Why on earth would a partially sighted person want to travel alone? Or even to go on holidays with a bunch of strangers who have probably never had experience of a person with visual impairment? The answer is complicated, but it has a lot to do with independence. One of the things that’s most difficult for me to deal with is having to rely on other people for lifts and so on. Just going to visit another member of my family involves figuring out a train to catch that suits both me and them in terms of timing, arranging for one of them to come and pick me up from the station, and the same on the way back. If I’m going to an event, I can only leave at a time that’s suitable to not only me but them too. As for going on holiday, it’s not straightforward when you’re single and you don’t drive, as unless you’re in a city where there’s plenty of public transport, or you can walk everywhere, you’re entirely reliant on someone else for everything you do each day. A holiday for me is about freedom to do whatever I want with no one to answer to, because my hectic schedule means I rarely get the chance to do that normally. Of course, if you’re going on holiday as part of a couple, or with one or more close friends, it’s a bit different. But if you’re travelling with couples, you always feel in the way, no matter how nice they are, you know that secretly they’re going to want some time to themselves without you.
For me, travelling alone is a chance to get away from everything and everyone, and be whoever and whateve I want to be for a week or two. I can put on a whole different personality and no one will know it’s not my usual self. I often experiment with differernt persona – something I learnt on my first big solo trip in my late teens when I spent 6 months in New Zealand, travelling alone. At the time I was very shy, but someone told me that no one out there would know me, so they’d have no preconceptions and I could adopt a whole new personality every day if I wanted. It worked and I became much bolder knowing that I wasn’t going to bump into anyone I knew (although I did actually bump into an old schoolfriend in a youth hostel in Queenstown, and I also met someone who had been taught maths by my dad). I still use this technique now. I hate eating alone in restaurants as I feel self-conscious and a bit Norman no-mates, so when I’m travelling for work and have to eat out, I pretend to be either a food critic (I even sometimes make notes while I eat, although I’m actually just writing my blog, or doing some work), or an incredibly famous person in disguise, trying not to be recognised.
But what I like best about travelling is actually talking to no one at all, and just revelling in the atmosphere. Even not seeing anyone for days on end doesn’t faze me, though that’s pretty rare unless you trek alone in a super remote area, which isn’t terribly wise. I don’t care particularly about ticking off the various tourist sites on my list – what I care about is capturing the essence of the place I’m in. The sounds, the smells and the atmosphere are more important than looking at some pretty buildings. I can look at pictures of the place on the internet. And the odd scary experience of getting lost makes it all the more interesting. In retrospect, though not usually at the time.