one who is perceived to be a “super” blind traveler, I think it is only honest
to tell the not-so-glamorous side of the story. After two back-to-back long
trips I was thinking about the details involved in taking a trip, just how
complicated the whole process is from booking transportation and hotels through
arriving back home days later. Since I travel over 100,000 miles a year just on
United Airlines, I tend to think of trips in terms of a conference, city or
country but not the copious details that make up the trip. It is very rewarding
to travel the world as a blind person but I would be kidding myself and you if
I didn’t admit that it is a mixture of complexity, frustration and a splash of
Picture this last trip to Germany and Spain for example while
navigating without the ability to read signs or to see landmarks. I did have my
cane, lots of experience and my accessible GPS tools. I took a taxi
from home on Monday morning to the Davis, California Amtrak station, took
Amtrak to Richmond, switched to BART, got off BART at the San Francisco airport,
located and took the air-train to the correct terminal, located and went
through security, waited in the United Red Carpet Club for an hour, found my
way to gate 100, flew to Frankfurt Germany, 10.5 hours flying time, cleared
customs in Frankfurt, walked through the Frankfurt airport to the train station,
located the correct platform for the train to Stuttgart, traveled a couple
hours and was met by a guide to help me transition in 9 minutes to a connecting
train, monitored my GPS on the ride to Horb where I was met by my host and
finally ended up at their house on Tuesday some 18 hours in route.
Other than the one guide in Stuttgart, I made all these
transitions on my own with the help of the occasional passer-by. Truth be told,
I counted 9 people that I asked directions of just finding my way from the
airport gate to the Frankfurt train station.
After one night in Horb, I rewound the train trip to
Frankfurt, again with the assistance of a guide for the connecting trains. I
then took an Uber from the train station in Frankfurt to my hotel.
I took an Uber the next day to the Frankfurt Airport. I
found my way to security and my gate without assistance but not without a
hassle. One thing about airports in Europe, particularly Frankfurt, they are
big on official guides for the blind. You are supposed to tell the airline 48
hours ahead of time that you need assistance and if you get to the ticket
counter and have not done this, they admonish you. They then want you to wait
in a roped-off holding area for a guide to take you to the gate. They will hang
on to your passport if you don’t insist otherwise. The agent got very upset
when I declined their guide and headed for security and the gate on my own. The
tricky part is getting directions because of the language barrier. There is no
telling when wanting to ask for directions what language the person might speak.
It takes a lot of trial and error to get useful directions from the general
When I get to security, the officers there are flummoxed
that I don’t have a guide. They want to call for somebody. I just keep moving
politely refusing a special guide.
It is not that I just want to do it myself, I have learned
the hard way that one can sit in the holding area by the front ticket counter
until the very last minute, which makes me very nervous. I know of people who
have missed flights because of a mix up when a guide doesn’t show up. I’d
rather wait in the lounge or in a coffee shop and getting lost a few times is
better than anxiously waiting.
I actually waited until the prescribed meeting
time at the Lufthansa lounge for the guide. When they didn’t show up, I set out
for the gate on my own. For the flight to Madrid,
we took a bus from the gate 1.5 miles to the aircraft. The
guide caught up with me just as I was boarding the plane where I was handed off
to the flight attendants.
After a 2.5 hour flight, I was met in Madrid by a guide who
took me in a van from the aircraft stairs to an exit, completely bypassing customs.
He helped me find a taxi that took a credit card. So far, I had managed without
getting any cash Euros. I doubted there would be an accessible ATM.
in the taxi, I tried the Seeing Eye GPS
the first time in Spain and was even brave enough to switch my phone to Spanish
to see how the translation worked. Good thing I had it as there were two of the
same hotels and the driver was
confused about which one to take me to even though I handed him a written
in Madrid over the next two days was fairly uneventful. Most of my time was spent
at the conference, walking distance from my hotel. I took one taxi and Uber
twice. My wife, Gena, joined me in Madrid and we took the subway into mid-town
with the assistance of a sighted person we met at the TifloInnova conference, the lovely
next to and fro was flying to the Canary Islands from Madrid and back. We now
had Gena’s Seeing Eye dog. I
was pleasantly surprised that we had no problem with Uber, taxis or on the
flights with the dog. I had left my dog home for a couple of reasons.
Although I can get along in Spanish, all the navigation details,
are much harder when not in one’s native language like what is the name of this
business, what is on the menu and where is my bus stop? Dealing with our resort
and getting around Tenerife was a lot of work to put it mildly.
return trip home was much like the trip over, fly back to Madrid and then a
shuttle to a nearby airport hotel for a short night. The next morning, a
shuttle back to the Madrid airport, get our boarding passes at the ticket
counter, almost a problem with Yulie, make our way to the gate, fly to
Frankfurt, change to the United flight to San Francisco. My assistant Kayla met
us in San Francisco and drove us the 1.5 hours back to Davis. Gena’s dog Yulie
survived 18 hours in transit without any issues. I don’t know whether she or I
were more relieved to end the travel. I can’t help but ask myself, “Self”, was
it all worth it? Signing off so I can book my next trip. Ug!