I decided to write this major departure from my blog’s usual content, kind of out of boredom. And to have a bit of fun, spread the love and share the knowledge and whatever…
Travel is fun. Travel is exciting. Travel is memorable. Travel is a pain in the ass.
Especially when your eyesight is far from perfect. Like mine. Oh thrill of thrills and joy of joys. Whatever…
Here are my tips for visually-impaired people who go travelling, who might want to travel, or normal people who go traveling and might have visually-impaired travelling companions coming along for the ride. Tips on how to get organised, tips on how to cope and tips on how to get around any problems along the way. Also in this guide are more general travel-tips, written by one who has been flying around the world since the age of 5. Anyway, here goes…
Wherever possible – conserve space. Socks inside shoes. Undies inside toiletry bags. Use zip-up clothing-bags to pack your clothes. You can cram more into a smaller space, organise your suitcase a hell of a lot better, and cram in more of those cutesy souvenirs that you buy.Using zip-up clothing bags allows you to store and organise your clothes in ways which wouldn’t be possible without them, maximising the space available to you in your roller-bags and suitcases.
Do not overpack. I made this mistake on a trip to London. Huge pain in the ass. Going somewhere cold in winter? Bring ONE coat. Make it a decent one. Forget about scarves and gloves. It ain’t that cold. You’ll be walking around or driving or riding most of the time anyway. Unless you’re doing what my brother did. He went to Russia in winter, and damn near died of hypothermia. If possible, buy what you need when you’re over there. Don’t bring socks and undies for every day of the week – you won’t need them. Wash them, dry them, use them again. Bring one or two spares, just in case.
Keep all your liquids in a separate bag. It’ll save time having to dig them out later at the security checkpoint.
Do Not Bring Books! My dad always brings books when he flies. God knows why. You only read them when you fly. And they take up valuable space in the meantime. And they’re heavy. If you must – then bring a small book. Or a book that will help you – like a guidebook or translator or something. Chances are you won’t read them on the plane anyway – that’s what the in-flight entertainment system is for.
Compartmentalise Your Packing. If you’re visually impaired and you can’t remember where the hell anything is inside your bag. If you can’t remember or even worse, can’t see, then one simple way around it is to pack everything in compartments. You can use those zip-shut packing bags, or for other more important stuff (house-keys, medicines etc), you could use those plastic snap-lid takeaway boxes. You can stick things the tops (colourful stickers, velcro-dots etc) to help you remember what items are in which box. And it makes conserving space inside your suitcase a damn lot easier!
Get there with PLENTY of time to spare. At least two or three hours. Sometimes this is mandatory. And if it is, add another hour or two on top of that.
If you’re visually-impaired like I am, you’ll know how much planning you have to do when you go to a place you’re not familiar with. Especially when you can’t read the damn signs which are stuck twelve feet up in the sky. If you have a monocular – use it. If people stare – stuff ’em. Let them stare. You don’t care and neither do I.
It’s better to get there really early and then spend your time eating, shopping and pissing, rather than panicking and sprinting around the airport like a recreation of the start of “Home Alone: Lost in New York”.
Take your time and don’t rush. It’s your holiday. Don’t spoil it by sprinting through the airport. Take your time to find out where important things are – like the chocolate shop. Or the toilet. Or the gate and lounge.
Tie Something Big, Ugly and Colourful to your Suitcase-Handles. This is what I do when I go on a trip. Some flashy bright rope. A bright red or multicoloured plastic bag. A soft squishy cuddle-toy. Tie something that’s easily recognisable, easily spotted and which nobody else would ever dare admit to owning, to your suitcase handles. This way, you’ll always be able to find your suitcase on the carousels when it’s being offloaded from the airplane. Or if you can’t find it and someone asks you what it looks like -you can just tell them that it’s the one with the Polka-Dotted Piggy Toy tied to the handle. This is especially useful in this day and age, when all your luggage can look frustratingly similar to everyone else’s luggage.
Navigation, Orientation, and Mobility
On holiday, your camera is your best friend. And not just for the selfies. Use your camera to…
– Take a photo of your hotel.
– Take a photo of the nearest intersection/street.
– Take a photo of the map that you’ll use (once you’ve annotated it).
– Take a photo of any nearby landmarks.
Whenever I travel – London, Paris, Shanghai, Peking, New York, San Francisco, Toronto…I always take a photograph of the map which I intend to use when I’m in town. Why? Because a photograph on your camera will last a hell of a lot longer than a paper map that you keep folding, unfolding, opening, closing, writing on and marking. Eventually it’ll rip, tear, fall apart, get stuff spilled on it, and you’re stuffed. And they always come with those stupid vouchers and advertisements which make the map twice as large as it should be. Paper maps are hard to read, and they take up valuable space in your everyday-carry bag. They’re also a pain in the ass to fold! On a camera (or camera-phone), you don’t have to worry about all that garbage, and you can enlarge the image to crazy-huge proportions to read EVERYTHING!! Building-names. Street-names. Grid-references. It’s so much easier!
On top of that…
– Use your camera to take a picture of the info-page on your passport. Just in case. This way, you can keep your passport safe in the hotel, and carry a picture of it around with you, if it’s necessary.
