My first solo holiday traveling internationally in a tour group
So I just came back from my very first solo international holiday where I knew nobody. I went with a company called TravelEyes to San Francisco and Yosemite
national park for 12 days. Considering I feared I would never be able to travel on my own as an adult without the agreement or company of my family or
friends: I can’t put in words just how much of a big deal this was to me. I have literally never felt so free and liberated, just in the knowledge that
I can do what other 28 year olds do and have my dignity and safety intact while doing it. Travel eyes are a company out of England that provides holidays
for sighted and non-sighted travelers in a tour group setting. On my trip there were 6 blind or low vision travelers and 7 sighted travelers. Nobody
but the tour guide is a professional, there are no carers or anything like that just people eager to travel and eager to help one another out and look
out for each other and the group.
Before the holiday
Before the holiday I got sent a travel holiday pack of everything we would be doing, where we are staying, the facilities in all of the places we stay
and a list of names of your fellow travelers. The tour guide also got in touch to introduce themselves and give you a rundown of what is happening in
terms of the group meeting with each other and to just check how you are feeling about it all and go over any concerns.
I had booked my flight with Quanta’s and asked for “meet and assist” which lets the airline know you need some assistance getting through the important
parts of the airport like customs and security. It also ensures that on the flight itself and on the other end in your destination airport that the staff
are aware and can help you out and get where you need to go.
To the hotel
In my case I hadn’t realized that San Francisco had two airports in the area and I flew into one while the main body of the group flew into the other 9
hours later. Usually the tour guide will try and meet you at the airport if you are flying in on your own to make the thing as simple as possible. In my
case that wasn’t possible so I shared an uber with a friendly local who over heard me talking about how I was going to get to the hotel. SO it all worked
When I got to the first hotel I got set up in a room that I was sharing with another traveler on the tour. You can choose to have your own room or share.
Sharing being a cheaper option. You also get orientated if you so choose to each room you are in so you know where all the essentials are. On my trip all
of the hotel rooms for the entire tour generally ended up being close to each other so you are never too far away from people you know. It might be the
same floor, or corridor etc.
Every sighted and non-sighted traveler gets paired with a breakfast buddy for the entirety of the holiday. You arrange each day when to you meet your
breakfast partner and what time you want to go etc. and just work it out between yourselves what works for both of you. Breakfast was included in the tour
on every day in my case on my trip.
During the days
During the day you have a day partner that rotates each day. So every blind traveler will be paired with a sighted traveler for the day’s excursions
with the larger group. This works really well. For me I just need an elbow and the cane does the rest, apart from that it was a great way to get to know
someone else. The rotation happens every day to ensure everyone gets the chance to mingle with each other and that any personality clashes don’t happen
or cause an issue.
I found that many of the places we went to had some kind of accessible information for someone who couldn’t see that well. In the case of Alcatraz and
Yosemite national park there were detailed tactile models you could feel to give you an idea of what you are not seeing which I had never come across
before. In the case of Alcatraz prison there was an audio guided tour which every visitor partakes in. you just press play when told and you are told stories
and instructed through a journey of the complex as you walk around.
Generally the group tries to eat together and the tour guide will find a new place every night and book us all in. if you feel like going somewhere else
you are free to do so or in my case I just chilled in my room and missed dinner a night or two so it’s flexible.
There was a certain amount of free time on my trip where you can decide to go somewhere else with your day partner or just do your own thing in your room.
There is also the option that if your day partner wants to do something that you don’t want to that you can swap partners to make sure everyone gets to
do what they feel like doing and nobody misses out, sighted or non-sighted.
Local tour guides
I found that the 2 tour guides we had that were locals were great at explaining things in a way the blind and low vision travelers could understand. One
of them in particular drove us around the national park for5 days on his bus, bringing us to all the sites, informing us of their history and generally
being a top guy that was great to hang out with. In my case he ended up helping me out later in a big way.
The tour guide from TravelEyes made sure that all of us had what we needed in terms of getting home and to the airport. In my case because I was flying
out of another airport I didn’t go to the airport with the main tour group. Nicely for me, our local guide who we had spent 5 days with offered to bring
me to my airport and make sure I got to where I needed to go which was really great of him and calmed my nerves big time. I will know next time however
to try and synchronize my plans a little better with the main body of the group.
After the holiday
After I got back home I received an email from the company welcoming me back and a list of email addresses of those in the group who wished to stay in
touch. I also received a feedback form to comment on how the holiday went in every aspect so the company could take that into account for further trips.
The best thing I have ever done.