Kamil Goungor lives in Athens, Greece and is the author of the Trawheeler, an accessible travel blog which he created in 2017. Kamil is an accessible travel blogger, but also a disability activist and he works for two very important organizations based in Brussels: for ENIL, the European Network for Independent Living where he works as Development Officer and the European Disability Forum (EDF) where he is the chair of the Youth Committee. This interview was recorded for the All Inclusive podcast in January 2021.
Thank you for accepting to be interviewed and tell us, how are you?
Hello Eleonora, thank you for having me. I’m very glad to be your first guest in this podcast and I hope it goes the way you wish, and a lot of success to it. I’m fine, I’m fine. I mean, yeah, it’s the new year. I am still having the excitement of the new year and then goals for new year and everything. And I’m full of energy. Will see how it goes later in the year, but so far, I’m fine.
What are your new year’s resolutions?
I am a New Year’s resolution guy, so I like to create lists with things I want to do, and things I want to achieve. So, I mean definitely I want to travel more than the previous year. I even wrote an article on my website for a few countries and places I would ideally like to visit this year if possible, and I have also other goals, like to read specific books or do specific things with my job and the organizations I work for, or achieve some personal stuff or I don’t know, to learn a few things. You know, I have a lot of ideas and goals, but you never do all of them. But if I do half of them, I am still happy.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I am reading “The gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, it’s very nice. It’s a very nice read, and unusual probably for the ones that people are used to, it’s not a romance, it’s not a crime… It’s the experience of one aristocrat who is closed in a hotel in the Moscow City Center. So, it’s how he lives this experience. But it’s very interesting and the way they put it. About the next book, I don’t know. I mean, I have a lot of books and written a lot of ideas so I will see. Maybe I will finally start one Jon Nesbø because everyone talks about it, will see.
I anticipated that you travel both for work and for leisure and in the leisure traveling I know that you’re very good at finding low-cost options and you love organizing your trip, so I would really love it if you gave us a few tips and you told us a bit how you work when you’re organizing a trip for yourself.
First of all I want to say that indeed I think it’s a fact, at least in my experience, that disabled people prefer to travel safe and expensive. This is what I think. So, you know, disabled travelers are usually willing to spend more to have the accessibility services, to have the assurance that everything will work OK, that they will have the good location and everything. So they are willing to pay more for the hotel and for transport, someone else to arrange everything for them because we live in an inaccessible and not inclusive world. It’s not easy for us to know everything, so we prefer to give this task to other people and it’s easier for us and then we do a trip which is stress free. But you know these things cost, and because I am a travel freak and I love to travel, I think that you can have, I mean with the budget that someone will spend for the trip, I could use the same budget for two trips. Probably, and I mean if I manage to do that, I am happy, and have more experience than the others. But of course it depends what you want to travel for, if you travel once per year, only to do some vacations and to rest from everyday reality, it’s fine to spend more money and to have everything done for you. I don’t criticize it, but if you want to travel more and to see as many things as possible as soon as possible, because yeah, you never know how much time you have or, whatever, you need to save some money and to think smart. In the past I wrote an article which basically was two parts, on how to travel in economy and smart. And I give a few tips from my experience and from the experience of fellow travelers, mostly not disabled travellers because as I said, most disabled people travel with a high budget, especially the wheelchair users. But that’s of course not for everyone, so I consider myself a “budgetarian” and even though sometimes I have to admit that I don’t travel as cheap as I want, sometimes it’s necessary for the experience.
Some of the tips I can give is first of all: make travel your priority. Instead of buying a lot of clothes or a lot of stuff you don’t need, or drink coffee outside every day, or going to restaurants every two days, or buying 5 Louis Vuitton bags or whatever, or to go to the gym every day, better save some money. Maybe you can have a money pot, and you see that a little bit of saving every day for this travel, after a few months you will have a pretty good amount to travel with.
Very basic tip that a lot of people do, this is not something new, you subscribe to newsletters and follow social media, of travel companies and hotels and hotel chains and all this stuff, subscribe to loyalty programs so you can be the first to get offers and to see what’s available. Sometimes you can get pretty good offers.