– If you’re using the subway and there’s a map at the station of the local area, photograph that, too. And use it as a guide while you’re in the neighbourhood.
– ALWAYS charge your camera. At least every second day. Just in case. Or carry spare batteries if you can.
– OMG!!! Your friends saw something REALLY COOL!!…across the river…on the other side of the road…on the fourth storey of a building…and…You can’t. Oh jeez. Use your camera to zoom in on whatever it is they’re drooling over, take a picture of it, and then enlarge the picture with your camera’s features to see what all the fuss is about!
Carry a Torch/Flashlight, and plenty of spare batteries. If you’re visually impaired, what’s enough bright for others is not enough bright for you, and sometimes a white cane is not the best solution. They’re bulky, and they can mark you out as a target. Not a safe thing if you’re in an unfamiliar city. If possible, carry a torch instead. Whenever I go out at night, I carry a super-powerful military-grade flashlight in my bag.
My weapon of choice is the LED Lenser P6. It takes two AA batteries – so they’re easy to find, easy to buy, easy to load. It’s VERY bright. It’s small, it’s portable, it has a wide beam and a focus-beam. And it’s solid as a brick. If you drop it, it won’t break. I also carry a AAA-battery LED Lenser P2 pocket light, just in case. If I need MORE LIGHT I also have a LED Lenser P7!
Don’t be embarrassed to whip out your torch and flash it around at night if you’re walking home from a night of tourism. Better that you should look like a weirdo and know where you’re going, than try and fit in with the crowd and walk into a parked motorcycle in a pitch-black street (that happened to me once).
Torches are handy for looking out for poles, steps, curbs and drunken hobos at night. But they’re also great for reading signs, and for looking at things in poorly-illuminated restaurants and shops. Antiquing, bargain-hunting and souvenir-shopping just got a whole lot easier.
Carry a whistle. If you get lost or separated from your group in a crowd, shouting isn’t always going to get their attention. Especially if it’s a noisy and crowded place like a market or street-carnival or parade. Or if you’re really short and you can get swallowed up by all the people around you.
I carry around an old-style dual-chamber Metropolitan general service whistle, which was a souvenir of my first trip to London.
Why? Four reasons.
1. It’s very tough. It’s solid brass. It won’t crack or shatter like those plastic whistles we have now.
2. It’s very small. About the size of a USB stick.
3. It has a unique sound. It doesn’t sound anything like your run-of-the-mill referee whistle that you see these days – which is good – because you don’t want your emergency whistle to be mistaken for anything other than what it’s meant to be. Otherwise it’ll be like a fire-truck playing Greensleeves.
4. It’s extremely loud! Which is what you want. Don’t forget, these whistles were designed for police so that they could call for help in an emergency. So they’re designed to be heard for blocks in every direction.
Carry a Magnifying Glass. Science shows that straining your eyes does not permanently damage them. But it does make them hurt and it makes you sleepy. And you don’t wanna be sleepy on your holiday. Carry a pocket magnifying glass with you when you go out on holiday. Keep it in your pocket. Use it to read menus, maps and other such things.
When I was in London I kept a copy of the Tube map in my pocket. Great reference guide (the Tube is very easy to use), but the writing is microscopic! I carry a pocket magifying glass or ‘quizzing-glass’ in my pocket whenever I go out, now. It’s 5x magnification, which is generally good enough for most applications.
If you need something stronger, then seek out a jewellery-supplies shop, or go on eBay and look up loupes (prounced ‘loop’). A loupe is a high-power magnifier (starting generally, at 10x and going up as high as 50 or 60x). This is not only great for small font, but also looking at stuff like hallmarks and makers’ marks…that’s what they were designed for, anyway!!
Write down addresses. You wanna go somewhere. A shop. A street. A museum. Gallery. Restaurant…in Rome, Paris, Germany, or some other place where people are unlikely to speak fluent English. Oh crap. Now what?? Don’t panic. Simply look up the address of the place online. Copy it down exactly. Then give it to the taxi-driver when you hop in the car.
Carry a Compass. The iPhone comes with a compass-feature set into it. But if your portable telephone of choice does not have one (for whatever reason), then a simple compass is sometimes a good thing to carry around. Especially if you’re hopeless at reading maps or have no concept of the motions of the sun.
Surviving your Trip
Research public holidays. I can’t stress this enough. There is nothing more annoying than flying halfway around the world to your dream destination to find out on your first day that everything is locked up tighter than the recipe for Colonel Sanders’ Finger-Lickin’ Chicken recipe, and all because it’s National Guacamole Appreciation Week.
Research all the places you wanna go, way ahead of time. It’s a certified pain in the ass trying to find out stuff about the hotspots you wanna go to when you’re actually there. Don’t do it. Find out when they’re open, how to get there and what to expect when you are there.
Learn at least a few basic phrases. Where’s the toilet? How much is *whatever*. Hello. Goodbye. Good morning. Good night. How much for a pound of weed? In some countries, you may not have to. I went to the Netherlands and spoke English all the time. But in some countries you won’t be so lucky.
