By Dean Calder
Like many people, I had the desire to have an overseas travel adventure, however being totally blind meant there were some obvious obstacles I would need to overcome to make this possible. How would I get around in an unfamiliar hotel, and what’s more, an unfamiliar city?
I don’t have the best mobility skills in the world, so investigating an unfamiliar city alone wasn’t a practical option, but with some research and planning, well maybe a lot of research and a lot of planning, I was able to find a way to have a fantastic adventure.
The starting point for my plans was the discovery by a family member of a travel company that specialises in tours for vision impaired travellers. The groups are made up of vision impaired tourists who pay the full rate, and sighted people who pay a discounted rate, in exchange for their support and assistance. This includes buddying up for mealtimes and providing descriptions of what they can see when out and about.
There were a lot of tours to choose from, and it took some time to work out the best options for me, but eventually I settled on two short trips; the first to Winchester in the south of England, and the second to Copenhagen in Denmark.
Both tours departed from London, so the next step was booking flights to London and working out what I was going to do there (and how I was going to do it), in between the two excursions. We searched for accommodation, prioritising a restaurant on site, a laundry service and 24-hour reception just in case. My sister researched some options for hiring support workers in London and found that Airtasker was a good platform to find people to suit my needs. She posted an ad including the dates when support would be required and ended up hiring two different carers to assist over several shifts.
The messages flowed back and forth with the support workers, making plans and working out an itinerary for my time in London, and then the day finally arrived for me to go, and excitement filled my mind.
The flight attendants were helpful, taking me for regular walks, and assisting me in any way that they could. During a part of the flight, I felt disorientated, as I’d lost track of time and wasn’t able to access the flight map and had no sense of where we were. I was so grateful for the really understanding flight attendant who helped talk me through it.
I was relieved to finally land at Heathrow airport, however finding out that my luggage had not made it there was a real blow! All I had were the clothes on my back, and a backpack with my MP3player and phone.
What followed was stressful, as it’s not easy dealing with airlines. However, everyone was helpful, and although I had to wait almost 48 hours for my much-needed fresh clothes, it was a chance to practice my self-advocacy skills, and I realised just how important they are.
I informed the hotel reception of my predicament when I checked in and they assisted me in following up with the airline. They also helped me to charge my phone via the hotel TV since the chargers were in the missing suitcase.
I visited the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Borough Markets, Hyde Park, Brixton and quite a few pubs with the assistance of my support workers. I also had the chance to be in the live studio audience for a taping of Adam Hills’ show, The Last Leg, which was fantastic.
In Winchester, we did a walking tour of the town, visited the famous Stonehenge, Winchester Cathedral and the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery. And in Copenhagen we visited The Tivoli Gardens Theme Park, witnessed the changing of the guards and walked through the Botanical Gardens. On the last morning, we had some free time, so we visited The Hans Christian Andersen and The Guinness World Book of Records museums.
Public Transport in Copenhagen is so frequent, and the stations are in good condition. There are no audible traffic signals, but there are tactiles under foot and also cobbled streets in both London and Copenhagen.
For anyone wishing to travel but feeling overwhelmed by the task of making it happen, I would really recommend looking into the options and researching tips from other vision impaired travellers. Planning is crucial and time consuming, but for me, it has been totally worth it. I am happy to share my experience and tips with anyone who is interested in travelling independently. I think it’s safe to say, I have the travel bug!