Then I think one other tip is to be flexible. For example, if you want to travel in June from the 15 to 20 June, in business class and with a specific company to a specific place in a specific location, for example in the city center, then chances are that you will have to pay more, because you are very specific in what you want. But if you are OK to travel in another period, for example in October, which is not high season, with maybe a low-cost company or stay in a hostel out of the city center, and you can use the public transport for example, and yeah, then you can save a good amount of money and then with this money you can do another trip. Maybe a weekend trip in your country or camping or something.
Then you need to travel smart and you need to do your study. The better study you do, the most super the trip will be. For example, you need to read the reviews of other travelers to see if something is worth it or not. If the price you want to pay for something, is it the cheaper or not? You can look for free tools. You can check if you are eligible for something, for example if you are disabled you might have reduced prices for tickets or for transport, if you are an older person you might also have reduced stuff, if you are a child or if you are a family you could get better prices, but you need also to do research for the seasons to travel. Some places are high season in the summer, some places are high season in the winter, for example for Christmas. Maybe it’s better to travel in October or in April, these are kind of not very popular seasons, at least in the past, or maybe traveling in the Christmas period to countries that don’t celebrate Christmas, because they don’t have holidays at that moment. So, I mean, you can do smart stuff like that. Or for example, you might see business hotels in the weekend. They don’t have that many clients, so they tend to do good offers. I remember when I went to Amsterdam in the past, I found a quite good luxurious hotel, business hotel in Amsterdam, which had a very good price for me, but it was a weekend. That’s why they got a good price, because it was a big hotel and they needed, you know, to fill their rooms and they didn’t expect business people on this weekend. So, I took the opportunity and I visited Amsterdam. It was not in the city center of Amsterdam, but OK, I mean, I did my research. I saw that the metro is accessible, it’s close to the hotel so I didn’t have any problems.
You don’t eat in the touristic areas, you try to eat where the locals eat. Probably they know better, plus also the food will be probably better, we will have better quality in the non-touristic areas. Because in the touristic areas the price is higher and they try to be as fast as possible and yet to meet the demand. And yes, you maybe want to save on hotels from the morning breakfast. The breakfast in the hotel might be, let’s say €20, while you can eat outside, across or something with €5, or I don’t know, or a sandwich. And maybe you can see the tickets, maybe a transport card is cheaper than buying tickets every day: for all this you need to do your research, to see what’s better for the city and for the place you go.
Another thing I’m likely to do and I know other people that do this, is to find a job where the traveling is part of it. So to do the job you like and believe in their values, you believe in the stuff they do, but also why not travel with it, like for example in the activism sector we travel a lot. Even outside of the country, in the country, I know a lot of disabled people that have the opportunity to go to conferences, training seminars, then maybe this can be something you do. Something else you can do: you can be a professor, they also tend to travel, for academic events or whatever. Maybe you can be a pilot or a tour guide or a stewardess in airplanes. They also traveled a lot. You can do sports, or you can be an actor, or you know, a theater actor or a politician, I mean, or even personal assistance for disabled people. All these people tend to travel because they get opportunities. So, I mean, yeah, finding your job can be also a factor for traveling, and there are also these seasonal working opportunities, you can be a tour guides in a summer destination, or work in a Tavern in a Greek island or go to Australia to gather the strawberries, which is very popular for foreigners. I don’t know, maybe “au pair”, to take care of children of the family and they give you in exchange home, food and maybe some pocket money. Other quick tips maybe are to get advantage of your age, so I already said you can travel for studies, you can travel for volunteering, it gives you opportunities and then your age can give you a cheaper ticket. As I said before there are other benefits, like because we are old. Maybe your job can give you some benefits. Maybe you are a journalist, some options are free for journalists. Maybe you do something else you can have some benefits, you need to see. And then OK, yeah, well, as I said before studying, doing volunteering abroad, doing traineeships and a lot of institutions offer very good opportunities now. I mean you have the European Solidarity Corps.
