Close your eyes and think of some of the destinations you have always dreamed of seeing. With your eyes closed, try to envision all the beautiful details and colors of those destinations.
What incredible visions run through your head? Did you see the great Pyramids of Egypt, India’s Taj Mahal, or perhaps the Africa’s Serengeti with its exotic animals and wide open plains? With so many incredible visually appealing places out there it is hard to know where to start.
Now, with your eyes still closed, imagine you could never open them again. Would you still desire to see the destinations which just ran through your head? Let’s imagine those beautiful visions were never actually there at all, because your eyes and mind had never witnessed them, and have no perception of what these incredible places looked like.
This is reality for nearly 40 million people worldwide, people who have no idea the amount of grandeur the world has to offer…or do they? If you were to become blind tomorrow, would the death of your vision also put to rest your desire to travel?
Kerry Kijewski says no. Because traveling is about more than simply seeing the sights – traveling is about experiencing the world with many different senses, and can be summed up simply as a feeling.
Hellen Keller traveled 39 countries during her lifetime, and as such, Kerry believes that no excuse warrants not getting out there to experience the world. Born legally blind, sometimes there are experiences that she is unsure of, though she has resolved that she can either opt out of even trying, or take a chance and challenge herself in doing so.
Kerry may be visually impaired, though she doesn’t let her lack of vision or anything else stand in her way, not if she can help it. And travel is the one thing which does open her eyes.
This interview contains no photographs – just the incredibly inspiring story of one amazing woman who has decided to live her dream no matter what.
What do you love the most about travelling?
Easily the experiences, with the right people, in some truly beautiful places.
I love the things I learn and the memories made. I love the unexpectedness of it all.
The majority of people are inspired to travel the world because they want to see it however you were born legally blind. What inspired you to start travelling?
My grandparents loved travel in the best and the simplest of ways. They were friendly people who loved to see more than just the small country setting they grew up in.
My parents took us (myself and three siblings) to different destinations all the time. We went on family vacations and they wanted to show us the world. This inspired me to want to experience more.
Tell us about how you experience the world with your other senses.
When I am somewhere new I immediately notice the smells and sounds all around me. I listen for other people’s reactions to what they may be seeing, and then I put that up against the things I glean through my own observations.
I can feel a sense of a place by being present and open to it. Depending on the season of the year or the history of the place where I stand, I take meaning out of the experience.
I listen for the sound of a waterfall, waves crashing on the shore, the wild life and birds, the bustling energy that I can feel when in a busy city, and a whole bunch more tiny details…I pick up and process them into my own unique snapshot of that moment in time.
What are some of your favorite tastes from around the world?
I don’t travel based on food, this is not my main focus. I much prefer to travel for the history, nature, and the people to be met. Though I did once discover an amazing dessert in Ireland and couldn’t ever find one as good once I was back home.
I will also admit to loving chocolate from every country in the world, especially European chocolate from Germany or the UK. I do hope to one day taste pineapple in Hawaii and pasta and pizza in Italy too.
What are some of your favorite sounds from around the world?
- I could have stood at the shore in Ireland forever. I never wanted to leave. I love the sound of waves crashing and sea gulls calling their cries overhead.
- The sound of whales coming to the surface of the water for air in Quebec will go down in my books as pure bliss.
- I enjoyed some of the music I heard in Cuba, such as the violin while we had lunch in Havana, and I hope to one day hear a didgeridoo in Australia.
What kind of activities do you most enjoy when travelling?
When I travel I am mostly looking for interesting stories, and love to experience the history of places I visit.
I love to swim and enjoy spending time at a pool or walking along the ocean. If I go on any city tours, give me a bus with an engaging tour guide and I am happy!
Have you ever found yourself in a dangerous situation, or been scared while abroad due to lack of sight?
I have been lucky so far. I am usually with people I trust and who can see, but there are times when I do feel vulnerable and disoriented. That is the risk you run because travel can be unpredictable.
I was walking down a set of steps once in California with my guide dog when a woman we passed by and began muttering angrily. I soon realized she was angry at the way that my poor dog was being mistreated, misused, and abused. She didn’t like the fact that my guide dog was being made to work in a harness. I couldn’t be sure of her intentions so I just hurried up and didn’t engage her at all.
Sometimes there are experiences that I am unsure of. I can either opt out of even trying them or I can take a chance. Fear is always a factor in stepping out in the world with one fewer sense than other people.
Have you ever been unable to participate in an activity or tour due to being blind?
I wanted to go on a ride at a well-known theme park/carnival and had to fight with the ride operator first. People with little to no prior experience or interaction with someone with a disability can be fearful of the unknown or feeling responsible for anything they see as going wrong.
I want to explain to those people that I deserve to do what everyone else does.
Also, I did come up against some resistance when I first wanted to try the CN Tower’s Edge Walk. I read on their website a list of people not really permitted to take part. I saw people with a visual impairment as being one of those listed for reasons misunderstood.
I was able to recognize their nervousness, but I also knew it was something I had to do and decided to speak with them to make them understand that I could do it.
Tell us about your experience completing CN Tower’s Edge Walk.
I heard about the CN Tower’s Edge Walk experience while visiting the tower for the first time, and I immediately added this to my WanderList.
