Travel is often synonymous with sight, a misconception that without being able to see, what I can get out of the experience is extremely limited.
When I turned blind at 18, a world full of travel and adventure seemed like a fading dream, as travel company after travel company deemed me unsuitable to travel with them. Fast forward to now and I have travelled to over 100 countries, from relaxing breaks on beaches to skiing holidays, and from trekking through Nicaragua to jumping out of planes. Being blind doesn’t limit me, but instead it opens up a world of other senses that I might not have paid attention to before.
People often ask if me, if you can’t see the sights, what’s the point in going sight-seeing? For me, the answer is easy. Because I can’t see the sights, it heightens my curiosity more so when I travel I make sure that I get my sighted companion to describe what’s before me and I often end up with a more vivid idea than if a sighted person was to just glance at something, take a picture and move on.
This is something that I hope to get across in my latest venture, a travel TV show alongside the wonderfully funny comedian, Sara Pascoe. “Travelling Blind” demonstrates a completely unique way of travel, as Sara uses her sight to guide and describe the world around, creating a mental picture of the places we visit together.
I wanted the show to capture the very essence of what it is to travel both as a sighted traveller and a blind traveller and what each person can get from the experience. For me, it was great to see Sara’s journey as she learns what it is to guide and I teach her how you can experience so much of a destination using other senses.
Initially, Sara was slightly reluctant about the adventure she had lined up for herself, both in the sense of guiding a blind man but also of being in a new and different culture, something she admitted scared her. During our journey, Sara told me that when you have sight “you don’t have to build an image from the ground up to the sky of what’s going on around”, and she’d taken that for granted before we started our trip.
As Sara and I continued our journey through Turkey, it was an amazing experience to know that the relationship between me and Sara was developing as we fell into a comfortable rhythm with each other. Sara has a beautiful way with words and her unique way of explaining things really created some outstanding mental images for me. I also found myself encouraging Sara to be a bit more adventurous and not let fear hold her back, creating a complimentary partnership. Travelling Blind demonstrates something I have known for a very long time, that sight is not the most important thing to truly see the world.
For myself, I truly enjoyed encouraging, a sometimes hesitant, Sara to use her other senses more. A particularly poignant moment for me occurred when I managed to persuade Sara to climb up a rickety boardwalk with me, to see where beehives were kept in the trees. Here we both put our heads close to the hives and took in the magnificent sounds of thousands of buzzing bees, something Sara said she would never have done alone or with sighted friends. To me, travel is just as much about what you feel, as what you see. Moments like sitting around a campfire, high in the mountains, singing Turkish songs with local farmers (despite not knowing any Turkish) are what truly makes a trip and being able to experience this with Sara, someone who wouldn’t normally put themselves in that kind of situation, was a great thing to witness.
Travelling Blind offers an insight into what it is to travel as a blind person and as a guide. Demonstrating that travel is more than just what you see with your eyes but is, in fact, about the sounds of a street, the smells in a bustling market and the taste of local cuisines. To truly experience the very core of a destination, I encourage everyone to try and go beyond what we instantly take in and delve deeper into the surroundings. The interaction between those with sight and blind travellers enables both sides to experience travel from another perspective and, in turn, take away a lot more than they would have before.
Losing my sight might have seemed like the end of my adventures to most but, to me, it has just opened a world of possibilities that I intend to keep exploring. Check out Travelling Blind on Thursday 7th March, 8pm, on BBC2 and let me know your thoughts!