You have opportunities in the European Parliament in the European Commission now with the EU, more young people get the opportunity to travel than in the past, when traveling was much, much more difficult. We never had traveling so easy as we have it today. I mean before Corona. So, there are a lot of options. One other I remember I did myself is if you want to travel to a place which is not close to the country you live, and it’s expensive, maybe you can leave it for now then when you are in another place closer to this country you want to travel, so for example, I always wanted to visit the Netherlands, Amsterdam, but from Greece the tickets were always quite expensive compared to other places, so I choose other places and I waited. And when I did my Erasmus in Belgium, I took the train from Belgium to Amsterdam and it was super cheap. So, I mean yeah, sometimes if you wait for the right opportunity, then you will find it and, in the meantime, you can visit other places. So instead of Amsterdam I went to Turkey or to the Czech Republic, which are super countries and I still had a great time. Yeah, I mean if you can, you can use the bicycle, it’s cheaper than the taxi or public transport. Or you can use public transport which is cheaper than the special taxi if they’re accessible. But of course, you need to do your research.
You need to do your research. You need to compare.
Don’t do things you do in the place you live. So, for example, I live in Greece, so when I traveled to Europe, I don’t want to eat Greek cuisine and Greek stuff and do Greek stuff, and things like that, because it’s also more expensive and I’m eating every day in Greece, so don’t do it in the places you go, and also don’t buy stuff you can find in your place. So, if you shop, I don’t know, at Pull and Bear in Greece don’t go to Pull and Bear in Belgium, I mean you just spend money. Unless it’s super cheap and yeah and you need it. But if you don’t need it, just don’t do it. I mean it’s not necessary. As you said, I am avoiding travel companies and tour operators and try to do everything myself as much as possible, which is much cheaper because you don’t pay the fee, this sort of money and then you can book the hotel yourself, but I mean you have to spend more money to talk with the hotel, to make sure that everything is accessible. So OK, I mean you have some benefits, and you have some down things.
But yeah, you decide if you are more adventurous you have options like hostels, like couch surfing, like camping, glamping I don’t know Airbnb and all this stuff I tried to use some of them sometimes. When I went to Moscow, I know that Moscow is quite difficult for wheelchair users, and everything was paid for me for the conference. I had also a free evening and I found a special company that does tours and stuff like that, with car and everything and I booked it. I was lucky because it was not very expensive in the end, and I had a special tour with them. But you know this was a special case, normally I wouldn’t do a whole trip because it would be super expensive, but for the special occasion I guess it can be possible.
I also advise people to not be shy and to ask questions because if you don’t ask questions you will never learn. If you can get some cheaper options and if you are eligible for some refunds or whatever, so and for some benefits, so if you if you don’t ask if your assistance can enter for free, you will pay the ticket, but if you ask, maybe your assistant gets in for free. And the last, almost the last thing, is to go to your friends. I mean if you have friends abroad, try to use them. If not their home, you can eat together or use them as tourist guides in the place, they have experience and they will know where it’s better, where there is more. So, these are the very basic options. Then you have more stupid and funny options like pack, pack your stuff more efficiently and I don’t know stuff like that. Do a fundraising if you are a guy who likes fundraising? I am a bit shy to ask people to pay my trips in that way, so I don’t do it, but maybe it’s an option.
I love the “budgetarian”, it’s wonderful. All your tips are super, super, super useful. But I would like to ask you two things: which are your favorite newsletters, and one youth hostel that you really liked that you’ve stayed in?
