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Traveling With Macular Degeneration

Last updated: September 2022

There are many places I’ve wanted to visit, sites I’ve wanted to see, and things I had planned for my retirement. Some I have managed to do, others were put off too long.

I’ve written here before about missing out on a trip to Machu Picchu when I discovered elevations reaching that 3400-meter elevation mark can damage the eyes. A transitory problem in young, healthy eyes but not for someone with macular degeneration. A chance I wasn’t willing to take.

Travel adaptations for AMD

I’ve always had a wanderlust, and being married to the military gave me ample opportunity to see many other parts of the world when I was younger. Now that I’ve had all my shots and am slightly less worried about COVID, I want to travel again. It will take more planning this time, more preparation for the “what ifs”.

International travel

When I went on a trip to Southeast Asia with a small group of friends 3 years ago, I was worried about having a bleed in my wet eye, or God forbid, my dry right eye advancing to wet. Thankfully nothing happened, but I was prepared. I had researched which cities had a hospital with an ophthalmological clinic.

Even had phrases such as “where can I find an eye doctor?” and “take me to the hospital” in Thai and Vietnamese ready on my phone. Things I might need, especially in the smaller villages. I had become friends with Google Translate just in case.

I prepared for what I hoped was anything that could happen, then put it all out of my mind, knowing I was as prepared as I could be. Then I enjoyed the trip without more than the usual eye concerns.

Adjusting with progression

But now I need to factor in the slight progression of my AMD (age-related macular degeneration). Especially when traveling alone, which I’m hoping is still possible.

How would I feel in a strange place when I leave the bright sunlight to enter a dimly lit building and discover my dark adaptation has worsened even further? That for all intents and purposes, I’m temporarily blinded and dare not move for a short time until my eyes catch up to my body.

Safety measures

Always carrying my hiking pole helps with the depth perception problem. It is occasionally more of a nuisance than a help, but at least I’m not as likely to do a “face plant”.

One good travel safety precaution is to have your emergency contact just one click away on your phone. More importantly, ensure they have the research results and the usual information.

Accepting change

Or what about a road trip closer to home? Would I spend too much time and energy worrying about getting settled for the night before needing to drive in the dark? Or would my now necessary advance planning allow me to relax?

It does take away the spontaneity I’ve always enjoyed. That feeling of just following where ever the road goes.

I realize I can still travel remotely with online videos from YouTube and Google Street View, among others, and I will if that time comes. Not quite the same, but still enjoyable.

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