Reid My Mind Radio – Tony the Traveller

Yes, I spelled travel with two l’s – he’s British.
Tony at the top of Marble Street, Ephasus, Turkey, September 2009

Salto Hacha waterfall, Canaima National Park, Venezuela, November 2012

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Tony in a small local boat, floating market in Banjarmasin, capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesiam 2015
Tony Giles, the author of two books capturing his journeys, has visited 7 continents and continues to travel to cities and countries around the world – independently. As a person who is blind and has severe hearing loss, we learn how he began traveling alone, how his early education paved the way for his exploration along with several valuable take aways for anyone!

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Transcript

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TR:

Whats good RMM Radio.
I know you all are busy and I appreciate you taking the time to listen.

Reid My Mind Radio is actually a good companion on any journey so just take us along with you wherever you go.

I know it helps me along my journey.

So as my little girl used to say in our early recording days…

[Audio of my little girl Raven at 3 years old:]
“Let’s start the show. 1, 2, 3 4”

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Tony Giles is the author of two books on traveling;
Seeing the World My Way…
and Seeing the America’s.

From South West England, Tony at 39 years old has visited all seven continents.

If your image of a travel writer consists of
fancy hotels, spas and restaurants, well allow me to present you with a new vision. Tony Giles travels with a back pack and sleeps in hostels But there’s more that sets him apart from the others.

TG:
I’m totally blind and severly deaf in both ears. I use a long cane and I wear digital hearing aids and I travel the world independently.

TR:

Tony was diagnosed with a rare eye condition at the age of 1. With extreme sensitivity to any light (in or out doors), it wasn’t until he was given dark glasses that he was able to play outside.

TG:

We lived in a coldesac so I always knew which way traffic was coming . I’d play with my friends, play football (soccer) run rode around on a big three wheeler bicycle and sort of crashed into walls and lamp posts.

TR:

At 5 years old, Tony began attending a school for children with disabilities located about 30 miles away from his home. In a way, you could say this was the precursor to his traveling life style.

TG:
I used to go there by taxi. I could read and write with very big black letters on white paper maybe 4 inches tall until about the age of 6 or 7. Then I began using something called a CC TV to try and make print bigger. Then it was realized that my sensitivity was lessening and I would stop looking for objects and wasn’t able to read and write.

TR:
By age 10 and a half Tony was enrolled in a specialized boarding school over 300 miles away from home.

TG:
And that’s sort of where my travels began. I wanted to see my family as much as possible. So beyond the age of 13 or 14 I was learning to catch buses, cross roads, catch trains (we tend to use the train to get everywhere in the UK).

[TR in conversation with TG]
Were your parents at all hesitant about you traveling?

TG:
I think they were but my Mom and my step Dad came up at parents evening so they knew what my mobility skills were like. I don’t think they were too worried.

How confident were you with your Orientation and Mobilityskills?

TG:
Supremely confident!

By the age of 16 or 17 I had fantastic mobility training. We start off with learning how to use a cane when I was 11 years old. I walked up and down this corridor for months with me teacher behind me yelling everytime I made a mistake.

TR:

Having the confidence to head out on his own, it was the opportunity to study in the United States that sparked Tony’s adventurous spirit.

TG:
I went to South Carolina, Myrtle Beach. In 2000. I said how are we going to study if you send us to a beach town. I spent 4 months there and spring break my friends decided they were going to Florida to see Mickey Mouse. They’re not going to let me drink or party and stuff so I go, I’ll go to New Orleans.

I got the teachers and staff to help me book a hostel and book a flight. I’ve been hosteling for about 5 or 6 years by then. I got to New Orleans and took a taxi to the hostel and then asked for directions and one of the staff in the hostel said you go down the steps turn left, walk two blocks and find the tram and go downtown. I walked down the steps and it was really hot and humid , about I don’t know 95 degrees and 98 percent humidity and I just froze. I’m in a foreign city in a foreign country by myself how am I going to find this tram. I don’t know what I’m doing.I took a few deep breaths and said well this is what you want Tony. If you don’t want it go back in the hostel and go home. So I turned left and walked down the street found the tram and I’ve been traveling for the last 20 years.
[TR in conversation with TG]
Do you recall what you considered to be the barrier there?

TG:
Just butterflies really.Insecurity in my own abilities really. Maybe just the culmination of the heat as well.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs! The heat will do it to you.

TR:
That successful solo trip to New Orleans set the course for becoming a true world traveler.
Tony captures his experiences in his two books. The first of which is titled Seeing the World My Way.