That’s a big challenge. Actually, the fact that I recommend a few tips, that does not mean necessarily that I do all of them, so, so yeah, I will need to think. For the newsletters that’s easier to say. I am a subscriber of Aegean Airlines, which is the national Greek Airport Airline Company. And yeah, I mean I am also a gold member of this company so. I already have some benefits with that because I travel often. As I said, if you can subscribe for loyalty programs, you can benefit. I always check for their holiday promotions or summer promotion or whatever promotion they have. I was thinking, maybe I should go to Dubai. Everyone goes to Dubai now with the Covid so it’s OK, but then I didn’t. Then I thought about my family, and about the risk, and I said “Kamil, it’s better to wait for the summer” or for after Easter. So yeah, we wait. But I mean Aegean Airlines is one of the companies, then my favorite low-cost company, at least so far, is Wizzair. So, I’m subscribed to their newsletter and they introduced now the tickets to Dubai from Athens, so that’s very nice. So Wizzair and another newsletter, which one I should choose? I mean there is a lot of companies you can read newsletters and stuff. I’m in Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa. All very big companies worldwide and they have a lot of stuff to offer so it’s good to follow them as well. For hotels, I am subscribed to the Thon hotels, because I’m staying often in Belgium, but I’m not really, you know, one hotel specific guy. I’m just using the cheaper I find in every place, so I’m not really following the big chains. The Thon hotel I am in, because I go often for work, so for zero money I get points. That’s why I subscribed. So yeah, so I use this one and for hostels again, it’s not a specific, I don’t use a specific chain as it depends on, you know the place. So, I don’t really remember to tell you a specific one.
What has been your favorite low-cost trip in the past. The one that you were really proud of, that you really organized super well and really saved all that was possible to save. What’s the trip that you’re most proud of?
Yep, so I will say 2 trips, one which was really cheap, and one which was not the cheaper in the total amount of money, but when I tell you why I mention it, you will see that it was a great deal. So, first the cheap one. I mean, I did a few of them, a couple of them, but the younger I was, the less experienced I was, so they were not super cheap. But then in 2019 it was actually to your country, to Bologna, which I organized by myself. And you know Italy is not super expensive anyway, but I mean I booked the hotel and it was in the city center, but it was a very cheap one. And it was accessible, nothing super special, but it was very OK for my needs. I was in a good location, I had a breakfast, it was accessible, so I was fine, and the budget was ok, and they sent me also photos for the accessibility and everything. So, I was sure that it’s OK. I was happy with that. Then I used the local transport, which was accessible, I walked a lot, I even followed the Giro d’Italia (the famous bike race) which was one of my dreams and the reason I went to Bologna. But you know, many people, to go to that event they pay the organizers of the Giro and of the sports event, you know to have a better place and stuff like that. But if you have a little bit of patience and you do it by yourself, then you can equally find good spots and you know, to enjoy it without paying for all this stuff. I used minimum money, but I ate great. Of course, in Italy wherever you go, you eat great, so you don’t need money for that. It happened that the travel tickets, the trip from Athens, were very cheap, which is not always the case but I found a good offer, I saw the newsletter from Aegean Airlines and I saw that if I buy the tickets by specific dates, I will have a very good price. So, I paid for two people for five days less than 1000 euros, which I mean, for disabled travelers, traveling with a personal assistant for five nights is not very easy. And I mean I did a lot of stuff, I visited museums, I visited a lot of stuff, so you have to pay tickets and stuff. But I paid like I don’t know 800 or 900 Euros something for two people and we did everything, so I’m very happy and proud of this trip. The other trip I wanted to tell, which is not exactly the cheaper I did, but it’s one of the most efficient I did, is when I went to Japan, which is considered an expensive country, but I paid less money to Japan that a lot of other disabled friends paid to go to, I don’t know, to Spain or the UK. So, you know countries which are not great.I shared a room with a friend, which was a bit cheaper, I shared the assistant with the friend. We booked the tickets very very early. Like really, really early, which is risky sometimes. But we did this also.
We organized everything by ourselves, my sister also speaks Japanese, so we used her when needed and she helped organize it. A lot of stuff we asked Josh (Grisdale). He gave us a lot of tips so this trip was, compared to what people sometimes think about Japan, that everything you will do is expensive, you can do it on budget. You can take the simple travel and transport tickets, you can eat in the smaller shops, not necessarily super expensive ones. And then you get a cheaper experience but still you get the local feeling, and you do everything. I mean, yeah, you won’t regret.
Where did you travel to this year? Last year in 2020? And how do you think you’re going to be traveling in the future and when? What will it take for you to think, “OK, now I can start traveling again”.
