Not being able to see should never stop you sightseeing – even though the world is a tricky place to navigate if you have 20/20 vision. Travelling as a blind person, or with a blind companion, can require a certain degree of planning and common sense, but there’s no reason why you should be limited by a disability – or why it should dictate your travel plans.
The first thing that you need to do is tell your airline about your disability if you’ll need assistance at the airport or on the plane. It’s best to request this at least 48 hours before you fly, so that the airline has time to organize some support. This should include a guide to take you through check-in, guide you to your gate, and help you stow any luggage once you’re on board the plane. Make sure that you’ll be receiving assistance when you land, as we wouldn’t recommend trying to negotiate a foreign airport without assistance.
As a disabled traveller, you need to make sure that you’re covered by the correct insurance. Travel insurance for disabled jetsetters is fairly easy to organize, but make sure that you’re completely happy with the policy before you sign up. There can be hidden costs that mount up if something goes wrong. Don’t forget to check whether your insurer will cover your carer if they fall ill whilst you’re travelling, and need to be flown home.
Always thoroughly research your accommodation – travel comparison sites will give you a good idea of what you can cope with, and what you can’t. Don’t be tempted to push your limits and book yourself in somewhere completely unsuitable. If you have any doubts about the hotel or hostel before you book, ask other blind travellers on online forums what they think. If they urge you to steer clear, trust their judgement.
The best thing to remember on your travels is to be positive. There may be times where you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, but don’t let it overshadow why you chose to travel in the first place. Never be afraid of asking for help – the majority of people will be only too happy to come to your aid, and you may find their curiosity gets the better of them. When people ask how you’re able to travel, always be friendly and gracious – they’re probably hugely impressed with your decision to travel, and want to know how you have to amend your plans in order to accommodate your disability.
Make sure you get your money changed up before you leave – and work out a system with the cashier to differentiate between notes. Most countries have notes that are different sizes, but if you’re in a rush or a panic, you may find yourself giving out the wrong money. This is especially important if you’re travelling to the States, as all the notes are the same size. A folded-over corner, a small rip in the corner, or a blob of Tipp-Ex in one corner will help you differentiate. You might get short-changed, but that’s all part of the travelling experience. If it does happen, try not to let it ruin your trip.
Make life easier for yourself by always carrying your cane, and keep necessities with you at all times. Don’t be parted from your money, keys, tickets and travel pass in a pocket – this is because even if your money is stolen, you can still make it to your destination. Plus, don’t be afraid of using your disability to ensure you make the most of your holiday. Many museums and exhibitions sometimes allow blind people to touch normally off-limits exhibits – it’s also worth asking gift shop owners if there are any replicas of exhibits that you can feel.
Finally, always research guide dog restrictions. Some countries, such as Hawaii, do not allow guide dogs for short visits or have tricky quarantine requirements. If in doubt, call a guide dog hotline to ask about the ease of transporting a guide dog to your location. Don’t forget to ask about your destination’s policy on dogs in restaurants, public transport and taxis.