Watch out for pickpockets. Pickpockets are like rivers. They move fast, and they can get surprisingly deep when you’re not looking. And they are everywhere. Don’t be a chump and keep your wallet in an outside pocket or anywhere else easily accessible by someone other than yourself. Keep it inside your jacket or coat. Or in the hardest part of your bag to open.
“What about my money!? There’s a dancing Buddha statue which I MUST BUY!!”
Keep your money (but only small amounts) in your pockets. Preferably scattered about your person so that you don’t lose everything all at once if a pickpocket does decide to take you for a ride.
Use your Impairment to your Advantage. You have a visual disability. EMBRACE IT! Disabled discounts. Pensioner concessions. Pity discounts. Whatever you can get out of these suckers, milk ’em for every Baht, Yen, Pound, Dollar, Yuan and Euro you can! I snagged discount seats in one of the best rows in a West End London theater to watch Les Miserables simply by spilling the beans about me being a poor blind beggar-boy who was here on holiday. OK I exaggerate a bit…but we did get those seats. See? It can be beneficial for your friends, too. Remember, sighted people. Your vision-impaired travel-companion can open doors that you can’t.
Never Leave Your Bags Unattended. And not just at airports, either! Pickpockets and bag-snatchers are crafty little bastards. Keep your valuables in hard-to-reach places. Inside pockets of coats, or zipped-up areas inside your bag. Only store non-valuable stuff in the outside compartments or pockets of your bag or coat. Cheap sunglasses. Your pocket umbrella. Maps. Valuable stuff like cameras, phones, wallets and cards should be kept in places which only you can reach. Or which pickpockets will have much greater trouble accessing.
Never keep your stuff in your trouser pockets. Not only is it easy to spot, and retrieve, it’s easier to lose stuff that way. If at all possible, keep your valuables in the safebox in your hotel room and only take the bare necessities with you when you go out.
Carry cards from your hotel. This will make it easier for you to find your way home, especially if you’re in a place that doesn’t speak English.
One of the great joys of travelling is buying souvenirs and bringing them home to adorn your humble abode, and share them with friends, and the fascinating stories that come with them. But one of the biggest nightmares of travelling is getting your souvenirs HOME!!!! Yurgh!! Now what??
If you were smart to begin with, you packed light, and therefore, your suitcase should still have sufficient space for souvenirs. But if you’re struggling, here’s a few tips, written by one who has brought home countless fragile, breakable, rare and antique treasures from trips abroad.
Remove the Packaging! A surprising amount of space is taken up, and wasted, by packaging. Cardboard boxes, plastic wrap, vacuum-sealed containers. Rip all that crap off! Not only does it make the item smaller and more manageable, it also makes the item…lighter! Very important in this age of luggage-weight restrictions.
Pack Your Souvenirs in your Clothes. If the item you’re bringing home is fragile, pack it CAREFULLY inside your clothes in your suitcase. But do not over-pad the item. You want it to be safe and shock-proof. You do NOT want the item to be CRUSHED when you close the suitcase!
Maximise Space! So you brought home that Chinese teacup set from Shanghai. Or that Royal Doulton from the Buckingham Palace souvenir shop (yes, Buckingham Palace has a souvenir shop. Go and check it out if you don’t believe me). But if you put that in your suitcase, then you can’t fit in that hardcover edition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare that you got during your saunter through Stratford-Upon-Avon. Oh dear…
If the souvenirs are hollow (teapots, mugs, bells etc), then stuff your clothes inside! Singlets, tops, T-shirts, socks, shirts. Not only does it conserve space, it protects the item from being crushed and broken!
Get a Box from the Hotel. Hotels are constantly getting deliveries. Food. Toiletries. Fresh linens. Stationery. The list goes on. Ask at the front desk or ask the concierge if there are any old cardboard boxes lying around anywhere, maybe back in storage in the offices. Any old cardboard boxes, and some duct-tape and scissors. Take whatever boxes they give you, cut them to the right size, fold them and pack them around the object you have, and then tape it together. This should give you at least some sort of packaging to carry stuff home in.
Pull It Apart! If you can, pull your souvenir apart into its component pieces. This will make it easier to pack, and you can spread the weight across your luggage to get it on the plane more easily. Just make sure you remember how to put it back together again! (Don’t remember how to do that? Use your camera to take pictures to help you).
Plan in Advance! If you’re anything like my family, you have a bad habit of going overseas, and bringing back massive, heavy, unwieldy souvenirs! Everything from Venetian theater-masks, to posters, to guitars, to replica Japanese samurai swords, Balinese carvings that weigh twenty pounds, sewing machines that weigh 30 pounds, or an extremely rare Victorian-era writing slope loaded with nick-nacks.
If you KNOW that this is likely, then plan for it! One way to do this is to pack a crushable, foldable or otherwise collapsible ‘souvenirs bag’ into your suitcase. I suggest a duffel-bag or carry-all made of tough canvas, with zippers, carry-handles and shoulder-straps (that’s what I use, anyway). It’s easily packed, easily opened, doesn’t weigh much, is tough, can hold lots of stuff, and is relatively easy to carry.