Who Needs Eyes To Travel?
Definitely, absolutely not. Blind travelers, in fact, have a whole world of possibilities. And sighted travelers could take a leaf out of their books and consider a whole new perspective on traveling, too.
Blind travel: everything's possible
Blind travelers need to do some things a little differently to other travelers. Luckily there are a growing number of travel and tour companies that cater particularly for blind travelers – a good example is TravelEyes, based in the UK but serving blind travelers across the world. This company plans holidays that, they say, are designed with the goal of giving travelers a strong sensory experience, and a mix of cultural and social activities.
Interestingly, there are also some countries and cultures that seem to provide better for sight-impaired people than others. Head down many sidewalks in Japan, or stop in at a Tokyo or Osaka train station, and the ubiquitous yellow bumps on the platform or near street corners will be there to help blind people find their way more safely.
Learning from the blind: using other senses to travel
So, if blind travelers aren't using
their sense of sight, how are they experiencing their travels? Through hearing, for one – consider the
blaring horns at a frantic Cairo intersection. The sense of smell
plays a big part too; sighted
travelers will notice the extremely different smells in some countries, but of course even different parts
of your own city give off varying odors. Touch is a great sense to
use when exploring nature – feeling the size of the sand grains on a beautiful beach, or touching locally woven cloths at a market. And obviously taste is a key sense whenever food or drink is involved, especially when you're traveling abroad and discovering new cuisines.
But it's not just blind travelers who can benefit from using their other senses. Probably, we shouldn't talk about going 'sightseeing', but going 'sight-sensing'. Think about this when you next visit a museum or a marketplace: concentrate on using your other senses to enhance the experience.
We're far from the first to consider this possibility. For quite a few years now, there have been various restaurants around the world that picked up on this principle and let their customers eat in the dark. That makes every restaurant guest effectively blind and reliant on their other senses – especially taste – to appreciate the meal that's put before them.
Take a popular German example: the chain of Unsicht-Bar restaurants. There are three of them in cities around the country, and they're pretty unique – in that visitors dine in pitch black. You can choose from basic menu themes, like fish, poultry, lamb or vegetarian, and you can choose how many courses you want to eat – but the rest is a mystery. Eating in the dark is a bit of a challenge, but it certainly heightens your sense of taste. Tourists from across Europe are heading to the Unsicht-Bar chain, which is interestingly a place where blind travelers would have the advantage over others.
Souvenirs from the Blind Travel principle
So if you're not going to bring back a bunch of photographs – which you might never look at again – what kind of souvenirs could you bring to show what you loved about your vacation in all its senses? Perhaps a sample of sand from your favorite beach that you can run your fingers through, a sample of the local perfume that reminds you of shops or people, or a CD recording of the particular kind of music they play. If you can think beyond the realms of what a sighted traveler sees, then in effect, you'll actually see a lot more.