[TR in conversation with TG]
In chapter 12 you wrote: “Towards the end of that trip recognition and self awareness began to dawn on me. I was beginning to realize my blindness was not a burden which stop me from accomplishing things, but an attribute which opened even more doors thanit closed.”

Can you talk a little bit about how was this actually so and what doors are you really referring to?

TG:
I began to realize by the end of that chapter thhat people liked me because of who I was not because I was disabled. So it wasn’t like “Oh we want to be with you to help you because we feel sorry for you. I was more like we like you as you are Tony and I also began to realize my blindness rather than stopping me from going somehwere or doing something it was actually an advantage. It meant I could jump lines or queues at airports I could alot of the time not have to pay for some things or pay less for things. later I discovered or I could go into national parks for free. It made somethings easier. Particularly airports because I could tget assistances and jump all the queues. The same on buses.

[TR in conversation with TG]
How important do you think is the attitude?

TG:
Once you sort of come to terms with your disability or realize your disability is there to stay it’s part of you . You can’t really don’t anything about that. If you can sort of embrace it and look at it positively, that will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships. Then you can sort of put down that baggage and that apprehension or anger in my case and it makes things become a little less frustrating. Where its all about attitude and positive mindset.I meet so many sighted people and non disabled people on the street and their attitudes are negative or their lack of confidence is startling. For instance, when I was at University in the states, I think Imentioned this in me book, I was really surprised that my fellow students lacked confidence. The AAmericans I saw were all sort of noisey and confident and very brash, but the younger people my age, 19, 21, 22 they weren’t quite as confident. They were sort of afraid in class to ask questions and answer questions. Because I’ve been answering and asking questions ever since I was 10, 11 12 at school because obviously I couldn’t read the white board so that was my only option. But I think it’s an inner confidence that I have . I was given the mobility trainin. The teachers told me I would do things, I would go to these places, I would cross roads.

TR:

That confidence is a big part of Tony becoming known as the blind independent traveler.

TG:
Independence for me is being able to do things by oneself but it doesn’t mean doing it alone. Whether you’re blind or not, if you’re traveling you need help. Being independent means I’m in control of it I suppose.
TR:

Ocasionally circumstances that are out of his control may
require Tony to make adjustments, but he moves forward.

TG:
My hearing is more like someone losing their sight cause it can change all the time.If I get a cold or if it’s too windy that can affect my hearing. Too much traffic.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Does that impede your travel?

TG:
It can restrict it. Sometimes the hearing aids are dameged.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Out of all the places you visited, what’s the most inaccessible?

TG:
Georgia Armenia in terms of sort of language barrier, I don’t speak any Russian so places like that are difficult. In terms of infrastructure or lack of infrastructure parts of Africa, Burkina Faso, somewhere like that which is this third world country very ppor. Parts of Thailand, Bankok there’s open sewers and open drains so you could fall into a hole quite easily. Try and cross a road in Vietna. Five thousand bicycles all moving at once. Some times you get people that will try and stop you from doing things like I was in Barona with my girlfriend who is also blind. We wanted to visit this famous house, Romeo and Juliet house and one of the staff members wouldn’t let us go up the steps. They were worried about us going up steps, which is quite ridiculous. And in Sydney they wouldn’t let me climb the Sydney Bridge because they said well health and safety but really they thought I’d slow the other people down. But things like that… you get discriminated against.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, how do you deal with that?

TG:
Well you can try and state your case. Say I travel around the world, I’m completely independent I can do this this is not a problem, but some times if they’re really adament about sort of not letting you go like the Sydney Bridge I just well stop it. it’s their loss of money.

TR:
For some, the idea of a blind person traveling to different cities and countries doesn’t make sense.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What would you say to encourage those who feel that there’s no longer a benefit to traveling the world like you’ve you did. How can you convince them that traveling is more than “sight seeing” and I’m being literal with that word sight seeing.

TG:
Yeh! Well acountry is not just about seeing it with your eyes. It’s about experienceing with all your senses. You don’t go eat different foods with you eyes you go and taste it with you taste buds and smell it with your nose. When you’re walking down the steet or up a hill or walking through a forrest ok so you can be looking at that with your eyes … but really you should be taking it in with all your senses. The textyures under your feet, the changes in gradients when you’re walking up and down a hill. Gravel soil mud sand the texture of trees and plants. The space the change in atmosphere in a forrest or all these things sighted people probably only briefly notice and that gives us the blind person a more interesting picture I think.You’re not just going to a foreign country to look at the vistas really you’re going to meet the people. You don’t need to see to meet and talk to people. That’s what its really about. Without people there’s no traveling, there’s no point.

