What's it like to travel as a blind person?

Doug Lansky speaks to Amar Latif about the challenges – and rewards – of travelling without your sight

6 mins

Name: Amar Latif Age: 37 Nationality: Scottish

I used to have my sight. I lost it at age 19. I didn’t want my blindness to hold me back. I’ve since travelled around the world, even walked 220 miles across Nicaragua.

I wish I could travel with a crane. I love architecture and I would love to be hoisted up to feel the buildings.

The thing that really frustrates me is that at airports, they often try to make me sit in a wheel­chair. “My legs are just fine,” I tell them. “I just need a guide.” Maybe it has something to do with liability.

About 200 years ago, there was a book written by a blind man, James Holman, who travelled the world. One issue that hasn’t changed is the fact that people will often speak to the sighted person I’m with instead of me. The irony is that blind travelers often take the time to learn a language better to help level the playing field.

I admit that I sometimes play the blind card at airports to avoid long queues.

One of the reasons you don’t see more blind people travelling is that statistically, they don’t make a lot of money. In the UK, 66% of the blind working-age population is unemployed.

One thing that can make it difficult for me is hotel cleaning staff moving my things. I have a system for where everything goes – I can’t just throw stuff around like a sighted person. If a cleaner moves my shoes 10cm, I might be looking for them for 30 minutes. So I have to find the cleaners when I arrive and ask them not to touch my things.

Blind travelers can enjoy many things just as much as sighted travellers. I make sure to plan things to activate the senses: cooking courses, concerts, and wine tasting. And because we are so hungry for descriptions, we can often savour a well-described scene where a sighted person might just walk by and give it a glance.

To get a better feel for a place I ask a lot of questions of the sighted people with me. At famous attractions, I might buy a small replica to get a feel for what I’m standing next to. And if I am or­ganized enough, I’ll read a travel book set in the place where I am.

It’s often nice when people forget I’m blind. I was about to skydive with an instructor in Cuba. Just before we jumped out of the plane, he said, “Don’t look down.” I said, “OK, I won’t!”

Trave - the guide by Doug LanskyThe discussion above was extracted from Doug Lansky's book, Travel: The Guide, an innovative book, optimised for tablets, that challenges everything you thought you knew about travel. Download your copy now.

Amar Latif founded and runs Traveleyes, a travel agency that pairs blind travelers with sighted travelers and helps them see the world from one another’s perspective.

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