Top tips for backpacking with sight loss

Post date: 
Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Alexa Huth has been an avid traveller for close to 20 years, recently returning from a three-month trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and America. Alexa never let her visual impairment hold her back from seeing the world. She shares her tips for backpacking so you don’t either.

As a visually impaired explorer, I’ve tried out many types of travel. Backpacking is one of the most challenging because you never know what each day will bring. I’ve learned a lot during my travels and especially during my month exploring Myanmar two years ago. I’d like to share some tips that I think might help the other visually impaired travellers (and soon-to-be adventurers) out there.

Be prepared

  • Once you know where you’re going, get travellers insurance. I have global expat insurance that works everywhere except for my home country. I didn’t have it while backpacking in Myanmar, but it would have made me feel a lot safer. Especially when I slipped into a rice paddy and got leeches during a hike! 
  • If you can, get a local SIM card or data plan, so, if you need a map or some local translations, you’ve got help at your fingertips. The Google Translate app even allows you to download some dictionaries so you don’t need the internet to find a translation.

Be OK to be scared

The prep for a visually impaired backpacking adventure is much scarier than the trip itself. Thoughts of getting lost, getting hurt, or being exhausted are normal. And honestly, some days will go down like that, but they will almost never be as bad as you expect. Here are a few things that can help:

  • Make sure you have taken precautionary measures. Get any eye medications and contacts, glasses, or prescription sunglasses ready. 
  • Take a decent eye mask, some hostels are bright and painful with neon signs lighting up the room throughout the night. 
  • Be aware of what your fears centre around and get some gear to help combat those potential issues. I often worry that I will get lost, so I use Google Maps to take screenshots of my hotel and what is nearby in case I need assistance. If I can get to a big landmark, I’ll usually be able to work my way back to where I’m staying. 
     

Once you start tackling these fears, you’ll start to realise the other issues that pop into your head become more insignificant or improbable.

Be patient

For me, my vision creates a lot of minor challenges that can crop up at any point. Some days I can’t stop seeing double, others I am extra light-sensitive, and occasionally severe headaches will creep up.

  • That’s why one of my biggest tips is to schedule ample downtime and do not bully yourself about it. I’ve heard so many people rant about wasted travel days, but for me they never feel wasted when I give myself time. 
  • Go to a cute coffee shop, wander a local grocery store just do something to relax occasionally. I always find I am more capable of enjoying the intense travel days if I’m rested.
     

Instead of taking it as a lost day, take in how awesome you feel when you tackle a challenge. If you run yourself ragged every day, that feeling of personal success might not be possible.

Be kind to yourself

Being frustrated by the current state of your vision, or “limitation rage” as I call it, is totally normal (it’s that feeling you get when you aren’t able to do the things you once could or things you think you should be able to do because other people can). I lost a chunk of my vision at 23 and ever since, my vision has been a moving target. Some days things are OK and others are pretty bad. 

  • When I’m backpacking or traveling, I can get really upset and long for the way things used to be. It happens, but it’s also important to acknowledge that you are having an adventure, so take that for what it is. 
  • Backpacking taught me that I need to struggle less if something isn’t working, and try another route instead.
  • Try not to look around at others or delve into your past. Keep in mind where you came from, but only to acknowledge how amazing you are in this moment.
     

If you keep fighting to be exactly who you were, you’ll never get to be who you are now. That’s hard to remember in the middle of a trip when there is a roadblock that only seems to be impacting you. 

Be flexible

A lot of people spend their travel time hunting down tourist attractions. While I love a good famous spot, I have come to enjoy travel that is personalised to my interests. As I wander around new cities, what I see has become less important. Instead, my travel is a lot more about how I feel on my trips. 

  • People may say that you “have to go see” certain places, but backpacking taught me to make travel my own. Don’t let other people tell you what they think you would like.
     

What you see or don’t see is much less important than how much fun you had or how enthusiastic you are about the adventure you are on in that moment.


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