Welcome to this Travel Guide! This has been put together by members as part of a skills exchange process.
This document was created as part of the Skillls Exchange program in 2021 by BCA members Neale Huth and Adrian Watson. It was funded through the Department of Social Services ILC grants program.
- Planning your trip
- Booking your trip
- Traveling by aircraft
- Traveling by bus
- Traveling by train
- Other Modes of transport
- Blind Specific Travel Companies
Planning Your Trip
Planning is something that most blind and vision impaired people do pretty much all the time because we can’t just “jump in the car and pop down to the shops” or “go to the corner, look up the street and see it”. We don’t get most of the visual cues available to the general population, so life is much easier if we do a bit of planning before, we head off. Well, it’s the same when we travel independently.
Adrian and Neale both have a small amount of vision, so a lot of our comments and suggestions are coming from that space. We also use the term “blind” to include readers with low vision, it’s just easier to write Blind than blind and vision impaired.
Why we’re traveling can impact on a lot of decisions like how we get there, where we stay and how much time we’ll spend away. If I’m traveling to Adelaide purely for a medical appointment, I’d probably want a quick trip, so I’d fly there to save time and try to find a room close to where I have to go for the appointment.
When planning your trip, there’s a number of additional factors to take into account alongside your reason for traveling. These include:
- How long do you want to be away?
- How much money do you have for the trip?
- Do you want to use some of your NDIS funds to hire s support worker to help you get around? and
- Do you want to combine outcomes, like meeting up with a friend or relative with a trip to the gallery so they can help you find your way around?
There’s lots of online sites that can help you plan your trip. Using a search engine to search for “things to do in Cairns” brings up a massive amount of information about Cairns and things you can do. Most locations have government or local industry websites dedicated to their local area along with a myriad of commercial sites all trying to sell you an experience. You can book through these sites or choose to use them to see what options you have and book when you arrive, it’s your holiday and your choice.
TO BOOK OR NOT TO BOOK
When I backpacked around Europe, I kind of knew I wanted to see Rome, the Swiss Alps and a few other places. I got an Eurail pass that allowed me to get on and off the trains as the mood took me. I went to Rome, walked from the train station to the Coliseum, got a taxi to the Vatican, did the tour and then headed back to catch the train to Cologne that night. Before leaving, I thought I’d spend three or four days there, but Rome didn’t really do it for me so one day was enough. My friend would have been locked into staying in Rome whereas I was able to make a snap decision to change my plans because I hadn’t locked anything in.
Of course, the downside of not locking things in before you go is that you can miss out on experiences. How much you lock in and how much you keep your options open is up to you. A lot of first-time travellers like to have more things locked in, so they know what’s happening whereas more experienced travellers tend to like the spontaneity of winging it. It is up to you it’s your trip.
That being said, the challenges of traveling when your blind mean that it is harder to wing it. Hiring a support worker to help you find your way around can be a wonderful way to get orientated and relieve some of the stress of traveling but it often requires a significant lead time.
We can also make shore we have access to useful tools like:
GPS directions to guide us to landmarks,
An accessible app that can tell us when the bus or tram is approaching our stop
A ride share app on our phone to send a car to our location rather than having to try to work out where we are if we get lost
Access online to an organisation that can help us connect with local Support Workers and
Access through an app to connect with sighted volunteers or company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.
Traveling independently is great and we highly recommend it. In our experience, taking the time to do some planning up front pays big dividends down the track in getting the most out of our travels. Many O&M or AT specialists can assist you to get ready for your travels. Finding a good travel agent who understands your needs as a blind person is like winning the lottery in terms of planning however in other chapters, we have outlined some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned to do the booking etc ourselves.
There are some great travel agents out there who can really add value to your travels by recommending ways to travel places to stay and things to see based on your personal circumstances.
Increasingly people are choosing to book online either directly with the supplier or through a third-party site. There’s a lot of third-party sites out there that allow you to easily see a lot of the available options, who’s flying to that destination, compare travel times, property features as well as costs. You can book through that site or contact the suppliers directly once you have seen what’s available.
There are so many ways to book experiences it can be a bit overwhelming. Most accommodation has people who can help you book day trips which will often pick you up from your hotel. There is a large number of government and private websites where you can book daytrips and entry tickets to local attractions. Many of the websites have ratings and reviews from other travellers and these can be helpful to help you find what you’re looking for.
TRAVELING BY AIRCRAFT
From an accessibility point of view, traveling by aircraft can be the easiest and least stressful way to get to your destination. The airlines are all quite helpful and provide an “assist” service to get you from check-in to your seat on the aircraft. Upon landing, the staff can meet you at your seat on the aircraft and take you all the way to baggage claim where they’ll find your bag for you.
Onboard the aircraft you’ll normally be offered a personalised one to one safety briefing, explaining how many seats there are between you and the exit, what to do in the case of an emergency etc. The flight crew, as time allows, can help you get the inflight entertainment system working, assist you to the toilet, explain what food is located where on the meal tray and generally assist where they can. It’s important to remember their first priority is the safety of all the passengers on the aircraft but they help as they can.
What can be a challenge is that the airlines don’t assist you get into the terminal or out to find a taxi at your destination. Often, we can arrange for the friend / family / driver who takes us to the airport to help us get to the check in counter and the same at the other end if someone is picking us up. If not, apps that provide assistance through your phone are great at guiding you around the airport and meeting up with your transport.
Some airports do provide assistance to help you get into and around the terminal over and above that provided by the airlines. We’d suggest you use your search engine to look for the latest information about what services the airports you plan on using may offer. Using words like “Accessibility at Adelaide airport” or “disabled access Sydney airport” bring up some useful information.
The airlines ask that blind people (no matter how you book) contact them after booking quoting your booking reference number to confirm that the airline has it recorded that you will be seeking assistance. People traveling with service animals are asked to give at least 14 days’ notice that you will be traveling with a service animal so that they can ensure they meet all their safety requirements as dogs aren’t normally allowed in the aircraft cabin for safety reasons. There will normally be a form to complete, and they do warn that you should do this for every flight booked as their IT systems do not reliably retain this information.
Traveling by bus
Most large cities have a dedicated Bus terminal for long distance buses. If you contact the bus company when booking they can let the driver know you may need some additional assistance. Many drivers and companies will sit you in the first row of seats near the driver where they can let you know about upcoming stops etc. These terminals are also staffed and further assistance can be asked for at the start and end of your journey to get you off in the right direction.
Traveling by train
Most larger cities have one train station where long distance trains arrive and depart. Depending on the service, trains may also stop at some suburban stations. Railway staff are generally located on or near the platform and can assist you to store your luggage, help you find your seat and arrange for railway staff to meet you at your destination to assist you getting off the train. For those with some vision, a wheelchair simple is often painted on the platform in the spot designated to provide assistance to people with disabilities. Many if not all long-distance train stations also have platforms dedicated to local trains and your ticket will often include travel to and from your suburban station to the long-distance station.
Other Modes Of Transport
While this is the end of our guide and we hope you have found it useful, we were unable to detail every mode of transport. If you follow the rules of the above you will largely find success with most companies, modes of transportation and situations you find yourself in. The important thing is identifying yourself as someone who needs assistance and asking what the other party can provide. “Accessible: and “assist” are the words you most want to use in your investigations.
Blind Specific Travel Companies
(Please note this is not an exhaustive list and other companies do exist.)
A UK based Travel company that provides international holiday tours with an assortment of blind or vision impaired travellers, and sighted travellers. Find out more at:
Fun, small group sized Australian holidays with other blind or vision impaired travellers. Also caters to deaf or deafblind travellers.