Planning any travel experience always brings its own problems. Where to go, when to go, choosing the airline with the best price, finding the most suitable accommodation for you, planning activities, and all the while staying within budget. Now throw into the mix a visual impairment and things start to get complicated.
I have retinitis pigmentosa (RP) which is a hereditary degenerative eye condition. Symptoms are a severely reduced field of vision (tunnel vision) and poor to no vision in low light (night blindness). Whilst this must be taken into account when we plan any holiday activities and the location of accommodation, we try not to let it affect any other aspect of our travel.
I know I am extremely lucky to be able to travel with Corinne, this makes things so much easier for me (but not for her I’m sure). Thankfully I don’t have to travel alone, I’m not even sure if I could, but admire tremendously those with a vision impairment that do.
With us both being in our fifties we tend to be more attracted to a certain level of comfort whilst travelling. Anyone our age who is backpacking, bungee jumping or hiking Everest, I say good luck to them, but that’s not what we are looking for. Shared hostel dorms, no thank you. Cycle across Africa, maybe 20 years ago, but not now.
The following are some of the issues that we work around whilst travelling the world. I mention these not to complain, or elicit sympathy, but to convey to anyone who has a visual impairment that travel is something that can be done, and the hurdles put in front of us are not insurmountable.
Being in any new location will bring another room and a new layout of furniture. One of the first things I do when we arrive at new accommodation is to scan the room and look for potential hazards. This could be anything from narrow walkways between furniture, protruding cabinets, and even items placed near the edge of coffee tables or desks. I have a habit of knocking items off tables if they are too close to the edge. I will generally move everything either towards the centre of the table, or against the wall if the table is adjacent to a wall.
I also memorise where all the light switches are in case I need to get up before daylight. If we have a room with thick curtains designed to block out all light, I will leave a small gap at one end that allows just enough light in at daybreak for me to see the room layout.
Out after dark
This may sound a strange thing to consider, but my vision is virtually non-existent in poor light. We tend to get things done during the day, and generally will eat an evening meal earlier than most, and be back at the accommodation fairly early. As you can imagine we get a lot of early nights, but conversely, we are usually up early in the mornings. You won’t find any posts of us falling out of nightclubs at 2am.
I always carry a (very) small torch in my pocket for times when we are out after dark. I find it ideal to provide just enough light to see the immediate steps ahead. Most smart phones can be used as a torch these days too.
Choosing where to eat
If we are strolling around looking for somewhere to eat there are a few things we take into consideration before making a decision. Firstly we will assess how busy or congested the dining area is. I know the conventional thought is the busier the restaurant the better it must be, but for us a congested space just makes things more difficult. So we would often choose somewhere that has decent spacing between tables, and not overly crowded.
We also take into consideration the lighting, particularly if eating during the hours of darkness. The venue has to have adequate lighting over the tables, and throughout the space. If I need to make a bathroom trip or we are seated at the back of a room, I want to be able to see how to get there.
Similarly to being in a new hotel room, once seated I will scan the layout of the restaurant looking for potential tripping hazards. I look for small children, prams, high chairs, bags on the floor etc. Small children are especially unpredictable, and I take extra care when passing them. Prior to visiting the bathroom, or cash register, I scan the room and mentally plan my route. I look for the least congested route to my destination, and then set off.
It is impossible to avoid crowds all of the time, particularly in a city environment. Walking through crowded streets, particularly in Asia, is always a challenge. Corinne will take my arm and navigate me through (usually unscathed). Whilst we do love many large cities, I certainly have a preference for the smaller towns which are generally less crowded. It’s also an encouragement for us to explore the lesser known places.
I don’t drive anymore for obvious reasons which places more of a burden on Corinne. If we hire a car anywhere she has to do all the driving. She does draw the line at scooters though, thankfully something we agree on.
Do you travel with a vision impairment? What are the hurdles you overcome? Please let us know in the comments below.