I had been up the tower several times, on the glass floor, and out on the observation deck, though I never felt like I was getting enough out of it. I could not see through the glass, and while the railing in front of me made me feel safe, thankfully, it didn’t make me feel challenged.
I wanted a thrill, but still with a high level of actual safety. I wanted to feel the wind out on that ledge and feel the edge with my foot, to know I was up there.
I went through a difficult period in my life where things which had once been important to me ended, and I felt very out of control and helpless. This experience was me trying something big and something new.
I was hesitant and apprehensive, but once up and out there on that ledge I felt free and uninhibited. Lack of sight can make me feel like I have very little control in an unfair world, and just being up there I was able to put things in my life in the proper perspective.
When I felt the ledge underneath my feet drop off, I leaned out over that edge, in my harness, though I did think about what I would have done if something, God forbid, had gone wrong. What would I have thought as I fell to my death? I didn’t see how high up I was, of course, but I felt it on a deeper level I think.
I did something most people say they they would never do, and that is rare for me. I am usually the one unable to push myself with something daring. The air up there felt clearer somehow, than some of the stifling air I had been breathing, through circumstances in my life totally out of my hands.
If that makes any sense at all.
What are some of your other most memorable travel experiences?
Some of my most memorable travel experiences include the both literal and symbolic wall up between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, the surprise I got at discovering the Dingle Peninsula and it’s mascot of Fungie the Dolphin, my experience of discomfort and the feeling I did not know I would feel on visiting a concentration camp in Germany, and sitting out on the rocks with whales only feet away on the St. Laurence River.
Are you able to travel solo, or do you travel with a companion?
I once visited Quebec for a guide dog on my own when I was a teenager, and this was my first trip away from my family. Normally I prefer to experience travel with another person at least. I like the camaraderie I get from traveling with friends or the shared memories made with family, or the special memories made with that special someone.
I do not rule out solo travel completely, but it does bring with it a whole new set of stressors and obstacles. I know I am not alone in preferring the company of others when traveling.
Do you bother with photography during your trips?
When I visited Ireland I returned with over one thousand pictures for my family and friends to go through. I can’t see them, true, but I want others who weren’t able to be there to experience what I did, if only through the images they see, that I can not.
People nowadays rely heavily on the internet to plan their trips – how do you plan yours? Do you have tools or technology which helps, for instance which turns computer text to voice?
I can surf the internet like anyone else and find travel news and all the same websites other people use. My laptop reads to me and I am always trying to learn about anything that could make me a better or more productive traveler.
The Internet is accessible, true, but not perfect. Depending on the layout of a particular site, sometimes VoiceOver can not interpret what’s on the screen. It depends on whether I am on my laptop or on a mobile site. Sometimes the screen will freeze, making checking out a travel site impossible.
I hope web development will become even more accessible in future. My iPhone is a marvelous thing and there are many App’s that will make travel much easier in future.
Why have you decided to start travel blogging?
I love writing and I love travel so it seemed like a natural fit really. I recognized a connection between the two and I thought I had something to offer readers, something more than the experiences I have at the time.
It’s a way to relive it if I want to and to process the things I see and experience. I just think it is an interesting topic and I can write about the beauty and breathtaking vistas out there.
I want to use words to make it possible for others to learn what they may be missing by remaining behind, in their own bubbles. Travel opens my eyes and I want to spread that around a little if I can.
Which destinations or experiences are still on your bucket list?
My WanderList, as I call it, is a decent length and I don’t see it slimming down any time soon.
I want to see everything my home country Canada has to offer, and really want to travel out West to the Rockies and East to the Maritimes.
I want to stand in the setting of Middle-earth, my favourite story of Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is high on my list. I want to hear the accents of the people in both New Zealand and Australia.
I want to pay my respects at the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family and other housemates hid from the Nazis.
I want to ride up over the cities of London and Paris in a ferris wheel. I want to try to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
I want to visit Coupvray and the home of the inventor of braille. I want to track down as many literary inspired spots as I possibly can.
I want to swim in a lake, on the island of Palau in the south pacific, where jellyfish live and do not sting. I want to do so much and I don’t want my lack of vision or anything else to stand in my way, not if I can help it.
Three things you never travel without?
The three things I would never travel without would have to be identification, my white cane, and an open mind.
What do you say to people who tell you you’re crazy?
I am used to doubt and disbelief. People sometimes have a hard time believing I can make my own dinner or cross a street, let alone travel the world. I don’t really listen to the nay sayers.
I know a lot of people suffer from RS (Reality Syndrome), where they can’t allow themselves to dream. I would never leave the safety and security of my sheltered life if I listened to those who would call simply wanting to see the world crazy.
Why should people travel regardless of their personal circumstances?
I’ve heard all the excuses. Money or lack thereof. No time. Obligations of life. Trust me…I have them all to deal with too, but I think we can be practical and reasonable, while still opening ourselves up to the possibilities of travel away from home.
The “all work and no play” expression is very true. What’s the point of living life in one place, never enjoying something else, something different? And this doesn’t have to mean being reckless and going broke on one airfare.
I know all about limitations and reality, but I also know you have to test those things and see what you find on the other side. Life is short. Don’t take one second of it for granted.
It goes by like THAT!