Since we’re learning to live with COVID19, people are venturing out and many want to travel again. Browsing the Internet, I found dozens of practical tips for blind and visually impaired travelers, but what I felt was missing was ways to make a vacation special, enjoyable and, of course, fun.
Some people with vision loss may be reluctant to take a trip feeling they cannot fully enjoy the venue. Don’t let this reluctance prevent you from experiencing something new. Feeling the awe-inspiring sounds of touring St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or taking an expertly guided tour of the Biltmore Mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains, can be more enjoyable than you might think. Immersing yourself in the culture, food, smells and sounds of your destination makes your vacation a rich experience, not to mention the new things you will learn.
Whether you want to visit museums, sit on a beach or hike through national parks, keep in mind the ways your nonvisual senses will capture the essence of your destination. Doing your homework beforehand ensures an inclusive and comfortable experience. Here are some thoughts on different vacations that can engage all your senses and hopefully, lead you to an unforgettable vacation.
If you want to travel alone or with a group, one of the tour companies specializing in planning trips for people with disabilities may be your ticket. These companies may charge you a bit more, with sighted travelers paying slightly less to be your guide and describer. Many of these companies take the extra step to find venues offering more sensory experiences than you would get from a traditional travel group. Take in all the smells, tastes and sounds of a foreign country with trips planned by Responiiblevacation.com. You can hike in the Spanish Pyrenees, experience the rich culture of India or taste the wines from vineyards in South Africa. Another tour company, Mind’s Eye Travel, focuses on travel itineraries specifically for people with vision loss. Their trip to Maine this September offers boat rides into Penobscot Bay, antique car rides and great seafood!
If you are an art lover, check museums with accessible exhibits. For instance, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has tactile representations of the art along with audio recordings that include family stories by Warhol’s’ nephew. Many art museums will have docents knowledgeable in art history who not only describe the artwork, but provide the historical context about the piece and artist.
You can connect with nature by visiting a botanic garden where plants can be touched, smelled and tasted. For example, The Mass Audubon just opened an All Persons Trail in the Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Dartmouth, MA. The half-mile trail offers 13 multi-sensory stops including a sensory garden, tactile trailside displays and an interpretative tour in audio. Here you can reach into an owl box and explore a replica of a nesting screech owl and eggs.
If you’re thinking about cruising, this post from American Foundation of the Blind’s AccessWorld, is definitely worth a read. Bill Kociaba, an experienced cruiser with vision loss, recommends choosing a cruise line focusing on what you want from your trip. He tells us cruise lines are geared to different types of travelers — partiers, families or seniors, and recommends choosing appropriately.
The ship’s staff are there to provide assistance and make your cruise as comfortable as possible. You can request an orientation to the ship to get your bearings so you can travel independently, if desired. There is also the benefit of being in one space with lots to do without having to leave the ship. Experience the Ultimate Sea Coaster, the first roller coaster at sea, on a Carnival Cruise or treat yourself to a relaxing trip to the spa if you are staying onboard the ship. You can expand your horizons by taking one of the on-shore excursions. You’ll want to have sighted assistance, preferably, someone who is good at describing the sights to you.
What about a deep sea fishing charter on the ocean? Lots of excitement when you’re pulling in your catch! Don’t forget the salty smell of the ocean, the wind in your face and feeling the warm sunshine on your back. Specialized adventure tour companies plan vacations for people with disabilities offering lots of outdoor activities including rafting on the Colorado River, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing and much more. DisabledTravelers.com can help you find a tour catering to your needs while ensuring your trip is exciting and fun.
If winter is your favorite time of year, try a trip with blind skiing organizations. Ski for Light and American Blind Skiing Foundation offer trips where volunteer guides help you traverse the slopes. Whether downhill or cross country, your guide provides navigation information and a description of the scenery around you. Meeting new people and making new friendships with others who have vision loss provides another dimension to a vacation.
Before you take your plane, train or automobile, do your research. Checking the venues you want to visit for the accessibility services they offer, gives you an idea of how truly accessible and inclusive place they are to visit. Many places offer audio descriptions, braille maps and signage. For example, national parks or Disney World offer these accommodations, but sometimes not every park or exhibit have these types of accommodations available. A phone call to your planned destination may provide more insight and a better sense of how seriously they take the needs of a visually impaired visitor.
One resource to check out is Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Travel Talk discussion group. This virtual group meets the first Wednesday of the month. You can pick up tips, get good ideas of fun destinations and receive advice from experienced visually impaired travelers. Their last group discussion was all about health and wellness retreats and finding those escape getaways to “hit your reset button.”
Don’t be reluctant to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you plan and keep an open mind, you’re sure to have a vacation you’ll remember for a long time.
Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense.
Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense.