with my mum for a while as well and it was the best! Have a great week :)

  6. Dang Cory! I do believe you’ve lived more life in your chair than most people do in their cubicle chairs. Keep on keepin on buddy!

    • Summed it up perfectly Henry! He’s truly an inspiration!

    • Haha thanks Henry! I try to stay on the move. Why stay in one place when the world’s so big? :)

  7. Megan! Thanks so much for featuring Cory. And Cory, you’re an inspiration, and I wish you many more adventures ahead!

    • My pleasure, thanks Helen!

  8. Megan, I’m speechless, what great guy he is. And the fact he’s trying to encourage other wheelchair users to consider travel is amazing. But, boo to Paris, I noticed the same thing in many European cities. Elevators not working or non existent, and Paris is one of my fave cities too. Great write up!

    • Thanks Jeannie – I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. Cory really is just such a phenomenal guy.

      Yes, I high recommend requesting ground floor rooms if possible in the majority of European cities! – I was complaining about the lack of elevators just with heavy bags, so I can’t imagine the frustration it would pose for others. Hopefully increased exposure on issues such as these will bring about awareness and maybe instigate change :)

  9. Very inspiring article! Not many of us truly appreciate how difficult it is for some people to travel due to the way that some historical city centers are built.

    • Honestly I had never thought about it before I interviewed Cory. I’m impressed with his determination to travel despite the obstacles in his way.

  10. Thanks for sharing your story, Cory! And thanks Megan for publishing it here. I’m absolutely in awe of you Cory, it can’t be easy but you are inspiring so many on your travels!

    • Thanks Caitlyn!

    • Thanks Caitlyn! It isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. :)

  11. Very very inspirational. I’ll just shut up the next time I have something stupid to complain about.
    Nice write up.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • He’s one of the most inspiring travelers out there Frank for sure! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

  12. It’s very inspiring blog, thanks for sharing your wonderful story. I appreciate your effort.

    • I’m glad you’ve been inspired by Cory’s story Katherine :) Thanks for stopping by!

  13. This is a really inspiring story. I was paralyzed at age 20, and it’s cool to see what another person in a wheelchair is doing with their life. I have my own Youtube channel that shows me living with my wife and three kids, without letting the wheelchair get in the way, called AbleFamilyLife. Your story has really inspired me. Thanks!

    • Hi Brian, thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving your YouTube channel … I’m so glad that you’ve also found Cory’s story to be inspiring – he’s a true inspiration to live our lives to the fullest no matter what obstacles may present themselves in our way. It sounds like you’re very much the same!

      I’ll check out your YouTube Channel now! Happy travels :)

  14. Wow what an inspiring story!It really helps put my life into a new perspective, thanks for sharing this!

    • So glad you enjoyed the interview Ryan! Yes, Cory is one hell of an inspiring guy!

      Happy travels :)

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