Oh, that’s a tricky question. It’s a bit difficult because I myself sometimes I’m not sure, I change my mind every few days. So, in the beginning I’m saying, you know, let’s wait, we need to be safe’. And then, you know, you have this quarantine and this lockdown, and you say ‘oh I miss so much trips just give me a ticket and let’s go’ or something like that so, you know, you just miss traveling. So it’s not very easy to say. I think that first I would say that I don’t think that we will travel normally very soon. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that people call it the “new normal” because it will be a new situation.
It will not be like in the past, so I don’t expect so that the traveling and tourism will be exactly the same as the past, at least not in the coming years. But that’s one thing. For myself, it depends on various factors so if it was only for me, I would probably find a friend who is not afraid and I will try to go somewhere in February or in March if it’s possible, but I know that I have a family with men and I need to be careful not only for myself, because I can be at risky for myself, but it’s not good to do it for your mother or for your sisters. So, I think I will wait until at least I don’t know, minimum April May, probably the summer and then I will try definitely to travel, I mean for sure in Greece, and I will try to travel also outside, it will depend on the restrictions of the countries, the requirements of the countries. Do you have to… I don’t know, do you have to quarantine yourself? Do you have to be vaccinated? Very different regulation every country has, so I will need to see what the idea is in every country, how many tourists go there? You know now we’re seeing the epidemic situation of the country, of the countries; and planning our trips accordingly. So, you say, OK, maybe this country is safer than another country because they have a smaller population, because they have a better reaction to Covid because they are in the EU, or because they have money for vaccines or because this, because that, so now our traveling is not only based on our aspirations, on where we want to go, but it’s also based or when we can go and how easy we can go there. I mean do you need to do a lot of stuff and papers and whatever to travel or you just can take the plane and go to a specific country? I mean if possible, I would like to visit, I already mentioned Dubai, which I think it’s an option for me because it is accessible and I always wanted to visit, then I want to visit Belgium. I always want to visit Belgium, I miss Belgium, my second home, so I hope I will visit Belgium and it will be possible. And even if it’s not for business, I will still try to go there. I mean if it’s not for business I will not stay much in Brussels. I will go to Gent and to Oostende, probably. And what else? I have come this in my mind. I mean, there’s a lot of places I want to visit in Greece. I have specific places I want, and I think more or less this will be easier to do. But abroad I will see when time comes. I have some ambitions, big ambitions I will see how many of them I can do.
Did you do something during 2020 after the pandemic started? Have you traveled anywhere? Were you able to go to go anywhere?
In 2020 in the whole year I did only three trips. Two of them before the pandemic. So, in January and end of February to Brussels for business reasons, even though in one Brussels trip, I visited also the Natural History Museum behind the European Parliament, which was a very nice experience, but OK, I consider these business trips nothing special, and in the summer, I mean in the pandemic period now. But in the summer, which was calmer in Greece, it was quite ok at the moment, I went to Crete Island, to Chania, a Greek city which was considered one of the most accessible in Greece and was nominated for the Access City Award two years ago. And yeah, it’s not exactly the cheaper trip I did, because Greece is not very accessible in general, so you can do very few things on budget, you need to have special transport most of the time. So I mean if you want to do experiences, if you just want to say in a hotel and to go, I don’t know, in the area of the hotel you don’t pay that much, but the most experiences you want to have, the most you pay. But it was a very nice experience. I did a one-day trip to Knossos, to the ancient Knossos, which was one of the must things to do in Greece and I never did it. And even though I had to pay a bit more for that, I think it’s totally worth it. So sometimes even though I’m a budget, I choose to pay if it’s for a very special experience you don’t live otherwise so, but yeah, I was in Crete. Greece was one of the countries that responded well to the pandemic, so it was also open to tourists, but we didn’t have that many as usual, so it was easier for us to travel. And to, you know, the walk in the city and in the streets and everything. So, I enjoyed the trip a lot. Sometimes it was a little bit depressing because you saw hotels, closed shops, closed restaurants, closed but OK. I mean yeah, what can you do? Hopefully this summer will be better for everyone. Anyway, I’m looking forward to travel both to Greece and to other places outside of Greece.
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Want to know more about Kamil’s travel in his blog? Visit The Trawheeler blog (in Greek) and follow Kamil on Social media (In Greek and English too).