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A luxury vacation is all about the abundance and richness of the travel experience

A woman in an elegant, white lace dress with wide sleeves sits on a stone wall. She holds a delicate, lace-trimmed parasol that shades her from the bright sunlight. The backdrop is the serene desert landscape with scattered shrubbery, undulating hills, and a clear blue sky at Aquila Luxury Safari Lodge, Capt Town south Africa. Her poised demeanor suggests a formal or celebratory occasion, contrasting with the rustic, natural surroundings.

Tarryn Tomlinson at the Aquila Luxury Safari Lodge, Cape Town, South Africa. Couture designer: Jacques La Grange

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Growing up in the lively city of Cape Town, South Africa, Tarryn Tomlinson’s passion for travel was sparked by her father, an avid reader and explorer. Being in a household filled with National Geographic magazines and a variety of books focusing on culture, nature, and people, Tarryn developed a deep love for learning about the world. Additionally, her father’s own travels further inspired her curiosity and desire to explore new places. However, her path took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 19. She is a wheelchair user but this has not stopped her from chasing her dreams.

Today, Tarryn’s is a well-known face on South African television, renowned not only for her charismatic on-screen presence but also for her visionary leadership in social innovation and social impact. She is also well-known in the community as a vocal advocate. Founder of Able2Travel and LiveAble Access Consultants, she graces the stage of many events in South Africa, advocating for improvements for people with disabilities and the underprivileged. Last October, she joined the board of Cape Town Tourism and worked with them on their recently concluded Limitless Campaign.

“If I really look at the evolution of everything that has happened in my life,” Tarryn remarked, “it comes down to being able to create better experiences for people, whether they be children or persons with disabilities or you know, anybody actually. And to use my time in a way that I think is most effective in terms of social innovation in order to make changes.”

A lot of what Tarryn has been able to accomplish thus far is due largely to her personality. “I’m not afraid to be out there on my own and this is eye opening to a lot of able-bodied people. When they see me out and about, not being sad, having people around me and being the life of the party, it opens and expands their awareness and makes them see that they do not have to be afraid to approach me and ask questions.” This approachable personality has allowed her to bridge gaps between persons with disabilities and the able-bodied.

Being an avid reader, Tarryn discovered the Law of Attraction at an early age, consuming page after page, incorporating its teachings into her daily life—teachings which her marketing and management courses certainly did not cover. One of her manifestations was a luxury trip to Italy which friends and family thought was a preposterous, unrealizable dream. She proved them wrong. At the age of nineteen, she visited Italy and lived for two years at a luxurious estate!

She journeyed to Italy with Professor Luc Montagnier, Nobel prize winner for the discovery of HIV, to receive treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis. A visit that should have lasted one month became a two-year stay in Italy in the lap of luxury. Her host, a famous Italian lyricist who was a friend of Professor Montagnier, was undergoing trials for his arthritis at his estate residence and Tarryn was able to be part of the trial. In between surgeries and treatments, she enjoyed the splendor of opulent living. On her return to South Africa, Tarryn started a foundation and for the next ten years, helped underprivileged kids with music and art therapy. 

Throughout her busy life, Tarryn still carves out time for travel. “I’m fascinated by different cultures and people,” she said in a recent Accessible Journeys conversation. “I do like luxury and to me, luxury really is the abundance and richness of a travel experience. I want to be on the beach in Tanzania, at a bonfire with locals and so I think the richness of experience is what I classify as luxury. It’s great to have the opportunity to experience these things, but unfortunately it requires money, influence or people within your network to make it happen.”

What are your favourite destinations?

Definitely Italy. Tanzania—the people are so warm and hospitable. I also love going to Zanzibar.

What’s the most memorable trip you’ve ever had?

Since my first trip to Italy, I continued to visit and on one of these trips, I went to Sicily. We sat on the rooftop of a building looking at the Basilica Cattedrale Sante’Agataa and Mount Etna in the distance. Later I sat on the pavement with friends and the owners of a nearby restaurant, in a circle. Grannies, aunties, uncles, friends . . . we just sat, chatted and lost track of time. Then we went to the home of the restaurant owners and had pasta at midnight. We visited the fish market in Catania in the early morning, later ate pasta with a delightful family and enjoyed a party where a blind guitarist performed. It was an amazing trip filled with stunning views, wonderful people and unforgettable moments. 

