She’s ziplined in Panama, spent a night in a New York City bus station, Couchsurfed across the world, and has been traveling for ten years now. Oh, and she has polio.
“Being a disabled black woman with a penchant for solo travel, I have yet to find someone who travels like me,” Jay said.
And she’s right. The one-of-a-kind travel blogger behind JayOnLife.com was born in Nigeria, a country that, at the time, was one of the three remaining countries in the world where the poliovirus was endemic (as of 2015, Nigeria has been removed from that list — Pakistan and Afghanistan remain). At age five, she moved to London — a move that granted her access to many medical opportunities that much of the world now takes for granted. But before she began to travel, she was faced with another hurdle.
“I found out at the age of 15 that my polio, (that I originally thought would be a permanent and stable condition), may actually get worse,” Jay explained. “Now, the rub is that it usually affects people 30 or 40 years after the initial attack. And I am at the ripe old age of 28, so it kind of puts me on a deadline.”
A deadline that stoked Jay’s traveling dreams.
“I had always had an interest in traveling and seeing the world from a young age,” She said. “As soon as I turned 18, I took my very first trip to Germany (which cost just 2 pence return, thank you very much!) and I was hooked from then on.”
In the ten years since her first trip, she’s gone all over the world. She studied abroad in California then traveled around the United States, couchsurfing her way across the country. She’s spotted Buddha in China, tasted authentic Indian fare, explored the wonders of South America, and seen her fair share of Europe. But it wasn’t always a glamorous experience.
“One of my most noteworthy moments happened not so long ago during my recent trip to Panama. Being a short (5’2) and obviously disabled woman, I usually get people underestimating me and my abilities as there is no possible way that I could do the things that I have done.”
She then told us about a time in Panama where she was determined to zipline through the mountains near Boquete. When her guides asked uncertainly if she was sure she could do it, she responded how she responds to everyone who underestimates her prematurely.
“I told him that I was tougher than I looked and that I still wanted to zipline,” But, she notes prudently, “I should have listened to Jorge…”
Because what she didn’t know was that to get to the zipline, she had to climb a towering mountain — a mountain slick with mud, bugs, and barbed wire. Jorge even carried her up a few tricky spots, Superman-style.
“Thankfully I was able to do my ziplining and managed a Tarzan Swing over an onion field!” She said, but she didn’t leave that mountain without an important takeaway. “I learned a great lesson that day. Listen. To. Jorge.”
This is one of the reasons why her followers love her so much: she tackles the world and others’ expectations of how people like her should travel.
“Unlike other travelers, I have an interesting perspective on the world of travel,” She said, noting that she ticks off many boxes: she travels solo, she’s black, and she has a disability. “So I have an interesting niche as I can speak from so many different perspectives all at once. All of these different insights I get while travelling makes my story more interesting as it is not usually a narrative that is highlighted.” She reflected, before adding, “Anywhere, really.”
And she’s right. But that’s what makes her even more inspirational — she’s the only voice out there that seamlessly knits together what it’s like to be a disabled black solo traveler. And she wants her journeys to inspire others to do the same — not to necessarily travel the world and crawl up muddy mountains laced with barbed wire — but to get out of their comfort zones.
“I will not be that tone-deaf person that just says, ‘Just travel, make it happen’. Sometimes for whatever reason — financial restrictions, familial obligations, disability — it just can’t happen as easily as you want it to,” She said. “However, if you can save even just a little bit each week or month, you will be surprised at how quickly it all adds up and, with each passing year, traveling becomes just that little bit more affordable. And in terms of accessibility, while many places in the world are not the beacons of ‘accessible tourism’, many places are! Consider going to those places.”
When thinking of traveling with a disability — or “traveling while crip”, as she’d say — she approaches the subject with a very business-like mindset.
“Tourism is a business, first and foremost. They want all the money they can get, and they know that being able to provide a service for EVERYONE, regardless of ability, will just bring in more business for them. Many places are doing their best to become as accessible as possible. While it is nowhere near the standards it should be in some places, they will certainly make the effort to get your business,” She said, before pointing to a recent example. “I mean, look at Rio during the Paralympics? It can be done!”
Sure, she acknowledged, travel can be scary. But not seeing the world while she can is a prospect that, for her, is much scarier.
“There’s so much magic waiting for you, just beyond the place you feel the safest,” She said. “So go, grab it, hold onto it and then get some more.”