Independent Travel Tips: A Guide for Visually Impaired Explorers to See the World

2023-11-27 | By Justin Lubomirsky

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Best-In-Class Guide for Blind Travellers: Journey Without Limits

The prospect of solo travel fosters an unparalleled sense of independence, challenging individuals to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the adventures that lie ahead.

(The landscape of travel for those with visual impairments has been transformed by the emergence of innovative technologies. Devices like the OrCam Read 3 serve as companions on the journey, granting the ability to read aloud text from any surface, thus providing a new level of autonomy in unfamiliar territories. Coupled with the meticulous preparations that go into planning a trip—from choosing accessible destinations to ensuring the availability of assistive services—travel has become more inclusive than ever before. It's not just about the places one will see; it's about the experiences that await and the stories that will be told, which resonate with the spirit of independence that defines the visually impaired community.)

Planning Your Trip

Careful planning is the key to a successful and enjoyable trip, particularly for visually impaired travelers. This stage lays the groundwork for a smooth journey crafting an itinerary that aligns with their needs and aspirations.

Destination Research

Visually impaired adventurers should look for destinations with a reputation for accessibility, from tactile maps and audible signals at crosswalks to public services that cater to their needs. Resources like travel blogs, reviews from other visually impaired travelers, and organizations that specialize in accessible travel can provide invaluable insights.

Here are a few examples of travel destinations that are known for their accessibility features, catering to the needs of visually impaired individuals:

  1. London, United Kingdom:

    • Extensive tactile paving across the city for safe navigation.

    • Audible traffic signals at many pedestrian crossings.

    • The public transportation system, including buses and the Tube, offers audible announcements and good accessibility.

  2. Tokyo, Japan:

    • Widespread use of tactile paving, especially near subway stations and major pedestrian areas.

    • Public transportation with audible alerts and dedicated spaces for visually impaired travelers.

    • Braille and tactile maps available in major public areas and transport hubs.

  3. Melbourne, Australia:

    • Well-designed tactile paving and audible traffic signals throughout the city.

    • Trams and trains with audio descriptions and high-contrast signage for easier navigation.

    • Accessible beaches with tactile paths and dedicated beach wheelchairs.

  4. Vienna, Austria:

    • Audible traffic lights and extensive tactile paving, particularly in tourist areas.

    • Public transportation with voice announcements and tactile signage.

    • Museums and public attractions offering guided tours for visually impaired visitors.

  5. San Francisco, USA:

    • Crosswalks with audible signals and well-maintained tactile pathways.

    • Public transport systems like BART and Muni with audible station announcements.

    • Attractions like Alcatraz Island offer audio tours for visually impaired visitors.

  6. Barcelona, Spain:

    • City equipped with tactile pathways and audible traffic signals in major areas.

    • Metro and buses with voice announcements for stops.

    • Museums and cultural sites offering tactile and audio-guided tours.

  7. Stockholm, Sweden:

    • Extensive tactile ground indicators throughout the city.

    • Audible and vibratory feedback on pedestrian crossings.

    • Public transportation with clear audio announcements and accessible design.

  8. Berlin, Germany:

    • Tactile guidelines on subway platforms and pedestrian zones.

    • Public transport equipped with audible signals and announcements.

    • Numerous museums and attractions offering tactile models and audio guides.

These destinations demonstrate a commitment to accessibility, making them more enjoyable and navigable for visually impaired travelers.

Travel Insurance and Safety

Travel insurance is an essential safety net. For visually impaired travelers, it's not just about the usual coverage; it's also about ensuring that assistive devices and any specialized services are included. Researching and selecting a policy that covers potential medical needs and loss of equipment.

Booking and Itinerary Tips

A well-thought-out itinerary is a visually impaired traveler's roadmap to a fulfilling journey. It's important to book accommodations and activities that confirm accessibility features in advance. When planning your itinerary, consider leaving room for flexibility—unexpected changes can occur, and a bit of leeway can help you adapt without stress.

Tips for Locating Accessibility Symbols

When traveling internationally, visually impaired individuals or those with other disabilities can look out for various universal accessibility symbols that indicate facilities or services catering to their needs. Here are some key symbols to be aware of:

  1. Wheelchair Symbol (International Symbol of Access): The most recognized symbol for accessibility, depicting a white figure in a wheelchair on a blue background. It indicates wheelchair-accessible entrances, restrooms, seating areas, and other facilities.

  2. Ear Symbol with Diagonal Line (Assistive Listening Systems): Represents the availability of assistive listening devices, often used in theaters, museums, and conference centers.

