19 December 2007
By Sam Szanto
29 year-old Tony Giles has travelled to over 30 countries around the world. He has gained an MA in American Studies, written two books and set up a website about his travels. Tony is totally blind and 80% deaf in both ears. Tony was born with Cone Dystrophy, an extremely rare eye condition, and was sent to a boarding school for visually impaired children at the age of 10. He travelled abroad for the first time while he was at school, on a trip to Boston, USA. “The Americans came up and talked to me about my blindness,” he says. “This was new and fresh to me, because in England no one really asked me about it.”
When Tony was 20, he visited America again, this time with friends, who introduced him to the joys of staying in hostels. “I like staying in hostels because I can meet people,” he says. This was also the start of his love affair with America, which led to his BA in American Studies. The degree allowed him to go to New Orleans, his first trip abroad alone. It was here that he says he realised he could do anything, regardless of his blindness, and that he loved travelling. He says, “I get a buzz from travel. I use all the senses of my body – my hearing, my smell, my touch – my whole body is alive with it.”
Tony’s experience in America gave him the confidence to go even further. While studying for his BA, he took a module in the Vietnam War because it allowed him to visit the country, which he promptly did after finishing his university course, taking in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand along the way. The journey lasted for five months, and he did it alone. Following this trip in 2000, he has been to every country on his own, making new friends as he goes.
Tony says that many people find his desire to travel alone bewildering. “The question I get asked most often is why would a visually impaired person want to go travelling? The answer to that is that you don’t go to a foreign country just to see it – it’s the music, it’s the food, it’s the people. I can sense space and changes of environment despite my blindness.”
Tony has written two books about his travels and Action’s Self Employment Team has supported him in trying to get them published. He has also set up a website, https://www.tonythetraveller.com which features a plethora of visitors’ comments including, “What a wonderful website – it makes me want to give up the rat race and travel.” Tony’s passion for travelling has allowed him to overcome the challenges posed by his disability. He does receive help wherever he goes, but says that “people don’t help me because I’m blind, but because I’m blind and am having a go. I know that I can get from A to B anywhere in the world, and my blindness doesn’t compromise that. I’m extremely lucky.”
© Action for Blind People, December 2007