TR:

Reading his first book, Seeing the World My Way, it’s apparent Tony really is interested in getting to know the locals.
And the local bar was the perfect place to make friends.
Tony wasn’t shy about sharing his adventures.

[TR in conversation with TG]
The things that jumped out at me were you know, the brotherls. I was like woh!

TG:
Yeh, I was very frank. It was never my idea to write a book. I’ve been traveling 6 or 7 years by then. It was kind of like going to see a therapist but without paying. I’m able to sort of express myself on paper where I couldn’t express myself verbally to anyone. That’s just the way I’ve been brought up and stuff. I mean you should see the stuff that didn’t get put in the book. I felt at liberty to sort of be fairly open. And that’s the person I am, open and frank.

[TR in conversation with TG]
It goes hand in hand to me with your whole philosphy on travel… your freedom.

TG:
Yeh, and also it would help sell the book!

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs!

I want to talk about your choice in accomodations Tony. Reading your book I never really considered my self Bourgeois, (using slang version pronounced Boo- zhee) but I don’t know if I would stay at a hostel. {Laughs} The dormitory style. No, I would stay at the ones with the room. Ok, I would have a room but you stayed at some that are like dormitory style. Like you just grab a bunk? {Exhale as in huh!}

TG:
Just grab a bunk and even on one trip I was up in Minneapolis and I stayed with a friend and I had to catch a bus super early in the morning so I was thinking there’s no hostels near the bus station so someone said go over to this hostel across the street and it was literally just a matress on the floor.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Oh my gosh!

Are you sure that was a hostel or was that a homeless shelter.

TG:

{Laughs…}

Well, I don’t know what it’s like losing your sight as an older person. You might worry more about wwhat you can’t see but when you’re sort of young you don’t worry about it so much. You’re just meeting people. You talk to people that’s the key I think.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, Tony I’m not worried about that. If I had my sight I don’t think I would stay in the hostels, in the dormitory style… {Both TR and TG laugh…}]

TG:
Ah, then it’s just you then.

TR:
Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

TG:
Oh dear, you sound llike my girlfriend.

[TR in conversation with TG]

So how has that affected you in terms of traveling with your girlfriend? Are you still staying at the hostels?

TG:
We stay at hostels but we get a private room so we can be romantic and stuff. Yeh, she did have a couple of hostel experiences. We shared a dorm and luckily it was two other women so it wasn’t too bad.

TR:
Seeing the Americas, Tony’s second book is based on a trip he took in 2004.
He says it’s quite different from the first.

TG:
I started in Brazil and sort of wandered around South America for about three months and then worked my way across the middle of the states well down the east coast to start with and then crossed New Mexico and Texas and down into Mexico and Cuba and then back up through the states and eventually across Canada and Alaska. And that books a more sober reflection. I stopped drinking and I was dealing with sort of more emotional issues with relationships and stuff.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Outside of not sleeping in dormitory style hostels, how has traveling with your girlfriend changed or has it changed anything in terms of traveling?

TG:
We travel a little slower. We have to sort of plan things a bit more. Where as I can rush around and spend one night here and one night there my girlfriend doesn’t want to do that. She wants to spend 2 or 3 days in each place. I never unpack, she sort of moves in.
When I’m traveling with her I have responsibilities with someone else to worry about. When I’m by myself I don’t worry about anything at all. But it’s good though you have someone to share the experiences with and stuff. But the ultimate travel for me is when I’m by myself . You just meet more people when you’re by yourself. It’s good because there’s countries she doesn’t want to go to like Africa. She doesn’t like mosquitos and the heat and stuff so it works for the most part. I sort of have to promise I will Skype every day when I can let her know I’m safe. I get told if I haven’t emailed for three days. Where are you what are you doing who are you sleeping with…It was rough in the beginning because she didn’t sort of trust me. Relationships are about trust. Traveling is about trust. As a disabled person it’s about trust. You have to trust people to get money out of ATM machines when you’re traveling, trust that someones not going to get you run over when crossing the street and things like that. It’s easier for me because I learned to do that when i was young. That’s one of the hardest thigns for people losing their sight especially in older age is to trust people.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, expecially when you learned the opposite.

Let me ask you these final questions here and let you get on your way.

TG:
No worries, we can talk all night.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What have your travels taught you about humanity?