  3. Eye Symbol (Low Vision Access): Indicates facilities or services designed for individuals with low vision, such as large print materials or information in Braille.

  4. Pictogram of a Person with a Cane (Blind Access): Signifies accommodations for the blind, such as Braille signage or tactile guides on floors and pathways.

  5. Three Diagonal Arrows (T-Coil Loop System): Found in venues with an induction loop system, which transmits audio directly to hearing aids.

  6. Phone with Sound Waves (TTY/TTD Access): Marks the availability of Text Telephone (TTY) or Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) services, important for those with hearing impairments.

  7. Pictogram of a Person Seated and an Ear (Reserved Seating for Persons with Hearing Disabilities): Indicates seating areas where the acoustics are optimized or where sign language interpreters are visible.

  8. Service Animal Symbol: Designates areas where service animals are permitted or where there might be facilities for service animals.

Being familiar with these symbols can greatly enhance the travel experience for individuals with disabilities, ensuring easier access to necessary services and accommodations.

Packing Essentials

When you're getting ready for a fantastic journey and you're visually impaired, think of your suitcase as a treasure chest filled with more than just your favorite outfits and essential toiletries. It's about packing those incredible tools and gadgets that transform your travel experience from good to great! These are not just items; they're your trusty companions on this exciting adventure.

Imagine having gadgets that whisper directions, turning every corner into a discovery, and devices that describe the beauty of new places, making you feel like you're truly a part of your surroundings. With these in your travel kit, you're not just moving from place to place; you're weaving through a tapestry of experiences, rich and vivid.

And it's not just about getting around; it's about savoring every moment. Whether it’s a device that reads out menus in a charming café or a handy gadget that tells you the history of a breathtaking landmark, these tools ensure you're never missing out on the joy of exploration. So, as you pack, remember you're not just preparing for a trip; you're gearing up for an unforgettable journey filled with stories waiting to be experienced and memories waiting to be made! Let's get excited about the amazing adventures ahead!

Must-Have Gadgets for Accessibility

In the digital age, a many gadgets have become invaluable for the visually impaired traveler. These range from portable electronic magnifiers to tactile watches and GPS devices that give audio directions.

Organizing Your Luggage

Good organization is helpful to create fun  travel. Visually impaired travelers can benefit from luggage organization techniques such as using distinctively textured labels for identification or packing cubes with tactile markers. Such strategies not only assist in differentiating belongings but also in maintaining order throughout the trip, making it easier to locate items when needed.

luggage packing cubes

Transportation Tips and Tricks

Navigating Airports

Airports are bustling hubs that can be challenging to navigate. However, many are equipped with services to assist visually impaired travelers. It is advisable to contact the airport ahead of time to arrange for assistance, such as guided escort through check-in and security. Familiarizing oneself with the airport layout and services via their website can also be beneficial.

Public Transit Systems

Many cities have made strides in making their transit systems more user-friendly for the visually impaired, with audio announcements and dedicated assistance services. The OrCam Read 3 emerges as a significant tool in enhancing the independence of visually impaired individuals, especially in navigating public transportation in cities known for their accessibility. This advanced device can be particularly helpful in reading bus plans, transit maps, and schedules, which are essential for seamless travel. Its capability to scan and audibly relay information from both printed and digital surfaces means users can easily access vital transit details such as bus numbers, routes, and timings. For instance, in a city like London, where transit routes can be complex, the OrCam Read 3 can assist in reading the extensive bus network plans, ensuring a visually impaired traveler can confidently find their way. 

Moreover, its compact, portable design and offline functionality make it an ideal travel companion, providing real-time assistance without the need for internet connectivity. Whether it's understanding intricate subway maps in Tokyo or navigating the bus system in New York City, the OrCam Read 3 offers a new level of autonomy for visually impaired travelers in urban environments.

Global Cities Leading in Transit Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

Several cities around the world have made commendable efforts in making their transit systems more accessible and user-friendly for visually impaired individuals. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. London, United Kingdom: London's public transportation system is known for its accessibility features. Audio announcements are standard on buses and the Tube, providing information about routes, stops, and any service changes. Additionally, the Transport for London (TfL) offers a "Turn Up and Go" service, where visually impaired travelers can get assistance without the need for pre-booking.

  2. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo's extensive public transport system includes tactile paving on platforms and station areas to guide visually impaired passengers. The trains and stations are equipped with audio announcements in multiple languages, detailing station names, directions, and transfer information.

  3. New York City, USA: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City has been working on improving accessibility across its transit network. Many subway stations have tactile and Braille signage, and the buses are equipped with audio announcements that provide route information and stop announcements.

