Author Amit Patel tells us about his favourite trip, what remains on his bucket list and how travel changed for him after his sight loss
Amit Patel was born to be a boy racer. In his teens, he nearly rode himself (and two of his friends) into a pond on a clapped-out motorbike. Around the same time, he joined his local squadron of the Air Training Corps and took to the skies every chance he got. When he finished his GCSEs, he celebrated by jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet.
It’s little wonder then that the job he ended up with was one of high adrenaline. After studying medicine at Cambridge, Amit qualified as a trauma doctor. He spent six months in India as a volunteer with the Red Cross, travelling from Mumbai to remote villages in the north before returning to England to work in emergency medicine.
Then, at the age of 33, a year after getting married, Amit lost his sight within 36 hours. He suffered a heartbreaking loss of confidence and could no longer manage everyday tasks – an extraordinary blow for a man who thrived on extremes.
Slowly, with the help of his guide dog, Kika, Amit regained his independence, a journey he recounts in Kika & Me: how one extraordinary guide dog changed my world. To mark the paperback release, we talked to Amit about the travel that changed him.
What’s the message you hope readers will take from KIKA & ME?
Whatever you’re going through, know that you’re not alone. The first step to getting through is to ask for help and with good people around you, anything is possible. I’m testament to that.
Tell us about a trip that changed you
After I graduated, I spent six months travelling across India with the Red Cross supporting rural health clinics with everything from vaccinations and checkups to eye tests. I was off grid, really getting to see a side of India that I’ve never experienced before.
I met people who worked hard and had little to show for it but were truly content and happy with their lives. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve never been the materialistic type but it really did give me a whole new perspective on what happiness means.
How did travel change for you after you lost your sight?
When I lost my sight, I lost my ability to work and travel, both around the country and around the world. Travel was a huge part of my work and it all stopped for me at this point, completely. I was barely able to leave the house alone, let alone go anywhere independently. My first solo trip out using public transport with my white cane was one of the most stressful and mentally exhausting trips I’ve ever done.
Travel for me is now more challenging. I have to think things through and plan more before I go anywhere. Previously, I’d be more than happy to throw a few things in a bag and book a flight away for a weekend on a whim. Now, I need every step of my journey mapped out, including informing the airline and airport that I’m travelling and need assistance, taxis pre-booked, maps and local transport figured out before I even reach a destination.
Kika won’t venture onto the road when a vehicle is on the crossing
I haven’t even started on getting my guide dog Kika ready for the trip (there is paperwork and vaccinations galore). It might sound less glamorous and fun but I’ve made it work, from family holidays to the Canaries to a solo trip to New York with my son and Kika. I’m not letting sight loss stop me from doing what I want to do.
What trip would you like to repeat?
My wife Seema and I went to Morocco before I lost my sight and we both loved being immersed in the culture, language and food. I’d love to go back now. I think I’d appreciate the atmosphere, the smells and senses so much more. I’m not one for sitting around on a beach so exploring the souks and discovering new foods would be perfect right now!
Do you still have a dream destination you haven’t visited?
Most of our trips revolve around food. Eating and drinking my way around a destination is a perfect holiday for me and my dream destination is a family trip to Mexico. I am trying to encourage both of my children to become foodies so that we can continue eating our way around the world! Starting with Mexico and hopefully ending up in Japan one day too.
Are you a planner or see-how-we-goer?
I used to be a see-how-we-goer but apparently that doesn’t work so well for me anymore. I have to be more organised, otherwise my guide dog Kika wouldn’t be able to come with me. Gone are the days of jumping on the Eurostar to visit friends in Brussels or Paris for the weekend. I now have to plan at least three months in advance because of changed EU entry requirements for pets, which working assistance animals unfortunately fall under.
What has been your number one travel experience?
People thought I was crazy for doing it but taking my then three-year-old son to New York solo was my single best travel experience. Not just because all went well but because I proved to myself that as a visually impaired parent there are truly no limitations on what you can do or where you can go.
Hotel or hostel (or camping)?
Hotel all the way.
Finally, why travel?
There’s so much of the world we don’t know about, so much to see and learn. Travel makes you much more appreciative of the world around you too. Right now, the urge to travel is stronger than ever, for the escapism, to clear the mind and discover new experiences. I feel like travel cleanses the soul and leaves you feeling reset and refreshed. I can’t wait to jump on a plane again once it’s safe to do so.
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From the challenges of travelling when blind to becoming a parent for the first time, Kika & Me is the moving, heart-warming and inspirational story of Amit’s sight-loss journey and how one guide dog changed his world.