By Liz Frankland, blind traveller.
It was long ago and beneath the clearest blue Southern French summer sky that my desire to travel the world was born.
I was studying French for my degree back in the UK and, for my sins, I had been sent to Avignon to practise the language on its own turf for an entire academic year. For someone like myself, who had barely left the North of England in all her 21 years, this parched, sun-baked Mediterranean land was paradise. I fell in love with the sunshine, the cicadas, the abundance of flavoursome peaches and strawberries, and, of course, the local brew, ‘pastis’.
I could wax long and lyrical about that year, allowing it to take up an entire blog of its own, but, in terms of my travelling “career” it was merely the beginning. I had never experienced anything so exotic as the South of France, but, it was so delicious, that it left me craving for more.
I was very lucky that a few travel opportunities abroad came my way during the next few years, even taking me as far as New Zealand. However, at the end of each holiday, there was often no plan nor any realistic possibility of travelling somewhere else again. I became immensely frustrated that I was unable simply to book a holiday for myself, using any holiday company to any holiday destination of my choice. There was no choice because I needed someone to guide me and it was rare that friends or family were available to fulfil this role.
Then, just when I thought I would go insane, Traveleyes burst onto the runway of my life. I had seen a number of advertisements for this company in various magazines to which I subscribed, but I hesitated to act on my instinct. I was a little concerned that there might be a prevailing attitude of: let’s take the poor blind people out because we feel sorry for them. In the end though, I realised that if I didn’t book anything with Traveleyes, I may never travel anywhere again. I took the bull by the horns and I booked to go to Andalusia in September 2006.
This holiday quickly disabused me of my fears. The point was gently but firmly made that the sighted and the visually impaired travellers were all on an equal footing and the emphasis was very much on being sociable. There were people of all ages and backgrounds and everyone was out to have a cracking good time. We had guided tours of various towns.
We explored the “pueblos blancos”, snuggling in the mountain hollows, and together we passed leisurely mealtimes, savouring tapas and the local wine. I made friends with people who I had never met before, and the bonds were such that a friend I met on that very holiday is coming to stay with me in a few weeks’ time.
I have since been to many destinations with Traveleyes and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Among others, I’ve been drenched wearing my “bin liner” under Niagara Falls; basked in the tranquillity of Lake Titicaca; stroked lions in Zimbabwe; eaten delicious cakes in Vienna; shared the thrill of an audio described Shakespeare play in Stratford, and most recently, experienced the extremes of life in Nepal.
In all cases, I have found the organisation of people, hotels, luggage, food, transport and excursions to be absolutely top notch. Traveleyes’ speciality is that there are always at least the same number of sighted travellers as there are visually impaired. This means that all the visually impaired people always have the luxury of their own guide and no sharing of guides is necessary. Each day, everyone swaps round so that everyone is paired up with someone different, allowing everyone to get to know everyone else. This works particularly well for those who are single, but many couples journey with Traveleyes too.
Traveleyes is extraordinary in its uniqueness. There is no other company like it, (to the best of my knowledge), in the entire world, and people from America, Australia and Europe often join these holidays. It’s time to take the bull by the horns, as I did, and book something with this fantastic company. Come and join the Traveleyes family and tell your friends about it too. Let’s extend the independent travel experience to even more visually impaired people than before.