Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to travel Europe by piggyback

By Louise Kinross 

In April we told you about Kevan Chandler, who was planning a summer trip across Europe with friends who would carry him on their backs when places didn't accommodate his chair. 

The itinerary included hopping over stiles in the British countryside, climbing up 600 rock steps to an Irish monastery, and checking out the underground cemetery in Paris.

Kevan and his friends raised over $26,000 to fund their adventure, and purchased a child carrier modified for Kevan's size. Kevan, who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has spinal muscular atrophy. He updated us in this e-mail interview.

BLOOM: How did the trip go overall?

Kevan Chandler: Oh, it was awesome! Things went smoother than we could've imagined, but it was also balanced with enough challenges and 'wrenches' to keep us on our toes.

BLOOM: What was your favourite part of the trip?

Kevan Chandler: There were so many unbelievable parts to the trip, and I had really special moments with each of the guys who carried me. On one of my favourite days, a few of us went out walking through the fields and woods outside Westerham, in England. 

Our host, Mike, led the way and even carried me for a bit. The countryside was beautiful and it was exactly the sight that I'd seen a thousand times in films or from my van on the highway, and always dreamed of exploring myself. So, this was an especially precious experience to me.

BLOOM: Did you run into any problems while being carried?

Kevan Chandler: The gates at the subway were a bit thin, so we had to watch my knees. And we had to be careful at doorways. When we'd hop a fence in the countryside, the guys had to remember they were a bit top-heavy. There were challenges every day, whether we were in the city or out in the country or staying home. 

Some of them we saw coming, some caught us by surprise, but we just crossed each bridge as we came to them. That was one of the things I considered in choosing the group that came, not that we'd have everything figured out beforehand but that we could be creative and work together to figure things out on the spot.

BLOOM: How did the pack that you were using hold up? Was it comfortable for you and your friend?

Kevan Chandler: The pack worked great. We made more modifications as we went along, but it was a good, sturdy apparatus and did its job well.

BLOOM: What advice would you give others with disability who might want to consider this kind of trip with friends?

Kevan Chandler: It all depends on the person, as to what my advice would be. Generally, I'd say to seriously consider yourself and your team, and decide together how to go about the adventure. A backpack worked for me, but it may be something else for another person. You have to decide first what you want to do, and then go about deciding how you want to do it. Don't be afraid to think outside the box, and if you try something and it's not right, don't be afraid to say no and try something else.

BLOOM: Did anything surprise you about the trip?

Kevan Chandler: Everything surprised me about the trip! I made plans and sorted out details, but emotionally and spiritually, I tried very had to go in with no expectations, just see what happens and enjoy the ride. It was definitely a trip in which you had to roll with the punches, go with the flow, but I think that's the best way to have an experience like this.

BLOOM: How did people respond to you and your situation? Did you meet any other travellers with disabilities?

Kevan Chandler: People were inspired, whether they spoke to us or just watched us from a distance. I think what we were doing was so obvious, they didn't need to know the details to be encouraged by it. I loved being on the subway and seeing someone on the other end of the car glancing at us and seeing a smile come across their face. We made their day without a word, maybe impacted their life more than we know. 

And sure, we had some people who just looked at us with confusion, or they saw us and went on with their day unaffected, but who knows how or if that image stayed with them. We didn't meet any other travellers, per say, who were disabled, but one of our hosts in England had multiple sclerosis, and we did see others in passing who also had various disabilities.

BLOOM: What did your friends who went with you say about the trip? Is it something they'd do again?

Kevan Chandler: They loved it! It was funny to me, because they'd thank me over and over for bringing them on the trip. They were physically carrying me, but they saw it as me taking them to Europe, simply because I invited them. This just shows how great they are and how humble. I think they're all up for another trip.

BLOOM: Did you film the trip so that you can turn it into a documentary? 

Kevan Chandler: Yes, we had a film crew of two and they are now working to whittle that 300-some hours of footage down to a 45-minute documentary. We anticipate a spring 2017 release.

BLOOM: Is the film your next project or are you involved in something else?

Kevan Chandler: I'm pretty hands off with the film. I trust those guys completely with it. For the next few months, I'll be speaking some around the country, and writing a memoir-type novel about the trip. Also, we are working with a few other disabled folks and their families to help them have more freedom to travel as well.


What an awesome article and inspiring that anyone can achieve their dreams if they really put their heart and mind to it. I am so happy for Kevan, he will forever cherish the memories made! Nicole

This documentary is terrific.

And I liked the way Kevan used the backpack.

Would love to see more people have the freedom to travel.

I would love to know some of the carrier backpack modifications that were made. I'm looking to be able to carry my special needs pre-teen :)