For me, a good holiday is about the people I travel with as much as the destination. That’s why my favourite ever trip was to Florida. It was the first time I went with a group and it was fantastic. Before then, I’d enquired about tours abroad and volunteer holidays, but when it got the point when I had to say I had a visual impairment, it was like I became an insurance liability.
When I went to Florida however, it was with a group of visually-impaired and sighted people. It was great to have that mix. It also meant that while I could be independent, I had support too.
The company I went with, Traveleyes, organises holidays during which those who can’t see are assisted by those who can. You swap partners every day, and the sighted people (who also get a discount!) act as your eyes. It can be quite funny, like, if you’re in an art gallery and you’re relying on the other person to tell you what they see in a painting!
I was born partially-sighted but my sight has deteriorated and now I just see pitch black. But because I had some sight before, it does mean I know what colours are, so I get a lot of pleasure from someone describing them to me. When I went to Florida with Traveleyes, we visited Orlando, Miami and Florida Keys. We went to three theme parks in three days. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and going to Harry Potter World was amazing. It was like being in the film.
At Seaworld they arranged for us to have a special encounter with the dolphins and we were allowed to touch and feed them. In the Everglades I held a baby alligator. It was fine because it had its jaws taped up, although I had to trust the person who told me that was the case!
In Miami, we went on a walking tour with a guide who was very keen on plant life. Every time he saw something tactile he would stop and get us involved. He was very enthusiastic and really wanted us to have a good time, but in the end I felt like saying, “It’s a leaf! I know what a leaf looks like!”
In Key West there was lots of seafood to try. I’m not really a fan but I tried crab. To me, it was like chewing a salty elastic band. But that’s what’s great about travel – it encourages you try new things! Once you get over the massive portion sizes in America, it’s fun visiting some of the diners. They’re great for atmosphere. One day we stopped at McDonalds. I said, “Really? Do we have to eat there?” But it was one of the best burgers I’ve had. It was more like a meal than a fast food snack.
My trip to Florida gave me the confidence to think about travelling alone. But I’m not going to give up my group holidays. They’re sociable, fun and you have a have a really good time.
:: Traveleyes takes blind and sighted travellers around the world together for highly sociable, sensory holidays. Contact 0113 887 4275 or visit www.traveleyes-international.com