Camp Courageous travelers explore Irish roots

The Courageous Travelers group poses for a photo before boarding the Corrib Princess for a boat tour on the Corrib River in Galway.

This photo opp was a hit for the travelers to pose as a leprechaun in Galway, Ireland. Michael Phelps of Iowa City got a laugh.

Stephen Esker of Cedar Rapids was one of 21 travelers on the recent Courageous Travelers trip to Ireland in September. Esker said he enjoyed the Dublin zoo. (Photos courtesy of Camp Courageous)

Linda Kemp of Davenport poses for a picture overlooking the Cliffs of Moher on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The Cliffs were among the travelers’ favorite stops on their trip to Ireland.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Every year Camp Courageous takes travelers out of the country to take in new experiences across the globe. In mid-September, Camp’s travel group, “Courageous Travels,” took 30 people to Ireland for a week and a half.

     Courageous Travels is a spin-off of Camp Courageous. Their mission is to “provide individuals with disabilities, ages 18 and older, the opportunity to experience the thrill of traveling to exciting destinations both domestic and abroad.”

     The most recent trip, from Sept. 9-18, had the 21 travelers and 9 staff members departing Chicago for Ireland and back.

     Rolando Morales, travel director, said those who were part of this trip battle a variety of disabilities.

     One traveler, Katie Stephen, of Dubuque is confined to a wheelchair. She had the time of her life in Ireland.

     “I had no problem getting around,” shared Stephen.

     Morales said when planning a trip such as this, they put in a lot of time researching the accessibility of a destination. Like any traveler, the travel team, which also includes Assistant Director Melissa McGill, also looks into the highlights of the trip and the must-sees.

     “Many times we have to wait and see who signs up and how many people sign up,” said McGill.

     After traveling to Germany a couple of years ago, Morales said they really started thinking about their next big adventure.

     “I have a friend who lived in Ireland for a couple of years,” said Morales. “So I picked his brain and the idea grew and grew.”

     Morales’ friend also volunteered for this trip as well, helping to navigate the travel group through Dublin.

     One fun fact on this trip was having travelers who have Irish backgrounds.

     “They found connections to their ancestors,” said Morales. “They got to see where their families were from, which was a big draw.” At a gift shop, those travelers received a copy of their family crest based on their last names.

     In terms of accessibility, Morales admitted much of Europe is not handicapped accessible like it is here in the States.

     “They’re not as advanced as we are,” he said.

     To keep costs down, the travel group stayed in four different hostels rather than hotels. The hostels had less stairs to manage, and was able to accommodate the group in first-floor rooms.

     The group took a charter bus around on their daily adventures. While the bus did not come equipped with a lift for those in wheelchairs, Morales said they made it work. The travelers quickly fell in love with their driver.

     Some of the highlights included: seeing a live Riverdance performance, the Dublin zoo, the Cliffs of Moher on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, boat tours, Jaunting Cars (horse-drawn carriage rides), shopping centers, and Guinness Storehouse and Brewery.

     Stephen said Guinness was a favorite of hers.

     “We got to see how beer was made,” she said.

     Traveler Stephen Esker of Cedar Rapids said he enjoyed the scenes of the ocean, shopping, and the zoo, especially seeing the giraffes.

     “The Dublin zoo is the fourth-oldest zoo in the world,” shared McGill. Morales said the zoo is much the same as zoos in the U.S.

     While the hostels provided breakfast, the group was on its own for lunch and dinner. Many of them tried different foods than they’re used to back home in Iowa. Stephen said she tried prawn (shrimp) and hake (fish). Esker said while some of the travelers didn’t like fish, he sure did.

     Morales said they hoped to plan ahead and make reservations at restaurants in the towns in which they were staying. But it was difficult to do that.

     “We didn’t know where we’d end up,” he said.

     They got advice from their bus driver for some places to eat with such a large group. McGill said many of the restaurants were amazing at accommodating their group.

     “We lucked out as far as restaurants,” she said.

     The one thing the group splurged on was dessert.

     They also made an unplanned stop at a beach so the travelers could see the ocean.

     Courageous Travels would not be able to take trips like this if it weren’t for the generous volunteers.

     “They have to pay close attention to their travel companion,” explained Morales. “They have experience working with people with needs, and help make this a comfortable travel experience abroad.”

     Stephen’s parents said they have full trust in Courageous Travels with their daughter.

     “We guarantee that we will make these trips comfortable for everyone and provide the care they need,” said Morales.

     Looking ahead, the group is planning a trip to Cancun in 2019, a cruise to the Bahamas in 2019, and a trip to London in 2020.

     You can keep up with their travel experiences at or on Facebook with “Courageous Travels.”



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