Preparation is Everything!

The Bailey travel journal – Part 1.

Preparation is everything! I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to experience many types of holiday to many destinations, home and away… I have not let my sight impairment limit my horizons. Travel is one of the most fun and rewarding things that I am lucky enough to be able to do. It allows me to experience foreign cities and local cultures. The fact I can’t see the sights properly only heightens my curiosity. I ask my wife to describe the details and vista. Then I add the scents, sounds and tastes… your imagination can run riot. I can walk away from a view with a better picture of it than a sighted person who has just stopped for a glance.

Over the years I have become a seasoned traveller, developing many skills and tricks for navigating through airports and other unfamiliar areas. Travel can be daunting if you have a visual impairment, but there are many opportunities for the taking.

Mark holding a souvenir replica of a sphinx.

Mark holding a souvenir replica of a sphinx.

The number of companies which operate specific programmes for VIP’s has reduced but one such company that is still operating is called Traveleyes. They organise group holidays for VIP’s that are “liberating, fun, and yes, eyeopening, too”.

It’s worth reminding you that the tips and ideas that follow are merely my personal method for travelling. Your comfort level, mobility experience, and common sense may all dictate whether or not these tips are also suitable for you. Travel is not an exact science. Many situations can occur on the day of journey such as gate changes, cancellations, and unforeseen delays. Remember that these are events that affect everyone who is travelling, not just you!

De-stressing a trip begins in the planning stages. Find out about your destination, so you know what to expect and what sights you’ll want to visit. In addition, keep your sanity by building in some down time, you’ll get more value (and better memories) from a trip that proceeds at a comfortable pace. Don’t plan out every single minute of a trip. It’s better to add an activity or two once you’ve arrived at your destination and have a better sense of the possibilities. You may also not be able to do certain trips as planned, so bear this in mind and leave yourself some wiggle room.

If you can, find out about any potential journeys you may need to make. Nowadays, this can often done online in advance; you could download an “App” to your mobile phone or ask at your accommodation reception. Inform the bus driver where you want to get off so he knows to call it out, and sit near the front of the bus.

It is also important to carry your cane. Whether you choose to use it or not for mobility purposes, your cane helps to notify others that you are visually impaired. When you travel by air, always let your airline, travel agent or tour operator know if you need any extra assistance at the airport or on the plane.

An airport, you very quickly realise, is not a great place to be visually impaired. Poorly piloted baggage trolleys, non-speaking departure boards, too many people in too much of a hurry – it can seem like a nightmare. Request help at least 48 hours before you fly. This support could include: someone to meet and guide you through check-in, baggage check and customs controls; someone to tell you personally when your plane is boarding if you are in a ‘silent airport’. Take advantage of the pre-boarding service offered by planes and trains and only take carry-on luggage if possible.

Packing only carry-on luggage saves you time and trouble by eliminating a visit to the baggage claim terminal. If you must check in baggage, there are a couple of things you can do to make the retrieval of your luggage a simple process. First, you can now purchase audible luggage locators which can help you to quickly find your bag as it travels around the carousel. These allow you to press a button, which will activate a beeping locator in your bag (although I have never used one and I’m not sure about any security implications of a beeping suitcase – I know I would perhaps not feel too comfortable using this one!). Also, consider marking your bag with brightly coloured tape, a luggage strap or another distinctive element. Asking someone to locate a black suitcase will likely result in frustration!!!

Alternatively you could try using bump-on’s, not only to help you identify your luggage, but to identify your hotel room or even your floor on a lift panel; get some and give it a try. It may be worth seeking permission to do the latter from your accommodation reception.

At a security search, always explain your impairment and ask airport security staff to repack bags in a specific order for you, so that you know where essential items are located. If you have an E-Passport, then going on my experience you can ‘sail’ through security… having faced the scanners and struggled to stand in the correct position, I have learnt to simply tell the security officer of my sight impairment… they then send you to the front of the main queue or an empty desk where they will check your passport!

When on the plane, the safety demonstration given by the cabin crew to all passengers at the beginning of a flight should be available in other formats. You should request this in advance if needed. The cabin crew should also: tell you more general information about the plane including its services and facilities; if necessary describe the layout of your food tray to you; open any packaging that is awkward; and help you find your way to the toilet.

If you want to take your guide dog on the plane with you, always tell the airline about this in advance. The airline can ask the owner to produce proof that the dog has been trained by a recognised organisation and don’t forget their ID and a safety harness to secure your dog when you are asked to.

My main advice is: don’t be shy about asking for assistance. An airline or ship’s crew, hotel clerks, taxi and bus drivers – they are generally more than happy to help. Travelling through unfamiliar places can seem like a daunting experience. Remember that many people, blind or sighted, share the same challenges that you do and are also moving through an unknown space. With a little foresight, plus an open mind and willingness to ask for help, virtually all of us can travel in comfort and safety.

I hope some of these tips and ideas will help you to become a more ambitious and independent traveller. There’s an entire world out there just waiting for you to visit.

Mark Bailey


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