Traveling can be exciting and wonderful experience whether we are going abroad or someplace local. Visiting new destinations broadens our perspectives. However, the adventure of traveling can also have its difficulties even for the most seasoned traveler, and regardless of our physical abilities. Yet, that doesn’t stop many blind and visually impaired people who travel the world on business or pleasure. And it certainly shouldn’t stop you. We asked various blind and visually impaired frequent travelers to lend us their ‘travel hacks’.
Plan ahead – seems to be the resounding advice. Depending on your level of vision, you’ll certainly want to take a few proactive steps. These include:
- Contact the airline – The majority of airlines offer assistance at the airport. However, if you want to reduce some of that ‘airport anxiety’, you should contact the airline to arrange for assistance. The airlines can provide an escort to the gate. Think of it as little VIP perk without paying for that expensive first-class ticket. You may even be fast-tracked through TSA security checkpoints. Guide dog owners should alway make the necessary arrangements with the airline when traveling with their when traveling four-legged guide.
- Familiarize yourself with the airport layout – using sites like wikipedia, yelp and the airport’s website enables you to become familiar with the airport’s layout so that you can travel independently. Give yourself an extra time when by arriving at least two-and-a-half hours before your flight. If you have a connecting flight, you may ask for assistance at your arrival gate to get to your next flight. I use Sunu Band’s echolocation feature to avoid navigate through crowds and avoid bumping into obstacles.
- Guide Dogs – require additional preparation. You should notify your airline that you are traveling with your service dog. Anything Pawsable is online guide providing resources and the necessary steps you’ll need to take to fly with your guide dog. Assistive Dogs International provides excellent resources for traveling internationally with your service dog.
- Get the app – Most airlines have a mobile app. The apps are helpful for checking in, getting gate information and receiving alerts about delays and gate changes. You can also set up text alerts from the airline. Additionally, you should always check in with the agent at the gate to verify that you are at the correct gate and receive any scheduling updates.
- Plan and arrange transportation to/from the airport and at your destination – Some cities offer public transportation connecting travelers to their airports. Car share ride services like UBER and Lyft are a cheaper alternative to taxis. However, be aware that unfortunately there have been some incidences of drivers rejecting blind travelers with guide dogs. Some hotels offer complementary transportation to and from the airport as well. You should check with your hotel.
Pack Smart – regardless if you’re sighted or not, packing smart insures that your travels are smooth and enjoyable.
- Have the important stuff handy – this includes any printed boarding tickets, passports, ID and paperwork. Have some cash in hand. Guide dog owners should definitely plan for any eventuality by packing a ziplock bag with food and snacks for your dog. you should bring a collapsable dog bowl and have water at hand.
- Make your carry-on, backpack and checked baggage easy to identify – There is nothing more stressful than trying to find your luggage at the baggage carousel since most luggage look alike. Consider having a luggage locator tag or having bright tags that can help you or someone help you find you bag quickly. Alway make sure that you properly identify your luggage.
Getting through security – Going through security checkpoints is stressful, even for sighted passengers and seasoned travelers. The important thing to remember is that TSA security personal are required by law to provide assistance to the visually impaired, and that being visually impaired does exempt you from getting screened. What changes here is how it may happen.
- Be polite when speaking to a TSA officer or supervisor. Persons with low vision traveling without a cane or guide dog should remember that your vision impairment may not be obvious to the agent. I use my Sunu Band to navigate the line barriers and know exactly when it’s my turn to move in the queue or line.
- Your cane may be scanned prior to using it to navigate through the checkpoint area. You may use the cane when going through the screening device. However, make sure that ask the gent before attempting to go through the screener.
Boarding your flight – All airlines offer advanced boarding for persons with disabilities.
- An important tip is that you can always identify yourself to the boarding agent and receive early boarding. This is especially helpful for full flight where overhead space is limited. Use early boarding to your advantage and get your carry-on in the overhead space and avoid dealing with the hassle of gate checking your carry-on and backpack.
- All planes have seats arranged in numerical order by row. Counting the number of seats as you go by can help you quickly find your row. Seat letters are always arranged from left-to-right, starting with the letter A. Depending on the equipment (plane) that you’re flying on), the rows may be arranged as two-by-two or three-by-three. International flights having larger cabins will have more rows and will differ in the number of seats available per row. The flight attendant will be happy to guide you to your seat. Again, I use my Sunu Band’s echolocation app in its short-range mode to navigate the aisle in the airplane.
Retrieving your checked baggage – I prefer traveling light, with one carryon and a personal bag. When I have checked luggage, I prefer to do the following:
- Make sure the luggage is easily identifiable for you or anyone helping you to find your bag at the carousel. Most suitcases look alike, so I always attach a large bright tag to my luggage.
- Include an identification card on your bag with your name and relevant info.
- You may use a luggage locator tag. These electronic devices will produce an audible sound when your luggage is nearby.
Be sure to follow our travel series for more tips, hacks and info. Bon Voyage and safe travels.