In my inspirational traveler series, I aim to highlight fellow travelers who defy the norm.
I’ve been hyper aware of my strong eyesight for most of my life. It’s something I’m grateful for and am always mindful of my blessings when I’m able to examine ornate details and patterns. I think the primary reason vision has always been on my mind is because my mom has an eye disease called keratoconus; she’s endured several corneal transplants and eye surgeries as a result.
While I’m humbled by the sentiment that I’m fortunate to have such impeccable vision despite my genetics, I’m especially inspired by people who don’t let their sensory weaknesses hold them back.
This is where Tony Giles comes in.
I came across Tony’s blog recently and was blown away by this guy. Tony is a 38-year-old man who grew up in Southwest England. He’s a two-time author and total badass. Aside from reading, attending live rock concerts and the cinema, Tony has one major passion: travel. Also known as Tony the Traveller, this legend has visited 117 countries and has set foot on all seven continents. Tony is also completely blind and severely deaf in both ears.
I was lucky enough to learn a bit more about Tony Giles and his adventures – the good, the bad and the excellent. Check it out!
You have been to an impressive amount of places around the world! What made you want to travel in the first place?
I’ve visited 117 countries thus far and all seven continents of the world. When I was young, I went to a boarding school far from my home. I wanted to be independent and travel home to see my parents as much as possible, especially my aging dad, who told me about his seafaring adventures when he was young. He served in the Merchant navy at the end of World War II. His stories plus, opportunities to go to the US with my school when aged 16, gave me the desire to travel independently.
What has been your favorite destination thus far? Why?
New Zealand is favorite country visited thus far and it remains so after a recent second visit. Why? The relaxed friendly people, the beautiful nature, which I appreciate through smelling it, feeling it, walking up and down the hills, hearing birds and seals, feeling the wind on my skin, undertaking the many dangerous activities available, bungee jumping, jet boating, zorbing etc.
Have you encountered any major setbacks due to your disability while traveling? What is your greatest challenge while traveling?
Several setbacks when traveling due to my disabilities:
- Having my tent and backpacks stolen whilst camping in an open field in northern Canada. If I weren’t blind, I might have found a more secure area to pitch the tent.
- Crossing into a foreign country without receiving an entry stamp and not knowing until having spent several days in that country illegally and being threatened with a heavy fine!
- Damaging one or both my hearing aids by water which reduced my hearing ability!
My biggest challenge when traveling is using cash machines to access money, I have to find a trustworthy person who speaks some English. Also handling money can be confusing, especially if I have several different currencies on me at any one time. I have to be organized and, again, ask people I feel I can trust, fellow backpackers, hostel staff.
Trusting people is the key.
I know you’ve been to so many places, including my home country. I must ask: for someone who has traveled all 50 states, which state is your favorite? Which one was your least favorite?
Having visited all 50 US states, I have two answers as my favourite, South Carolina, because I studied there for 4 months in 2000 and Alaska as it is so quiet and peaceful and avoid of people for the most part. Not to sure which is my least favorite, maybe Kansas, nothing of real interest and very flat!
Have you met fellow blind travelers on the road?
I’ve never encountered any totally blind travelers backpacking on the road, but have met a couple of people on buses in the US going to specific destinations. I’ve met and stay with blind and visually impaired friends or my girlfriend in the US and Australia and have made contact via interested with a few blind people who are interested in going traveling and have asked questions/advice – this is great. I’ve met a couple of different people with sight in one eye or who are visually impaired.
I’ve heard many stories about people in wheelchairs traveling the world, so it can be done. I have a dual disability and my girlfriend, who is totally blind, has traveled with me to the United States twice and now Australia and New Zealand. We intend to visit Japan and Russia together this year.
If you were given an unlimited amount of cash tomorrow and could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
I’d go to everyone country in the world I’ve not yet visited! Why? Because it is my challenge, my passion – a chance to meet new and different cultures, taste different foods, hear new music, explore diverse terrains, every day is different when you’re on the road, it’s the constant unknown that I love ☺
When I’m traveling, I love to try the local fare, but I get a craving for pizza every so often. What is one food that you’re craving while on the road?
I too like to sample a country’s delicacies, but I miss English sausages and fried eggs!
If you could give advice to others who may be too nervous to travel, what would it be?
It can be done, try going with a friend on a short trip first to a destination or country similar to the one you know. I began my travels by visiting the US and Australia, countries that are fairly similar to mine in terms of infrastructure and language.
Once I gained my confidence, new I enjoyed traveling, I ventured to more difficult countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
Disabled people get lots of help when traveling, you can book airport assistance for all flights, book many hostels or hotels in advance [as well as] transport. Many accommodation staff is more than willing to contact tourist attractions to find out if they have audio guides, wheelchair access, tour guides etc.
The best advice I can offer is live life and give it a go.
For those of you interested in learning more about Tony’s journey, be sure to check out his website. He’s also the author of two books – Seeing the Americas My Way and Seeing the World My Way. Both are accounts of his travels across the world – perfect for those of you seeking a good travel read! I’ll definitely be ordering them once my new Kindle comes in the mail.
Who inspires you?