In short, Traveleyes take blind people on holiday, and those who can see pay less because they’re the ones who guide us around. A recent radio-programme featuring one of their trips was inspirational. I had been too nervous to attempt a holiday with them in the past, but this year, I booked onto my first one: Guernsey, Sark and Herm.
The information pack came 4 weeks prior to the trip with timings of ferries, fellow-travellers’ names, etc. For months I had envisaged returning to England and going home the same day, but the ferry wasn’t due in until 21:10, making it impossible to travel back by train. I struggled at that late stage to find somewhere to stay; nearly everywhere was full, except for one place, and that was all I needed.
Day 1 got off to a good start. The trains were on-time and I arrived at our hotel in Bournemouth, where the group met. Our tour manager (Liz) explained how it all worked. We each had a ‘Room partner’ to show us our hotel-rooms (everyone needs to know where to find the kettle and how to work the shower), and they’d also take us to breakfast/dinner. These stayed the same throughout the holiday, so I’m pleased to say I got on well with mine. During the day, we were always guided by a different person, allowing us to get to know everybody in the group (one guide commented that we had gelled really quickly).
There were 17 of us altogether – a lovely, varied group; the tour manager, 8 sighted, and 8 VIs (I’m not used to being called a VI, but I didn’t mind it, and it saved having to differentiate between blind and partially-sighted). Some were professionals; some unemployed; some retired … Considering the holidays are expensive if you’re visually-impaired, I assumed most would be in paid work and wondered if they’d look down on me because I wasn’t. I also wondered if I’d be competent enough. We were told in one of our first Emails the sighted guides were just that – guides; they weren’t there to be carers, cut up food, etc. I live on my own and manage fairly well, but some things are more difficult in unfamiliar surroundings. I hoped I’d get the help I needed … and everyone was very helpful. They’d pour for us when the big pots of tea/coffee came at breakfast, offer to debone a fish, or anything we needed. They even volunteered to pick the red chilies out of the curry that was making my eyes water, but I recovered from the initial shock and enjoyed it!
One tip we were given at the beginning was to say how we liked to be guided. I soon learnt how important this was! At the bottom of a flight of steep stairs, my guide told me: “Just follow the stairs up,” so instead of asking her to go in front, I did as she said – and ploughed straight into the edge of the metal door at the top! That gave me quite a headache, but after a good night’s sleep, I had recovered enough to join in the rest of the holiday.
This is one of those times I wish I could add photos/audio to my blog. I’m sorry you don’t get to see me paddle in the sea at Herm, or hear the firing of the gun at Castle Cornet. I wish I could introduce you to the one who never failed to make us laugh, the lady in her 90s who negotiated steps and steep hills or climbed up into a carriage without complaining, the oldest visually-impaired female cricketer … and those are just a few. I hadn’t expected to be so inspired by the people I met, or to have such a great time.
If you’re reading this and you’re sighted, Traveleyes go all over the world and are always grateful for more sighted guides. If you’re reading this as a VI, I’d really recommend one of their holidays. And if you’re reading with birthday or Christmas in mind, gift vouchers are available! Traveleyes’ slogan is ‘Share the adventure’, and I hope there’ll be plenty more.