TG:

In general, most people are trying to survive, make ends meet, put a meal on the table for their family, roof over their head. Most people are kind and helpful if you take the time to interact with them. You’ll always get some people who are just out to gain something for nothing. The generosity and kindness that has been shown to me around the world is staggering. You couldn’t put a price on it. Sure I’ve been robbed had things stolen but that’s life it could happen anywhere. The positive outweigh the negatives ten to one. I’m totally blind I’m severly deaf and I should be vulnerable to every kind of negative thing that could happen to someone yet I never been shot or knifed or mugged. I met one guy who was shot. He was in a hotel in Mexico and just came down to reception to buy a drink or something and they were robbing the place and he got shot in the leg. I met one guy in Brazil, this was weird, they stole his back pack but left all the contents.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Must have had a lot of crap!

TG:
You go to Africa and you realize what life is really about. You think about something like water. We just turn the tap on and oh water, we don’t think about where it comes from. In villages in Africa, they walk 2 or 3 miles to collect water and bring it back and they can’t drop any. Things like that make you more humble and realize how lucky I am to live in a country with free health care etc.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Have you encountered other people with disabilities and what it’s like in various places.

TG:
Yeh a few. I met a young boy in Venezuela which is a very poor country.His parents had gotten him a little stick. He’s about 5 or 6 years old. They couldn’t believe it when they met me It just gives people hope. With a documentary which has been made by the BBC, more people say to me oh yeh my son’s got RP and reading your story and seeing you documentary makes me smileand they say yeh my kid can do whatever they want to. I met a lad in Kenya who 2 or 3 years old and his bones are deformed. And he met me, he doesn’t really like smiling at people. When he met me he just kept squeezingly me fondly and they said yeh, you’re making him smile.A guy in Brazil emailed me and asked me questions about traveling to Sweeden and italy… I said yeh come on you can do it. My aim is to inspire people to get off their bum and do what they want achieve their goal, lift their dreams. It can be done. It’s just fear that holds them back, lack of confidence. If you have the right planning, research and a little bit of help here and there then you can do anything you want. I’m not saying you have to travel around the world like I’ve done – that’s crazy. Maybe just walking down their own street or making a cup of tea. If you can achieve that by reading my book or listening that’s great. That’s my role in life done.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What has traveling taught you about yourself?
I’m a better person than I often think I am. Not so much now than I used to. I’m funny, I’m fairly kind for the most part. I’m inpatient… I’m still working on that.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Reallly? See I thought that goes hand in hand. Like patience, that’s one of the things that I think to be successful, you have to be patient. You obviously seem like you’ve been successful so… why do you say you’re impatient.

TG:
Well I think I’ve learned to be patient waiting for buses and planes, but I still find myself impatient with people some times. People let you down they don’t do things you think they’re going to do. I suppose I just want to do things and go places… I’m still in a rush. I have slowed down a lot an awful lot

TR:
Slow down? Maybe…

Tony’s working on securing the appropriate documentation for
a trip to Lebanon & Iraq.
In fact, while editing this story Tony and his girlfriend are
preparing for their trip to Russia.

TG:
European Russia so Saatchi (where they heldthe Winter Olympics)… eventually over to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
We’ll do that for a month and that will be fun that will be a challenge. No English, long train journeys cold weather . My theory is we just take bottles of Vodka and we’ll make friends easily.
TR:
Both of Tony’s books, Seeing the World My Way and
Seeing the Americas are available in EBook format from
various distributors and in Braille from the RNIB.

He’s interested in having the book recorded by the National Library for
the Blind here in the states.

For more on Tony Giles

TG:
My website blog is Tony the Traveller.com with two l’s in traveller.My Facebook page is Tony the Traveller and I have my own YouTube page. Or you can just search for my name, Tony Giles. And you can the BBC travel show.

TR:
If this topic of travel and exploration interests you as much as it does me,
let me suggest a couple of past episodes of Reid My Mind Radio.

The Blind Nomad – which profiles
Jim Paradiso and how he ended up living
in Ecuador after he lost his sight and almost his life.

Of course you have the Holman Prize winners series and specifically
my man Ahmet the Blind captain who is preparing to kayak
the Bosphorous Straits from Europe to Asia.

Like Tony mentioned, you don’t have to go to
extremes to find adventure.

may I selfishly recommend listening to this podcast?
Ok, that’s not a bad start but there’s probably other things we can do.

Notice I said we, I’m not being my most adventurous self.
I have a few ideas for some adventures but I’ll keep those close to me for now.

When I do move forward on any, you can be sure of a few things;
I’m taking my microphone and recorder and will bring you along for the trip.
and
[TR in conversation with TG]

Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast whether you use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud Stitcher, Tune In… or of course you can come over to Reid My Mind.com to listen,
read the show notes and access any links mentioned in the show or even the transcript.

However you listen, make sure you stay subscribed and tell a friend.
There are so many benefits to doing so;

TG:
That will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships.

[Reid My Mind Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

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