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Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part Eight - International Travel Tips

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Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part Eight - International Travel Tips

By Rochelle Caviness - July 23, 2002

Foreign travel for blind and visually impaired individuals is no different from traveling to an unfamiliar location locally, other than you may be doing it in a different language. If you are adventurous, you can travel on your own, or with a companion or group. Whether you travel alone or with company, the number one thing to take along is patience. You'll also find that a sense of humor is most helpful. You may also want to invest in an electronic pocket-sized language translator. These neat little gizmos have a much too tiny keyboard (but with practice you can easily learn to use it) through which you type the word or phrase that you want translated. The translation will appear on a small screen, which you can than show to the person you want to communicate with. Many of these translators come with built-in voice synthesizers that will speak the word or phrase aloud for you. The variety, and price of these translators can vary greatly. Some only do two languages, i.e., English and French, while others can translate multiple languages. They can be purchased through many electronic stores or directly from the manufacturer. Try doing a search for electronic translators on the Internet, and you'll find a variety of suppliers.


Money can present a headache when traveling. Not only do you have to keep in mind the various exchange rates, but you also have to learn to identify the various forms of currency. Many currencies, especially in Europe have tactile or braille markings on the bills. As well, most have very colorful or distinct sized bills that can help with identification. When you exchange your money for the local currency, ask the teller to explain the various denominations, and then fold each denomination in a unique way, just as you would with your 'own' money.

Guide Dogs

Foreign travel with a guide dog can, at times, be a hassle. Not all countries allow guide dogs unlimited access to public areas, such as restaurants. As well, many countries have quarantine requirements that can be prohibitive when taking a short trip. Before taking your dog out of the country, be sure to research your intended destination. Ask questions such as, will the dog have to quarantined? What vaccinations must he have? What documentation is required regarding the dogs health and status as a service animal? Will the dog be allowed in local restaurant, hotels, and other likely destinations? The list is almost endless. However, your local guide dog school may be able to help you find answers to many of these questions.

Cane Travel

It is common practice for blind and visually impaired individuals, around the world, to use a cane. In the U.S. mobility canes are generally white or white with red stripes. The white cane is useful not only for mobility purposes, but also for letting others know that you have a visual impairment. However, the color and meaning of the cane can vary from country to country. Consequently, in some place your white cane may be viewed as nothing more than a walking stick, and not as a sign that you are visually impaired. So, if you accidently bump into someone, just smile and apologize, even it if wasn't your fault. It's much easier than getting upset!

Passports and Visas

Depending on where you live, and where you are going, you may need a passport. For example, if you are a citizen of a EU (European Union) country and are traveling to another EU member country you no longer need a passport. However, if you are traveling from the United States to Europe (or vice versa) you will need a passport.

If you don't already have a passport, get one now, even if your foreign travel plans are still vague day dreams!

Getting a passport is normally a fairly straightforward affair, but it can fall victim to a number of roadblocks ranging from difficulties in getting a copy of your birth certificate to bureaucratic mishaps. The further in advance of your trip that you apply for the passport, the more likely that you'll get it in time for your trip. If you need a passport to enter the country you are planning to visit, and you arrive without one, odds are that you'll be deported immediately, that is, if you even get to your intended destination. If you will be flying, you will need to present your passport at the airport check-in counter. Without it, you'll not be allowed to board the plane.

Besides needing a passport, many countries require that you obtain a visa to enter their country. Sometimes, the visas are issued as you go through customs. In other instances you will need to apply, and receive, the visa before you get to your destination. Visa, and passport, requirements vary from country to country. These requirements can also vary depending upon which country you are traveling from, and which one issued you your passport.

Your travel agent can help you to determine what documentation you must have for the country or countries that you will be visiting. However, in the end, it is your responsibility to ensure that you have all the required visas, travel permits, vaccinations, et al that you will need. Therefore, it is wise that you take the initiative to check with the embassy or consulate of the country or countries that you plan to visit. These offices can usually be found near most national capitals and major cities. Most countries also have a website that will offer information about the destination, entrance requirements, and contact information for contacting their embassy.

If you need to acquire a visa before leaving on your trip, it can often be applied for in person, or via the mail. If your travel plans change while you are on your trip, and you end up going to a country you had not planned on, be sure to contact their embassy or consulate in the country you currently find yourself, to see if you will need a visa.

Health Concerns

Before embarking on your trip, make sure that you have all the required vaccinations required for entry into the countries you will be traveling. This information can be found on the World Health Organization's International Travel and Health website. Here you will not only find information about vaccination requirements, but also general information about health risks around the world, and precautions you can take when traveling to protect yourself.

You should also speak with your physician to see if there are any additional vaccines you should also take. As many of these vaccines require a series of shots, taken over a period of time, be sure to check into these requirements well before you leave on your trip.

Health Insurance

When traveling out of country is another major concern. Check with your insurance provider to see if you are covered when out of country, and if they will pay to fly you home if you become ill during your trip. If such emergencies are not covered, you may be able to buy a supplemental or overseas medical (travel) insurance.


When traveling, also be sure to bring a sufficient supply of any medications that you will need. You will need to carry these medicines in their original bottles with the pharmacy label attached. You may also want to carry a letter from your doctor listing what each medicine is for, and why it was prescribed. This can be helpful if a custom agent doesn't believe that the drug in question is for your personal medical use. It may also prove useful to get this information translated into the primary language of the country or countries, you will be traveling in. As well, carry the name, telephone number, and address of all your doctors with you. If you lose your medicines, you will most likely have to go to the expense of seeing a local doctor to get a new prescription, but a phone call to your regular doctor may be helpful in speeding the process along.

If you have any major medical problems, allergies, or other problem that medical personnel should be aware of, try to get a card made that states, in the language of the country you will be in, what your problem is. These can be as simple as a card that will fit into your wallet that says something like, "Medical Warning, I'm allergic to Penicillin!"

Is it Safe to Go There?

Travel, whether it is to your local bakery or overseas, always has some associated risk. You will need to determine for yourself if the various risks involved are worth the taking. To make this task a little easier, at least when it comes of foreign travel, any countries have posted, online, warning lists of countries that should be avoided. For example, the U.S. State Department has a wealth of information posted on their website, ranging from a Travel Warnings list to Consular Information Sheets that lists the entry requirements for each country, as well as general information about the country and any related travel warnings.

Be sure to check out the U.S. State Department's fact sheet, A Safe Trip Abroad, which offers a variety of safety tips for individuals traveling out of country.

Best wishes for a fun and safe trip...

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