Armed only with a backpack, an iPhone and a sense of adventure, we follow four travellers who show us how they’ve handled the back streets of Rio de Janeiro, witnessed the Cambodian killing fields, navigated illness in Fiji and discovered themselves within the majestic beauty of Thailand. Here, they share how trotting across the globe has changed them
“I landed in a Mexican immigration office filled with suspicious looking men, because they couldn’t understand me!” – Tamara, 26, Surrey
Travel tale: I was so happy when I arrived into Cancun and was relieved to see that the immigration and passport control queue was fairly short! ‘Oh good, it’ll be quick,’ I thought. How wrong I was! The man dealing with my passport was impossible to understand which led to this huge communication breakdown. He started firing questions at me and after the inquisition concluded that I was ‘suspicious’ and sent me to a separate immigration office. I was told to wait in this room with all these suspicious looking men. I had no clue what was happening. I was so frustrated and to make matters worse, I really needed the loo! After everyone else had been seen and approved, I was the last person left. Even the passport control officers had left – it was like a ghost town. Finally I was seen by someone else who understood me and I got approved immediately. Phew, what a way to start my adventure!
Where are you right now: New Zealand.
Passport snapshot: I’ve spent two months in South America – soaking up Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Easter Island, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia! After New Zealand, I’m bound for Thailand.
Travel truths: What’s it like travelling as young Deaf person? It can be hard sometimes, especially with communication.
Travel gadgets I can’t live without: iPhone, iPad, camera and my Kindle. I cannot live without my technology!
Scariest travel experience: Travelling alone. I’d always said I’d never go solo, but the opportunity came up and no one could come. I’ve had a lifelong dream of travelling for an extended period of time, so I thought ‘just go for it’. It’s been amazing – I’ve met so many people.
Best way to travel: backpack and roughing it or suitcases and luxury hotels? Backpack and getting off the beaten path! You see more of the country and experience random things.
Worst food I’ve eaten: Guinea pig. It was so salty!
Scariest place: Rio de Janeiro. After hearing some bad stories, I was pretty wary about staying there overnight on my own. I was constantly looking over my shoulder when I was walking around at night. But I finally relaxed and just avoided taking out wads of cash!
Best Deaf-friendly destination: New Zealand. I’ve met so many people who know a bit of sign language or who have gone out of their way to help me.
Advice to reluctant travellers: Get out there – it’ll be the best thing you ever do! Don’t let communication be a barrier. There are so many alternative ways to get around it. You’ll meet amazing people and experience so much.
Travelling has changed me: I’ve learnt travelling alone isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! It’s also shown me that people back home in the UK worry about money too much – their lives revolve around it and it makes them unhappy. I’ve seen so many people in countries like Bolivia and Peru who have nothing and yet they’re always smiling and laughing. The children run around, having the time of their lives and it reminds me that we should appreciate what we have.
It made me laugh when: I checked in for my flight from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile and looked at my boarding pass. It had “DEAF” emblazoned on it. Not that anyone took any notice!
I got a marriage proposal: I was on a wine tasting tour in Salta, North Argentina and went to see some stunning rock formations. The guide was so sweet. He kept checking to see if I understood him. When he dropped us off at our hotel, he gave me a huge hug, asked for a kiss and promptly proposed to me! Now I can say that I’ve been proposed to by an Argentinian man!
Travel tale: I’ve always dreamed of being a war correspondent or a journalist. I learn so much from visiting sites where tragedies have occurred, like Reactor 4 in Chernobyl, the Cambodian killing fields, Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, Khatyn memorial in Belarus, Yad Vashem Museum in Israel, Stalin Museum in Georgia, and the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorials in Japan. Something was missing in my history lessons at school. That’s probably because I was hearing the stories from one side. ‘Dark travel’ is controversial, but I wanted to get different perspectives, and understand what really happened. It’s part of learning about this world that we live in.
Scariest travel experience: When I was travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Irkutsk, my fellow passengers were concerned about my safety because I had my own compartment and wouldn’t be able to hear people enter at night. But I found a solution. I lodged my feet against the door while I was asleep so I’d be alerted immediately if someone opened it!
Best way to travel: backpack and roughing it vs. suitcases and luxury hotels? Both! Staying at a five star hotel after an uncomfortable bumpy ride with landslides, raging rivers, towering gorges, guesthouses with no hot water for five days in Eastern Tibet was incredibly worth it.
Scariest place: Beirut in Lebanon or the West Bank in the Middle East. Both have a notorious reputation and preconceptions of being a ravaged area; a war zone with kidnappings and assassinations.
Best Deaf-friendly destination: Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba. All the tourist information was in Spanish, but two local Deaf people acted as guides, giving me more information than hearing tourists get.
Advice to reluctant travellers: Don’t wait until it’s too late! You don’t know where you’ll be or what your health will be like in five years. I remember my Dad crying on Christmas day when I bought him the travel documentary, Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. He wished he could’ve embarked on a similar journey before his eyesight got worse.
Travelling has changed me: Life is all about taking risks. Travel helped me to develop an inbuilt coping mechanism to handle any of life’s setbacks. So when I have bad days, I often look at my travel photos and videos to remind me that life is worth fighting for, and that there’s so much to see. Like one of my favourite quotes from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.
“When booking our first trip the travel agent advised my friends to travel to an English speaking country, like Australia, to help ‘ease’ us into travelling. But we ignored him and chose China instead. It was baptism of fire and a huge culture shock, but we made the right decision! Risks pay off!” – Asher, 23, London
Passport snapshot: China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA and Sri Lanka.
Travel truths: What’s it like travelling as Deaf person? It’s just one big adventure! I never see my deafness as a handicap in my travels. I get by through gesturing with someone with no or poor English. They are so used to this way of communicating with foreign tourists, so it’s nothing new to them. Otherwise I lipread or write things down, just like at home.
Travel gadgets I can’t live without: Kindle is a godsend. So is the video camera I bought to make home movies about my trip to the USA. I also love my Samsung Galaxy S3 to play games, research, make bookings and brag about my travels on Facebook!
Furthest place I’ve travelled: Cape Byron, the easternmost point of Australia – technically that is the furthest I’ve ever been from home!
Best way to travel: backpack and roughing it vs. suitcases and luxury hotels? Backpacking every single time. In China, we decided to explore a run-down suburb and ended up having a game of badminton with a Chinese native! You just do not get those memories with a five star hotel.
Worst foreign food I’ve eaten: I went on a jungle trek in Fiji and a local lady invited us to her home and offered us some kind