Feeling My Way Around the World
“Life is an adventure or it’s nothing at all.” - Helen Keller
I love experiencing adventures. When I travel, I get to immerse myself into diverse cultures, go on cool excursions, and learn multiple languages. I have been to 18 states, 3 countries, 2 islands, 2 continents, and swam in all 4 oceans.
My travel experiences
I’ve loved on elephants in an elephant sanctuary in South Africa, kissed a dolphin named Fin in the Bahamas, rode a camel along a beach in Morocco, and went shark cage diving in South Africa. I have enjoyed all kinds of food and met countless amazing people along the way. I’ve traveled in several different ways: solo trips, family trips, girls trips, sisters trip, and couples trips. In the end, traveling has cultivated some life-changing experiences and is the driving force that teaches me acceptance and gratefulness.
Memories and life lessons
As a child, my family went on vacation annually in the summertime. During those times, I felt nothing but love, happiness, and harmony, and they are still the feelings that wrap around me when I think back on those memories. However, these trips also taught me life lessons. For example, during a family trip to Virginia Beach, I got lost and separated from my family.
Getting lost on the beach
I had been playing in the water, and the current had been so strong that the waves had pushed me to the other end of the beach. However, me being the social butterfly that I am, did not realize this because I had been talking and making new friends and acquaintances along the way. While I didn’t realize I was lost, my family had and they were upset and angry when we found each other. Looking back as an adult, I know this anger stemmed from fear and my parents wanted me to be safe. I also learned the valuable lesson of how important it is to check in with people and to be aware of your surroundings. Two important safety guidelines I used and continue to use as I travel.
During my undergraduate program at Northern Arizona University, I independently traveled to Cape Town, South Africa. I had received the opportunity to complete a four-month internship at an amazing organization called Cape Town Association for the Physically Disabled. As the name implies, I worked with individuals living with physical disabilities. While I did live with a host family, I was essentially on my own.
Taking a solo trip
Taking a solo trip invoked so many emotions and required an additional level of vulnerability. Just take a few seconds to imagine taking a solo trip halfway across the world with a visual impairment. Between navigating the airports, language barriers between natives, and understanding the currency it is quite the adventure, to say the least. It required patience, advocacy, flexibility, and vulnerability.
Knowing my limitations
Luckily my solo trip to South Africa was not my first time navigating the airport. Therefore, I had a clear understanding of my abilities and limitations in this setting. For instance, I knew that I needed assistance with printing out my boarding passes, and step-by-step directions on how to get to the security checkpoint and gate location.
Tips for traveling with a visual impairment
Pro Tip 1: When asking for directions ask for landmarks as well.
Pro Tip 2: Ask several people to confirm landmarks and directions.
This is part of my process. In addition to asking for landmarks, I ask several people along my journey to confirm. For example, if I had to go to Gate A4 and the initial person I asked for directions from gave me four steps, after I completed the second step, I would ask someone new along my journey how to get to the destination.
Asking for help
I often use humor or flattery when requesting help. Which leads me to...
Pro Tip 3: Keep an open mind.
What I learned early on is that most people want to help. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely those people who do not want to be bothered, but for the most part, people want to help. My solo trip gave me the opportunity to experience humility, gratefulness, curiosity, love, frustration, loneliness, empowerment, and so much more.
Traveling with an infant
Fast forward a few years later to the time I traveled with an infant for the first time. I was so nervous about the airport logistics compounded with mom fears of traveling with an infant. I worried about how the plane ride would affect my son physically, as I was scared that his ears were going to pop, and overall nervous about how he would respond, what his behavior would be, and how fellow passengers would react. We both made it, and I can safely say that my son and I have been on several planes since and now he is a pro. Nonetheless, being a mom and having my young son rely on me in challenging situations such as the airport can be stressful, which is why I do also enjoy traveling with friends.
I love group travel. Most of my friends are planners, which means I have the privilege of just showing up and enjoying the experience. Another, positive, is that in addition to great company to create memories with, traveling with friends makes it easier in a lot of ways. It is easier to navigate the airport, restaurants, even local attractions because my friends know how to “see"-pport me and I have become really good with advocating for myself.
Making the most of a trip
I feel like with most things, it’s an “energy thing”. If you put out good energy and remain calm you will have a smooth experience at the airport and asking for help will come naturally. However, if you are anxious and rushing then you might not have a good experience. Anxiety is all too common when traveling with a disability, so remember to breathe and start with those three pro tips I gave you. Traveling is all about the experience, so make the best of it and use all of your senses while doing it, at least that’s the way eye see it.
Do you feel that you've maintained independence with macular degeneration?