Post date: 
Tuesday, 14 August 2018
Sassy

Sassy Wyatt talks about her experience of travelling abroad for the first time and offers advice to other jetsetters with sight loss.

At the end of May I went to Rotterdam for a conference, this was my first solo trip ever and the first time my guide dog and I boarded a flight together. I lost my sight fully back in 2013, and although I’ve won many personal battles, I never thought travelling solo would be something I would do. If you are planning your first solo adventure either abroad or in the UK, I have some tips that will help.
 

Be prepared

Print everything off including flights, transfers, hotel and insurance details. Keep this along with your passport, cards, and spare cash in a travel wallet. Always keep this on you, especially if you are not taking hand luggage. Your suitcase could get lost and keeping those documents on you is imperative.
 
Have a folder on your phone containing your flights, itinerary, hotel, insurance and emergency contacts. Make sure these are accessible to you offline in case you have no signal or high data charges. Send these to a trusted person for reassurance. Some UK mobile service providers are under a EU tariff, meaning that if you travel anywhere within the EU your normal phone data allowances are the same as if you were in the UK using your phone for calls or data.
 
Research your destination. For example, find out what airport you are flying into, if it is a large or small airport, how your accommodation is from the airport and what the estimated amount is for transfers/public transport.
 

Book special assistance

If you haven’t declared that you require passenger assistance when booking your tickets, call the airline or airport you are flying with and inform them of your needs. Special assistance is usually situated near the front of the airport terminal. If you do not feel comfortable navigating your own way to the desk, you can ask for a member of staff to meet you outside the departures terminal. You can even request that a special assistance staff member meets you from the bus or taxi rank, as long as you give them the company name and the time you will be arriving. Special assistance will take you to your check-in desk, help you carry/ check in any luggage and guide you to a seating area where you will wait for another member of the airport staff to take you through security and to your gate. Most airports have a special assistance desk and the member of staff will take you there instead of your departure gate. If you travel with an airline such as British Airways, you can ask for an airport escort. This is a member of staff that will guide and assist you around the airport so you do not have to stay in the special assistance area/lounge.
 

Get a lounge card

Depending on the airport you are travelling from, you can buy a lounge card which allows you to sit in a separate lounge away from the hustle and bustle of the main airport floor. They have their own staff who can support you if necessary to pick you up and take you to your boarding gate. The lounge gives you access to complimentary food and drink, Wi-Fi and cosy seating. It is a much nicer way to enjoy your waiting time before boarding and the atmosphere has a very friendly and relaxed vibe.
 

On the plane

Staff will collect you and guide you to the plane. Sometimes you will not be the only passenger on your flight who requires assistance. If this is the case, you are likely to have a vehicle transfer you to the plane (a minibus or lorry lift will drive you up to the plane and you will either exit the vehicle to get on a scissor lift, taking you to the plane door or the lorry lift will drive directly to the side of the plane and raise you to the plane door’s entrance. Once aboard, you will get a one-on-one safety briefing from the cabin crew who will show you what your life jacket will look like, where to locate it, where your oxygen mask is and where the nearest exit to you is situated.
 

Arriving at your destination

Disabled passengers are the first to board and the last to depart the aircraft. A member of staff will come aboard and collect you, and take you to arrivals and baggage claim (if you checked in a suitcase). They will guide you to the terminal exit and take you to the airport taxi rank, unless you have made prior transport arrangements. Lots of European countries, such as Rotterdam, will drive on the other side of the road, so be prepared to get in and out on different sides of the vehicle. Taxis take card as well as cash (yes, credit and debit). Uber is an app that is fully accessible with VoiceOver, so booking a ride through Uber means you do not need to carry cash. Uber will use your GPS to locate you and you will need to know the address of your accommodation to book. The driver’s name and contact details will be on the app, allowing you access to call them if you cannot find them.
 

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance

There are so many great apps out there to help you navigate your way around a new area, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. For example, when you’re checking into reception ask them to show you to your room. People are extremely friendly and willbe happy to offer help or service, I encountered so many wonderful people when I was in Rotterdam and everything I mentioned above I had support with, just by asking.
 

Things to do

If your itinerary isn’t already jam-packed with fun and interesting things to do on your solo adventure, I would highly suggest contacting the tourist board and seeing what is on in the town/city. Walking tours, museums and food/drink tastings are great excursions because they are usually small interactive experiences that give you a full overview of your surroundings, even if you cannot see them. All excursions such as these are budget friendly, slow paced and rich with history and culture.
 

Further information