December 4, 2019

TRAVEL CHANGEMAKERS: Jezza Williams, Founder ‘Makingtrax’

Words by Travel to change the world
Travel Changemakers

Founder of ‘Making Trax’, Jezza is an unstoppable adventurer and tetraplegic on a mission to make adventure travel more inclusive for everyone.

Jezza grew up in the glorious mountains of New Zealand’s South Island, constantly going on adventures and getting involved in outdoor industries from a young age.

Starting out as a grader driver on New Zealand’s tricky ski field roads to being a rescue member of ski patrol and leading guided river kayaking tours, Jezza lived a life of adrenaline-fuelled adventure until 2010 when his life changed dramatically after he broke his neck in a canyoning accident in the Swiss Alps.

We chatted to Jezza to find out about what makes him tick and his life now as an unstoppable adventure tetraplegic.

What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

As a kiwi mountain boy, I grew up with a craving for adventure. After working in a multitude of adventure-based tourism enterprises in New Zealand, I travelled the globe constantly chasing summer seasons.

For over a decade I worked in countries including Switzerland, Australia, Canada, USA, and remote locations in Honduras, Zambia and Morocco.

As my adventurous nature led my path, I was lucky to discover jungle life in the deep Darrian of Panama, living with the local Embera Indians and rafting through the La Mosiquitia biosphere reserve of Honduras.

The wilder the places were, the more I wanted to immerse myself.

I spent most of my time travelling the areas less trodden barefoot with just a minimal amount of gear, living with locals and thumbing rides.

In 2010 my world took a significant change when I broke my neck in a canyoning accident in the Swiss Alps.

After this massive life-changing experience and 11-months in a rehabilitation clinic in Switzerland, I craved adventure again and wanted to continue my travels.

I became dependent upon the help of others which was a challenge, to begin with, as I needed a lot more gear and care.

Never one to deny a challenge, I was straight back on the horse, although a different horse than previously.

After one year home in Kiwiland my feet were itchy and so back to Europe I went to enjoy the summer. I still needed to learn my limits and possibilities, so the following year I got an awesome crew together and a great friend to be my carer and we took on the Mongol Rally, from London to Mongolia through Eurasia and back through Russia: 26,000km, a two and half month journey whilst camping and living out of a 998cc Toyota Yaris.

This experience put me back on the planet and gave me an understanding of the possibilities of travelling to remote and more developing countries with a severe disability.

Since that experience, I now travel internationally often a number of times a year, including to underdeveloped countries. Just a few months ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to Nepal as an ambassador for a month to assist the tourism industry to understand the possibility of inclusive tourism.

Now a C5 tetraplegic, I started looking into the adventure travel industry that I so loved and had a lifetime of experience in. However, with my new body, I wanted to see what the possibility for someone with my abilities was and I was blown away at the complete lack of opportunities and infrastructure there was so Makingtrax was born.

We founded Makingtrax in 2012 and have opened the adventure industry of New Zealand for all, with the aim of building the most inclusive adventure destination in the world: from paragliding to multi-day wilderness rafting and everything in between.

Makingtrax assists adventure operators to provide experiences to all abilities where possible, through information, education, cooperation and where needed adaption.

We keep it simple, safe and fun; working with the best in the industry. Luckily for me, being a tetraplegic, I’m the perfect guinea pig. If my body can do an activity, anybody can.

Our website also provides an inclusive directory with all the inclusive information available so a client can confidently book their adventure experience, empowering all abilities to visit the adventure capital of the world.

Where has been the most sustainable and/or inspiring place you have visited and why?

It’s so difficult for me to put sustainable and inspirational in the same place.

I have a love of travelling to the more under-developed countries, and what I call reality.

When you are more exposed to the struggles and elements, humanity is more real. Especially in countries like Honduras, Panama, Nepal, Zambia and Mongolia.

They inspired my spirit with the lifestyle of the locals, and also the struggles they face on a daily basis. Despite the reality of their lives such as poverty, disease, corruption, the simplistically of their world builds resilient, hard-working and humble humans.

In these countries, community, family and consideration for others are what is valued most. The lucky few that can make a living from tourism are the minority, as corruption is rampant. Wealthy westerners can be walking dollars to officials, governments and sadly local communities. This does take sustainability away somewhat, as it encourages a negative impact.

On the positive side, by travelling to these magical places we can cause a positive impact by choosing to hire local and buy local as long as we are aware of how we share the tourism dollar.

What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people, animals and the planet?

There is always a yin and yang effect with regards to travel and the effect it has on our planet.

The obvious negatives are overcrowding, rubbish and pollution. With a higher population and more wealth in certain countries, the amount of tourists is on the rise.

Areas that have been over travelled have lost their uniqueness as catering for travellers takes away the originality of the local people and their environment. If tourist dollars are spent on clean up, education and infrastructure, they can make a positive impact.

Do you think travel can change the world?

People are afraid of the unknown. In a world with propaganda in the media everywhere, we live in a world that is sometimes very naive to other cultures, religions and people that live differently to ourselves.

Travel opens our minds and senses, we meet people as they are: in all their diversity.

The more we are exposed to, the more we understand about others and ourselves. On an individual level, my travel experience has taught me that there is good, bad and beautiful in every walk of life.

It’s a humbling experience to be out of your comfort zone, but it is the best lesson in life. Opening our understanding of others brings empathy and encourages peace.

Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?

It is slow to take hold, but it is happening!

I believe social media is educating the new generation of traveller. People are now becoming conscious of the positive choices available in regards to responsible travel since sharing posts provides feedback from their peers and sometimes society, such as big game hunting and elephant rides.

Inclusive tourism is now on the radar with mainstream marketing and advertising. Agencies operators and governments are realising the largest minority on earth are ready to travel, that’s 15% of the global population.

“The future of Inclusive Tourism is Makingtrax NZ”

National Geographic Travel Magazine UK, 2019

Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make change?

Having had a life of travel, mainly travelling to work rather than working to travel, I have had a lot of eureka moments.

The first was when I was working with the local river guides in Honduras about 18 years ago as the only international guide. Being part of the river community in such a wild country, opened my eyes to lucky I was to be born in a country like New Zealand. The knowledge I had was valuable to the local river crew, but what I learnt from them will be with me my lifetime.

However, the biggest eureka moment of my life was when I had a second chance, after breaking my neck in a canyoning accident.

Being in a rehabilitation clinic in Switzerland for 11 months and starting over again gave me time to reflect: how precious life is and what I wanted to achieve.

Hence Makingtrax was born, providing opportunities for others that I took for granted my whole life.

What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?

Never be ashamed to ask for help. In all my years of travel, the hundreds of people that have assisted me have enjoyed their experience and it’s a great way to interact with the local community. I call it educating the nation.

Don’t be afraid to be manhandled, it opens a world of opportunities.

Travelling with a disability can have its challenges, the only way to grow is to challenge yourself and everything works because it has to. 

We call it inclusive travel, NOT accessible travel because there is always someone to help. The more underdeveloped a country is, the less accessible it is, however, the more inclusive it is, as people are more willing to assist.

Always be over-prepared, take extra supplies of your personal needs and never put your necessities in one place.

Keep things as simple as possible, just take the bare essentials. A yoga mat and duct tape are great additions to my kit.

Find out more:

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.

Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.