Would you still travel if you couldn’t see? This was the question that came to my mind during a recent trip to Spain. I was waiting in the restroom line when the light suddenly went off. I flipped the switch but nothing happened. The handle seemed stuck. There I was, standing in a pitch dark room, unable to see anything. I had a brief moment of panic. Then the lady beside me tapped on the panel to turn the light back on and smiled at me gently.
Traveling can be a humbling experience. After many years in the same familiar place, you realize there is more than just one way to do things, sometimes very different from what you were used to. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone, makes you reconsider what you took for granted. With new experiences come new questions. Like that time, when I stood in the dark room and thought: What is it like to travel if you can’t see?
We often equate traveling with sightseeing. In the age of screens, it is all about the perfect picture we share with friends. We forget that sight is only one of the five (some people say, six) senses we have. Places are not just about what we see. They are as much about the sound of chattering in strange accents, the smell of a perfume musking cigarette smoke, the feel of the cold dry air on the skin, the taste of exotic flavours, and, even less tangibly (but most importantly), the energy and vibe of the city. Traveling is a much mote sensory experience than most people realize.
So far, even the most advanced technology has not been able to replicate the feeling of presence in a particular place. Is this because it can only simulate what we see? Majestic buildings, ancient monuments and endless landscapes are but a small part of the experience. Sometimes we need to stop and, with eyes closed, absorb the city with the rest of the senses. Then, when we open eyes again, we will know the place around us as it truly is. Perhaps, blind people can teach us a lot about traveling after all.