A globetrotter of a different kind

IMS – Travel Tales
Volume 3, 2013

Being blind and partially deaf did not prevent Tony Giles from dreaming about visiting every single country in the world. Indeed, he is getting there fast.

During a semester break Tony Giles faced a common student dilemma: where to go? His friends had plans to visit Florida, but Mickey Mouse was far from his priority list. Giles then decided to take a solo trip to New Orleans. This would be rather an ordinary story, if not for the fact that the portrayed traveller is blind and that this choice
changed his life.

Tony, 35, is a British national and a veteran globetrotter. After this breaking through experience during an exchange period in an American university, he has so far visited over 80 countries and stepped in every continent. “In New Orleans, I walked out of the hostel, and just froze. But I said to myself, ‘this is what you wanted. If you don’t want it, go home.’ I took a deep breath, turned left, walked down the street and never looked back”, he tells.

Diagnosed with Cone Dystrophy at the age of nine months, his vision gradually degraded until he became totally blind in his teenager years. Besides the visual impairment, Tony is also around 80% deaf when not using hearing aids. Nonetheless, he never considered this as a barrier. “When I was growing up I went to boarding schools with lots of disabled children who had far more debilitating conditions than me. This gave me a sense that mine were not the worst disabilities in life”, says Giles.

Low budget, big travels

In his world trips, Tony is a truly budget backpacker. Most of the time he is either hosteling or camping and his only companion is the guiding cane. Every year, Giles spends several months on the road. In order to finance his adventures, he counts with the pension left by his father and the revenues from the book he published about his journeys, entitled “Seeing the world my way”.

Currently visiting East Africa, Giles is racing against the clock. He wishes to cover the entire continent before his yellow fever protection runs out by the end of 2013. Due to a
recent kidney transplantation he cannot receive live vaccines anymore. This is one of the many challenges he faces on a regular basis. As a blind man, Tony says a major problem
during this travels is to deal with money. Some countries, like the United States, have banknotes all the same size. “It means asking and trusting people the entire time”, he affirms. Moreover, Tony also has to trust people to find his way in a new town or to get to know where and what to eat. Without seeing, pointing a food in a menu is not an option.

Thus, the lack of vision does not hinder him from enjoying new places. Giles claims he can experience the world by hearing, tasting, touching and smelling things. He appreciates the sounds of nature and he senses the environment around him. As snapshots of those moments, he also likes to take pictures. For those who may ask why a visual
impaired man uses a camera, he has a good humoured answer: “It is fun. Plus I find it funny for sighted people to see a blind guy taking photos!”

Special travels

Traveleyes: agency specialized in holidays for the blind and people with special needs www.traveleyes-international.com

The Blindwalk takes place every weekend during spring, summer and autumn

Follow the adventures of Tony Giles at his blog