Seeing Europe Through the Eyes of My Daughter.

Being blind or visually impaired does not have to mean an end to exploring the sights, sounds, history, people, and cultures of the world. It just means you get to share it with someone through their eyes. It is the sharing of travel experiences, whether sighted or not, that makes traveling enjoyable.
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve known all of life’s paths would eventually lead to darkness as my vision faded and the light left me behind. I’ve never let that knowledge be a barrier; rather, it’s been a motivation to do more with what I had while I had it. To that end, I took my first trip in 1981 at age 16 and rode my bike through Europe, and I fell in love with it. Since that inaugural excursion, I returned whenever work, time, and money permitted. With each trip over the years, the vision faded, but I made sure what I saw and the experiences I had were permanently ingrained in my memory, so even blind I could still see in my mind’s eye what genetics had taken from me.

Little did I know, years later when I thought my travels must end because there was nothing left to “see”; I would rediscover the joy of Europe again through my young daughter who had the enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder I experienced on my first trip all those years ago. Experiences muted by age now have revitalized meaning when viewed by my child. Discoveries I now ignore or dismiss, such as graffiti on the walls throughout Athens were actually faascinating “art” that when viewed in the proper context, added to the experience, rather than detracting from it. Also, after I returned home and viewed her pictures/movies, which are more visible on my computer than in real life, I saw the vibrance and life of the places we visited that were somewhat lost to me at the time through the fog of my limited vision. Where I would have taken a picture of the architecture, she was snapping shots of graffiti, a random cat in a back alley of Hydra, or a candid shot of a street performer in Rome. There is no greater shared memory than asking your child what she see’s from the walls above Dubrovnik and hearing her describe the scene so you can see it also.
The purpose for this narration is to encourage others who may have a disability to travel and enjoy the experience for what it is, and if there are some physical limitations, perhaps you can still live the experience through whomever you are traveling with. Europe is not handicap friendly, but that does not have to stop you. Just “live” the experience through your travel partner or family. I may not have walked the canals of Venice at night, but nonetheless, I was there vicariously roaming Venice with my daughter. Albeit, I had to wait for her return to the hotel to tell me about it and then re-live what she saw, after the fact, at home when reviewing the photos taken on her walkabout. But the fact is, she took me where I could not go myself, yet I feel like we were there together. I’ve learned that whether blind; in a wheelchair, or some other impediment, Europe can be fun and perhaps even more enjoyed, when seeing it through someone elses eyes who shares that moment with you. My path has led down a tunnel without light at the end, but I am happy to have shared a different path through my daughters eyes.
I have been lucky. I’ve known my future and have made the most of it, and I hope to return to my travels again after my daughter grows up and starts her own life. While in Rome I tossed the obligatory coin in the Trevi fountain; however, I wished the return be for my daughter when she has a family, so her children can one day visit me and renew my journeys in Europe all over again through the eyes of the next generation. Blindness has not kept me from seeing Europe, instead it has renewed my sense of adventure and my desire to experience more of it. Maybe I can convince my daughter to see Spain for me….

Posted by Donna
El Dorado Hills, CA, USA
19 posts

Many thanks for such a beautiful and inspiring post.

Posted by Sarah
St. Louis, MO USA
1834 posts

Jon, you're an inspiration. You are proof that where there's a will, there's a way; and that vision means more than seeing with your own eyes.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1606 posts

This is a wonderful trip report. I've wondered if my traveling days would be over if I went blind. (I have glaucoma, although my doctor tells me I am not at risk of going blind since it is being treated.). It's nice to know that it would still be a possibility. It's even nicer to learn that you have successfully dealt with a very difficult situation and made the best of it. I hope you have many more enjoyable trips. Thanks for the report.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
4031 posts

Wow Jon, what a wonderful and uplifting story, thank you. My son was born with severe heart disease and this really hits home with me, makes me emotional. He's upbeat and positive like you are and he'll enjoy reading this. We've been to Europe many times, limited by his disability, but have made the most of it and have always had a great time. You are an amazing guy!! And your daughter is very lucky to have you for her dad.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
1209 posts

Jon, thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with your daughter. Yes, what a blessing that you knew you may have limitations in your future, and I think it is fantastic that even with losing your vision you decided to go and have a different, but still good experience. I have MS and also decided to travel now instead of waiting because I do not know what tomorrow will bring. You have given me inspiration to NOT accept that disability will leave me home, but instead find a new way to enjoy travel. Thank you!

Posted by Liz
Wenatchee, WA USA
8 posts

Jon, thank you for reminding us of the importance of listening to our children. I'm taking my youngest daughter and niece on a 3-week self-guided UK, Isle of Man, Ireland trip this summer and even though I am blessed with good sight, your story emphasizes to me that I can still see Europe through their eyes. Now I'm really looking forward to watching them discover what interests them (not me) on their first time in Europe. This is why we travel with our children-- so they can have a chance to experience the joys of exploring. Thanks again for sharing your uplifting story.

Posted by Morgan
Spokane, WA, USA
44 posts

What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. This also serves as a good reminder to all of us to travel while we can, you never know what tomorrow will bring!

Posted by Sharon
515 posts

Jon, this is truly the best and most heartwarming trip narration I've ever had the privilege to read. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts and reminding us of the need to "see" what's really important.

Posted by Jon
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
57 posts

Thanks everyone for your responses and comments. I really wasn't sure it was worth posting since I actually wrote this to my daughter to let her know how much it meant for me to share the trip with her (she's 15), and like any teenager it is hard to talk to them face-to-face, but they will always read it if they can use their Iphone:)

To Susan (sausalito), from my experience (and maybe your son is the same way) having a physical limitation is not seen by me as a limitation because its who we are, and have no choice in the matter, so we look forward to the challenge of doing more than what others expect of us. Our ability reference point to do things may be different than other people, but we can always push our limits and enjoy the challenge doing it. I learned a while ago to not limit myself out of fear of failing, but rather, to be afraid of not finding out if I could do it.

To Susan (Granite Bay), make the most of things now and create memories for later. Memories of the past can always make the future more enjoyable.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
4031 posts

Hi Jon, Wise words and a great perspective!!.. : )