Vacationing with Vision Loss: Tips and Strategies

Pile of yellow luggage on a resort beach with a blank wooden sign post

Terms associated with the word “vacation” include words like “travel” and “fun.” Just imagine a time of rest and relaxation away from the routines of daily chores and responsibilities. For those who are visually impaired or blind, going on a trip to an unfamiliar vacation spot can be anything but relaxing or enjoyable without much planning and organizing. If you or a loved one are visually impaired and thinking about going on vacation, consider the following questions.

Where do I start?

Taking into consideration your personal finances, it is a good idea to start with determining how much money you have available for going on a vacation. Remember to include the costs of transportation, lodging, meals, activities, possible shopping, and tips for assistance. If you will be traveling alone, you will need to determine how you will manage your money. Taking cash can be somewhat risky if you have not devised a way to identify the different denominations of the bills.

Also consider, that if your cash is lost or stolen, you have no way to recover it. Using a major credit card can provide more security. If you have more than one credit card in your wallet, you will first want to label each card in a distinctive way so that you will not be using the wrong card. If you read braille, it is possible to create a clear adhesive label with just enough braille letters or a single word that can alert you to that specific card. If you do not read braille, you can cut off a small corner of the card to help you recognize it from others. Be very careful to avoid covering or cutting the magnetic strip of the computer chip with your distinctive identification.

If you use a debit card associated with your personal checking or savings account, you should be aware of your banking institutions rules and procedures for reporting a lost, stolen, or unauthorized purchase associated with your debit card. In some situations, your accounts can be unavailable for your use until the issue is resolved.

Where do I want to go and when?

So now that you have determined how much available cash you have to spend on your vacation, the next step is to decide where you want to go. This step is going to require a lot of reading and research.

If you have access to the Internet, you can use one of the popular search engines and search for vacation or get-away spots. When you find something that interest you, follow up with a phone call and speak with the provider. You can discuss any issues or needs that you may have and ask about accommodations. This is also a good opportunity to ask about local restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and types of transportation services.

If you do not or are not comfortable with using an Internet search engine and making your own inquiries, you should consider using travel agency services. These agencies offer a variety of vacation packages and can do all of the leg-work for you. They can call ahead and make accommodations specific to your needs. They can plan tours and activities to match your interests. While vacationing through the agencies services, you can call them at any time to request assistance in resolving issues or making further services available.

Do keep in mind that vacation destinations and rates for services do vary greatly depending on the time of year or even the days of the week in which you wish to reserve. If your budget is limited, try to select dates when the rate is lower. Plan early and you should be able to get better rates. If you decide to use a travel agency, you can plan for an upcoming trip the next year and have your rates locked in. This will also give you plenty of time to make monthly payments toward your vacation package.

How am I going to get there?

Now that you have a destination in mind, it is time to decide how you will be traveling and if others will be traveling with you. When traveling with others, you will want to consider sharing the cost of fuel as well as the need for your service dog to accompany you. You must ensure that your driver does not mind having service dogs in his/her car. If that is the preference of your driver to not allow any animals, you will need to make sure that you have made arrangements for your service dog to be cared for while you are on vacation.

If you decide to travel alone, you have a bit more work ahead of you. Again, plan early for your trip. The cost of airline, train, and bus tickets are less expensive when purchasing them early. The rates for airline tickets are increased daily as you get closer to the flight’s departure date.

If you have not used an airline service before, you will want to review the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements for passenger security requirements. Knowing what is and is not allowed on board your flight will help you plan what and how you will pack for your trip. If you will be flying unaccompanied by others, assistance is provided by airport staff for helping you get through the TSA security check, to your departure gate, and aboard your flight. You need only request assistance when checking in your luggage.

How do I pack for my vacation?

Whether you are vacationing with others or alone, you will need to be able to identify the contents of your luggage. Your choices are many depending on your level of vision loss. There are many resources available on the Internet that provide some really good tips and tricks for packing. So whatever you decide to use, keep in mind that your strategy has to have meaning to you and your visual needs.

For example, there are strategies for folding clothing that will be worn together, using large zip-lock bags for each outfit, using safety pins and beads of different shapes to label and group outfits together, as well as small aluminum braille tags that can be sewn on an inside seam to identify each article of clothing. You will want to pay special attention to small items and pack them together in a zippered type bag in order to ensure that you do not misplace any of them. As a precaution, personal healthcare items such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash should be put into a resealable plastic bag to avoid accidentally damaging the other items in your luggage if the bottles break, are slightly opened or not properly closed.

using colored tags and large print tags to label clothes in closet

Now it is time to think about gathering together some items that you will need for labeling and marking your vacation items. You need only prepare this bag of accessible items once and then just remember to include packing it when you travel.

What vacation aids should I consider?

If you have low vision, you will want to consider packing the following items:

  • Small flashlight to use for adding light to dimly lit areas.
  • Include a piece of reusable solid color shelf liner. It can be placed onto any flat surface. You can put small items on top of it to provide color contrast and lessen the likelihood of small items sliding off of the surface.
  • Surveyor’s tape, which comes in bright neon colors and does not include an adhesive backing, can be tied to or around objects to warn of obstacles that you may accidentally bump into.
  • Bump dots have many uses and can be placed to distinguish one button from another. Since these are adhesive, you will want to also pack several alcohol foil packs for cleaning and removing after use.
  • Elastic hairbands are great for keeping items together. You can also use a small hair band to put onto your hotel room’s door knob to distinguish your room from others.
  • Don’t forget to include a small pair of scissors. If your room has the card key entry type lock, you can have the desk clerk cut a small corner off of the card to help orient you with holding your card when using it to enter your room.
  • Small digital recorder for taking notes or recording important phone numbers and directions.
  • Mesh or plastic type zippered bags can be used for keeping your items organized.

Additional items to consider if you are blind

  • Slate and stylus if you can read and write braille
  • Index cards or plastic tags
  • Small safety pins and book rings. Each are resealable and can be used in a variety of ways. Book rings, which can be purchased at any office supply store, come in a variety of sizes and are very durable. You can think of them as re-closeable key rings.
  • If you are going to visit the swimming pool or enjoy the beach, you will need to consider a way to locate your items when you return from your swim or walk. Why not consider purchasing a battery operated wireless doorbell. They can be purchased at most hardware stores for less than $20. You can leave the receiver portion of the unit with your towels and other belongings and take the small button device with you. When you get within sixty or so feet of your belongings, the device will chime when you press your doorbell letting you know the direction you should go.

Is there anything else I should do?

Whether sighted or visually impaired, it is easy to leave belongings behind when vacationing. You may want to consider the following suggestions:

  • Before unpacking or repacking your luggage, be sure that all of the bedding covers are smoothly covering your bed. It is easy to accidentally leave articles of clothing with the sheets of an unmade bed.
  • You can ask for someone at the service desk to come to your room and make a visual inspection to ensure that you have not forgotten any items.

Where can I get more information about traveling?

Tips for travelers with visual impairments

United States National Parks Access Pass

Happy Vacationing!

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