  4. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Trains and NSW Buses incorporate audio announcements and electronic signs on board. Additionally, the city's Opal card system for accessing public transport is designed to be visually impaired-friendly, offering accessible features at ticket machines and gates.

  5. Toronto, Canada: Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) offers various accessibility features, including audio-visual announcements on its buses and trains. The TTC also provides a Support Person Assistance Card, allowing travelers who require assistance to bring along a support person at no extra cost.

When to Use Private Transportation Services

There are times when private transportation services may be more convenient or necessary. This could be due to a lack of accessible public transportation options or when traveling late at night. Services like taxis or ride-shares that are responsive to the needs of visually impaired passengers can provide a stress-free alternative to public transit.

Flying with OrCam Read 3: Enhancing Travel for Visually Impaired Passengers

Flying can present unique challenges for visually impaired travelers, but with the OrCam Read 3, these challenges can be significantly mitigated. This device enhances the flying experience in several ways, from booking specific meals to navigating the aircraft.

Booking Specific Foods: Before your flight, you may want to request special meals catering to dietary needs or preferences. The OrCam Read 3 can assist in reading online menus or printed brochures, enabling you to explore and choose your in-flight meal options comfortably.

Reading During the Flight: One of the joys of flying is the opportunity to catch up on reading. OrCam Read 3's offline functionality allows you to read books, magazines, or any printed material without needing an internet connection. This feature is particularly useful in an airplane setting where connectivity can be limited or costly.

Finding Your Seat: Locating your seat on an airplane can be challenging, especially in a crowded and unfamiliar environment. The OrCam Read 3 can help you read seat numbers and aisle signs, making it easier to find your way. Its compact design and ease of use mean you can discreetly scan and listen to the information you need without assistance.

Additional Assistance: In addition to these specific uses, the OrCam Read 3 can be a general aid throughout your journey. Whether it's reading departure information, understanding safety instructions, or scanning airport signs, this device can make your travel experience more independent and enjoyable.

In summary, the OrCam Read 3 not only enhances the flying experience for visually impaired travelers but also fosters a sense of independence and confidence in navigating the challenges of air travel.

Accommodation and Accessibility

Selecting the right accommodation is about more than just comfort—it's about finding a place that supports your needs From the booking process to navigating the hotel premises, ensuring that your accommodation is accessible is paramount to a hassle-free stay.

Finding the Right Hotel

Many hotels offer accessible rooms and amenities tailored to visually impaired guests. When booking, it's essential to inquire directly about these features and to confirm that they are available during your stay. Looking for hotels with positive reviews from other visually impaired travelers can also guide you to accommodations that have a proven track record of accessibility.

Visually Impaired Travel Bloggers

  1. Blind Travels: This blog is a resource for disabled travelers, particularly those who are visually impaired. The author, who is almost completely blind, reviews hotels, travel providers, and vacation destinations, focusing on how accessible they are for visually impaired individuals. The blog also covers the latest news on blind and VI technology Blind Travels Home​​.

  2. Sassy Wyatt (Blind Girl Adventures): Sassy Wyatt shares her travel experiences on her blog, focusing on accessible travel. She has written about accessible cruising, visiting the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, and exploring Universal Studios Orlando, offering insights from the perspective of a visually impaired traveler Blind Girl Adventures​​​​.

  3. Tony Giles: Tony is a blind and partially deaf traveler who has visited over 130 countries and all seven continents. He writes travel biographies detailing his adventures and experiences as a visually impaired person exploring the world. Tony's blog offers a fascinating perspective on independent travel with a disability Tony the Traveller.

These bloggers provide valuable insights and tips for visually impaired travelers, showcasing how travel is accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

Room Accessibility Features

Accessible hotel rooms should have features such as tactile indicators on room controls, adequate lighting, and clear pathways. It's important to discuss your specific needs with the hotel staff before arrival to ensure that your room is equipped with the necessary accessibility features.

In-Hotel Navigation Assistance

Getting around inside the hotel can be made easier with the help of navigation assistance, which may include tactile paths, Braille signage, and staff assistance. Some hotels also offer apps or devices that help visually impaired guests navigate the premises independently. The OrCam Read 3 is adept at reading door signs, offering a valuable tool for individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties. By simply pointing the device at a door sign, it captures the text and audibly conveys the information, facilitating easy and independent navigation in unfamiliar environments.

Sightseeing and Experiences

Exploring new places and immersing oneself in local experiences are some of the most rewarding aspects of travel. 

Accessible Tourist Attractions

Many tourist attractions now offer accommodations for visually impaired visitors, such as audio guides, tactile models, and guided tours. Researching attractions that provide these services can greatly enhance the sightseeing experience.

