They fell in love with each other and travelling, and would not let a potentially fatal illness stop their dream. Now Sarah and Justin explore the world, and run an accessible travel blog, Travel Breathe Repeat, and an accessible travel planning company. Their aim is to highlight the information many tour operators lack about traveling with a disability.
Text: Maria Rossi. Photo: Private
Sarah and Justin Poitras (both 39) are originally from New York, but currently live in the Netherlands to be closer to all the great travel destinations of Europe. Nine years ago, Sarah was diagnosed with a progressive lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). There’s only a few thousand cases known around the world, and the disease is potentially fatal. But instead of letting this limit her, she and her husband travel around the world and focus on accessible travel.
- I have cysts all over my lungs, which make it hard to breathe. I get breathless walking up a flight of stairs or a small hill. I use an oxygen machine for flights, for exercise, and when we go to an especially hilly place. When we travel I have to make special arrangements with airlines. Generally we take things a little slower, with adding rest days into our trip itineraries, Sarah explains.
Summer visit to Tromsø
They visited Tromsø in August 2018, and were wowed not only by the natural attractions of the region, but of the city itself.
- We had a great time in Tromsø! We spent three full days there seeing as much of the city and its surroundings as we could. We visited at the end of summer and got really lucky with the weather.
One of their favourites was taking the cable car up to Storsteinen, where the views are wonderful.
- We even saw a reindeer! It’s great that the cable car and the viewing platform at the top are wheelchair-accessible. We took the bus to the cable car and ended up walking back over Tromsø Bridge, which was also really cool.
- We also really enjoyed the hike we took around Lake Prestvannet. It was easy to get to by bus, so I didn’t have to walk up to it. And the trail itself was totally flat. And beautiful! It’s rare to find such a manageable walk surrounded by mountains, she says.
Northern lights on the bucket list
The visit to Tromsø was the couple’s third trip to Norway, and they originally fell in love with the country and its natural beauty when they traveled from Bergen to Oslo through stunning fjords and over snowy mountains.
- Norway is up there as one of the most beautiful places we’ve been. We would love to see more of the country including places like Trondheim and the Lofoten Islands. But we’d gladly return to Tromsø too. We would love to return during the colder season when everything is covered in snow. The northern lights are still on our bucket list!
The couple has traveled all over the world, and find Norwegians and the people of Tromsø both friendly and helpful.
- We spoke to a bunch of people about the city and accessibility in the city. Everyone was generous with their time, and shared a lot of information with us.
There is no easy solution to how tour operators can make their tours more accessible, but one thing the couple suggests is making information about the accessibility of their tours available to people searching for it.
- There are travelers with access needs who want to book their own vacations just like anyone else; they just need additional information to be able to do so. When we look into touristic activities we look to see if a tour involves hiking or if an attraction has many stairs and no elevator. Often this isn’t listed, so we’ll try to read reviews to see if there’s more information there. People with more restrictions will need more information.
And Tromsø, in general, is not doing so bad when it comes to accessibility.
- In our opinion, which of course is only based on our experience, Tromsø is a very accessible city. There are also accessible excursions and day trips people can take to enjoy the natural surroundings outside the city center. But when we were researching our trip and our accessible guide to Tromsø, we did have to rely on information provided by VisitTromsø and questions we asked the attractions and tour operators. Comprehensive information wasn’t available in one place.
To make it easier for future visitors, Visit Tromsø is currently working on an accessibility section on our website to gather all relevant information for people traveling with special needs.