Another memorable trip would be when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. In 2020, my business, LiveAble Access Consultants, was started with a campaign to prove that ultimately, your attitude determines your altitude. In the company of five athletes with disabilities, we made the trek but COVID happened days after our descent which dulled the effect somewhat. However, the memories of the climb plus the kindness and warmth of the Tanzanian guides will always remain with me. 

Your most luxurious vacation?

The one that stands out the most is my manifested trip to Italy. To stay in the center of Italy in the home of one of the most famous Italian lyricists of all time. To hear and learn about Italian music from one of the greatest (I’m a writer and lover of music. I sing as well). Just to be sitting discussing the existence of the universe over breakfast, chatting with the Nobel Prize winner, for me, that was luxury. It does not have to be tangible things. People think about a Louis Vitton bag and a fancy pair of shoes, expensive sunglasses etc., but when you actually look at what true luxury is and look at the truly wealthy, the luxury of their time stems from the opportunities their wealth enables them to experience, which are not accessible to those with lower financial means, such as the opportunity to actually discuss philosophy with the great minds in science or philosophy. It’s the richness of the experience for me. That is luxury.

During my travels as a person with a disability, very often I feel like a VIP because staff would rush out of the hotel to assist me, then the valet would park my car, there’s someone to get my wheelchair and put it on the side for me to get into and I get the bigger, accessible room so this is a definite plus. This is luxury.

How often do you take a vacation and do you travel solo?

I take a vacation at least once per year and I love travelling solo. I would meet and sometimes stay with friends so I’m never alone throughout my holiday but I enjoy solo travel.

I always travel light. I like to go to places with summer seasons so I can take the minimum of things with me. With a wheelchair and lots of luggage, smaller taxis may not be able to take me so I find that the lighter you travel, the easier it is. I plan my wardrobe carefully thinking about what I can wear and re-wear.

I always call the hotel beforehand and ask for pictures so I’ll be able to see the lay of the land to avoid surprises when I get there. I also try to be close to transport but I don’t need an accessible vehicle. I often just take an ordinary vehicle and the driver would lift me up and put me into the car. 

Travel tips for those who are hesitant to travel

Do not be afraid. Think of all reasons you have for not travelling, like your fears of certain places and people, being vulnerable, etc. Take that fear away and replace it with curiosity about the destination. For example, take away the fear of going on a safari because you’re thinking it’s inaccessible and there are lions and other stuff and instead, do your research. You’ll actually find that there are safari lodges that are more accessible than many hotels in big cities. And the lions and other wild animals are not a threat but an experience to be enjoyed in their controlled setting. So, seek information, plan and check everything out. However, never just take people’s word for it. Ask for pictures. And just maintain a great sense of humour. There will be amazing people along your journey and also some awful ones. But learn, as a person with a disability, to have compassion for the able-bodied people for not getting it right. Then just go out and have fun.

Are there any destinations you’ve visited that you believe are underrated?

Africa. Everyone thinks about going to Europe or to other places and don’t realize how beautiful Africa is and how impactful and breathtaking it is to travel through the different countries. It deserves more recognition. The images people see of Africa are disempowering—poverty, shame, pity and war. And because of this, I believe we are heavily undervalued and underrated. If people knew about the diversity, richness of the culture, the most amazing people, like the Tanzanians and the joy that one can actually experience observing the simplicity of life, it will give you a different perspective of Africa. 

How has travel influenced your perspective on life?

Travel made me see that the human experience is the same. Sitting in the home of an Italian woman and hearing her yell at her son who forgot to take out the trash is a scenario that happens all around the world. To hear people discuss current affairs and stuff like that, I’m hearing the same discussions in South Africa. Travel drives home the point that humanity is really all the same. Culturally we are different but the little nuances are not even that big. We have the same problems, there are poor and rich people everywhere. Travel opens your eyes to many things you may not have thought of before. 

Bucket list destinations

I’d like to go to Greece because I love the Mediterranean vibe. I also want to discover Jordan and more of the Middle East. And Alaska. I’ve got a vision of being in a log cabin by a lake, with trees all around me, eating salmon day after day. A fireplace and a book . . .

A luxury vacation is indeed the abundance and richness of a travel experience. 

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