Editor’s note: This post is part of our international travel series. Be sure to read Part One to find out about “traveling” from the comfort of your armchair. Also, read Elizabeth’s fascinating and related article on thinking through your best way to visit the world.
The Big Picture
Here are several questions essential to ask before planning any type of tour, journey, or pilgrimage:
- How much time and money do I have?
- What support systems do I have?
- What places interest me most?
- What are my goals and my limitations?
Mobility International USA is the #1 website I recommend for checking out travel planning. Mobility International is a nonprofit promoting all forms of international exchange in the disability community. This site offers a wealth of advice on issues ranging from language mastery to the ins and outs of planning for special medical needs on a plane and once you’ve arrived. Please visit this amazing site for far more detail than what I can offer here.
Additionally, in 2019, Stacy Cervenka, a blind traveler, launched the Blind Travelers’ Network, an online platform to connect blind and visually impaired people with information and resources for nonvisual accessibility around the world. The platform hosts blog posts, reviews, discussion boards, and event listings to help users expand their horizons and explore new places.
Since the focus of this post is on planning beyond your own national borders, I am going to assume you have travelled enough in your own country to know the basic ropes of airports, busses, taxis, and hotels. The good news is that, for the most part, not much is different with these facilities in many other countries, for better or worse. From Romania to Brazil, it’s highly likely that flight assistants, taxi drivers and information staff will speak enough English for your queries. However, it’s a good idea to begin your conversation by asking. Just remember, keep your questions straight-forward, speak clearly and be patient in case of misunderstandings and delays. Most likely, your experience with a visual impairment has prepared you for this kind of questioning far better than other people.
Getting Ready to Travel
Thank You Gift Suggestions
Thank you gifts are appropriate for any type of travel you choose. These can be as small as writing pens from your local library for helpful staff or bright, shiny pennies for kids. You can put a few of these gifts in an available pocket or easy-grab bag spot so you are ready to share any time. When someone hosts you or otherwise goes the second mile, you may consider substantial hosting presents like picture books of your area, American foods like peanut butter (watch out for allergies!), brownie mix or your local area sweets, often not available abroad. If you are really ambitious, tie-dye kits and instructions for showing your foreign friends a very American art form are great. Music CD’s and T-shirts of something you love also make excellent gifts. If you are visiting a less prosperous area of the world, consider selecting your own shoes, clothing, and other extra supplies you can leave as a donation. After all, this will also free up space in your suitcases for the gifts and souvenirs you will doubtless want to bring home.
You may wish to select bags of unusual colors or patterns so that your luggage is easy to identify, if you are with an airport worker or a person who is sighted who may be meeting you. Bright, strong tape on the outside with your initials will serve the same purpose. Using tactile markings on any passport, luggage, credit card or other documents/items you may submit for inspection will also help you verify your own documents and other possessions more independently. If you are really into the tech world, there are systems of chips to insert in your bags for easy location on the other end, using your smart phone to track them.
While standard credit cards are accepted in nearly any international venue like airports and major hotels, taxi drivers, many restaurants and certainly airport staff assisting you will want cash. I make it a practice to change about $100 into local currency before leaving the USA. Almost any bank can provide this service with about one week’s lead time. I suggest that you deliberately request various bill and coin denominations to allow you to acquaint yourself with the shape, texture, and size of local currency in private and at leisure. Then you can fold various bills in different ways or otherwise organize it as you might already do with your home country’s money.
Taking Your Guide Dog
For logistical reasons, many blind travelers with guide dogs decide to walk with a sighted guide (human guide) or use a white cane when they travel internationally. Others feel more comfortable traveling with just their guide dogs. To help you think this through, the USDA website for veterinarians provides the necessary vaccination and other laws governing animals and international travel requirements. Note that ADA exceptions do not apply to service animals departing or visiting the USA or other countries. They are treated like any other animal and will be quarantined at your expense if needed certifications are not on hand when you travel. For US travel, the links cited here on export from the US and import into the US are of particular value.