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Jessie, the blind, fearless solo traveller

A blind lady stands smiling in the foreground, wearing sunglasses, a light purple top with a darker purple zip-up jacket, and dark pants. They hold a walking stick in one hand and give a thumbs-up with the other. Behind them, a majestic waterfall cascades down a rocky cliff amidst lush green vegetation. Sunlight filters through the tree leaves above, adding a bright, natural glow to the serene landscape.
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Travelling as a blind individual may seem like a daunting task to many, but for Jessie Wang, it is an adventurous journey filled with unique experiences and valuable lessons. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa and by her mid-twenties, was only able to faintly see shapes and light, but no details. She lost the ability to read print characters, so braille and a screen reader are her reading tools. This, however, has not deterred her from exploring the world solo. Jessie’s travel adventures have taken her to various destinations, from bustling cities like Hong Kong to serene landscapes in Costa Rica. Reflecting on her experiences, she recalls the warmth and helpfulness she encountered in Hong Kong, making it her top pick for the most enjoyable and accessible trip so far. However, not all destinations are equally accessible. Jessie recalls incidents in European cities where tram tracks posed dangers to pedestrians, highlighting the importance of understanding local infrastructure and not being afraid to seek assistance from passersby when needed.

Jessie readily acknowledges that travelling for her comes with many challenges, but her enthusiasm for exploring the world supersedes whatever hesitation she may have about the barriers she will inevitably encounter. She speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish but during travel, language is a significant barrier especially in countries where English is not widely spoken. Despite this, Jessie’s positive attitude and willingness to engage with locals have often resulted in memorable interactions. Navigating inaccessible train stations, for instance, is usually quite daunting, but it’s always accomplished thanks to the kindness of fellow passengers. 

For Jessie, preparation is key when travelling. “And if you’re a beginner, I would advise you to be cautious,” she said. To ease into solo travel, she recommends starting with group trips or travel organizations tailored for blind individuals. Hostels and couch-surfing communities have become her haven, offering not only accommodation but also opportunities to connect with fellow travellers and join walking tours. Building connections with locals also enhances the experience, providing valuable insights and support along the way. When it comes to accommodations, Jessie prefers rentals found through social media groups or recommendations from friends instead of Airbnbs. 

Safety is paramount for any traveller and Jessie employs various strategies to ensure her well-being. While she often explores solo, she prefers to have company or stay in bustling areas where assistance is readily available. Utilizing tools like the aira app and GPS, coupled with her keen sense of direction and adventurous spirit, Jessie is able to navigate the world with confidence.

Despite the misconceptions about blind travellers’ inability to live independent lives, Jessie remains motivated to inspire others to step out of their comfort zones and explore the world. Through her YouTube channel and interactions with fellow travellers, she encourages individuals to embrace adventure. “Although I’m always a bit hesitant to try adaptive adventures, I have done ziplining in Hawaii during the year that I lived there. I’ve also done hiking, canoeing and kayaking with Wilderness Inquiry in the U.S. I love to challenge stereotypes,” she shared. Jessie calls the U.S.A. home but her sojourns around the world often have her living in various countries for extended periods of time—Portugal, Hawaii, Costa Rica, China (her second home country) and more . . . Jessie emphasizes the importance of embracing the unknown and approaching each destination with an open mind. She believes while challenges may arise, they are outweighed by the richness of experiences and the kindness of strangers encountered along the way.

As she continues her journey, Jessie remains focused on personal growth and learning. Balancing her passion for travel with her work as an interpreter and her pursuit of a career in software engineering, she embraces each new challenge with determination and optimism. Through her adventures, she not only discovers the beauty of the world but also inspires others to embark on their own journeys, one step at a time, regardless of their disability.

Read more about Jessie’s adventures from her friend Faith Coyne’s blog

JESSIE’S TIPS: If you’re visiting:

China: The group (zhishuronghelvyou) organizes trips for the blind.  They can only be found on WeChat.

England: Travel Eyes

Most accessible country: Hong Kong

Recommended guided group trips: Wilderness Inquiry, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Visual Interpreting app: Aira

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