Leisure and Downtime

Travel isn't just about constant movement; it's also about taking the time to relax and enjoy the moment. Whether it's a peaceful afternoon in a sensory garden, a hands-on cooking class, or simply enjoying the ambiance of a local cafe, leisure time is a valuable part of the travel experience.

Discovering Accessible Eateries

Accessible eateries are those that accommodate visually impaired guests with features like braille menus, attentive service, and a layout free of obstacles. Researching restaurants that offer these accommodations ahead of time can lead to enjoyable dining experiences. Additionally, apps and devices that help interpret the surroundings can be invaluable for identifying eateries that meet these criteria.

Reading Menus

One of the most advanced and widely recommended tools for travelers is the OrCam Read 3, particularly praised for its ability to read menus effortlessly. This cutting-edge device stands out with its capability to scan and audibly relay the text from any menu, making it an indispensable asset for individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties. Whether it's a dimly lit restaurant or a café with small print menus, the OrCam Read 3 navigates these challenges with ease. 

Its offline functionality further enhances its utility, ensuring that travelers can access menu information anywhere, without the need for an internet connection. This feature is especially beneficial in remote or international locations where Wi-Fi availability can be unpredictable. The OrCam Read 3 not only promotes independence but also enriches the dining experience for visually impaired travelers, allowing them to explore a wider range of culinary choices with confidence.

Socializing While Traveling Solo

Traveling solo doesn't mean you have to be alone. Engaging in group activities, such as tours or workshops can be excellent ways to meet people. Also, joining online communities can help connect with fellow travelers before even arriving at the destination.

Handling Challenges While Abroad

Travel inevitably comes with its challenges, and being prepared to handle them can make all the difference. 

Communicating in Foreign Languages

When language barriers arise, technology can be a lifesaver. Devices and apps that translate spoken language in real time can help bridge communication gaps. Learning basic phrases in the local language, especially those related to assistance and accessibility, can also be incredibly helpful.

Helpful Apps

For travelers looking to navigate language barriers while abroad, several smartphone apps can be particularly useful. Here are some top choices:

  1. Google Translate: A widely used app, it offers text, voice, and scanned translation options in over 130 languages. Its standout feature is the ability to take photos of signs for instant translation, which is invaluable for understanding road signs, menus, and more. About half of the languages work offline, making it a great tool for areas with limited internet access​​​​.

  2. DeepL Translate: Known for its accuracy, DeepL Translate uses advanced AI technology to provide precise translations in 29 languages. It's especially useful for translating official documents or files. The free app has limited features, with more available in the pro version, which starts at $8.74+ per month​​.

  3. Microsoft Translator: This app supports translations in 70 languages and is versatile for personal, business, and educational use. One unique feature is its ability to translate live conversations across multiple devices and languages for up to 100 people, making it useful for group travels or business meetings. It also generates live captions for presentations and conversations, aiding those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The app is free and includes offline capabilities​​​​.

  4. iTranslate: Offering services in over 100 languages, iTranslate can translate dictation and switch between different dialects. It includes a dictionary, thesaurus, and verb conjugator. The iOS version also has a phrasebook with over 250 phrases. The pro version, which provides additional features like offline access, costs $5.99 per month on iOS and $2.99+ on Android​​.

  5. SayHi: Focused on simplicity, SayHi supports 100 languages and provides simultaneous translation for in-person conversations. It automatically recognizes and switches between languages, and can slow down audio playback to aid understanding. This app is entirely free without ads or premium features​​.

  6. Language Translator: This app covers over 100 languages and is ideal for travelers. It translates voice or text in real-time and can pair with messaging apps to translate texts. It includes a phrasebook and works offline, but it is free only for the first three days, then costs $9.99 a month​​.

  7. Speak & Translate: Similar to Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, it supports 117 languages for text and image translations. Unique features include an Apple Watch app with iCloud integration. The app is free but offers paid premium features​​.

  8. FluentU: Unlike traditional translation apps, FluentU is more focused on immersive language learning. It uses real-world videos like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks, and turns them into personalized language lessons. This approach allows you to hear languages in authentic contexts as they are used by native speakers. FluentU is suitable for various levels of language learners and covers ten languages including Mandarin Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Interactive captions in the videos provide definitions, audio, images, example sentences, and more, aiding in comprehensive language learning. Additionally, FluentU offers unique adaptive quizzes to reinforce vocabulary and phrases from the videos through engaging exercises. This app is accessible on multiple devices and offers a free trial for users to explore its features.

Each of these apps has distinct features that cater to different needs, making them valuable tools for overcoming language barriers while traveling.

Dealing with Lost Items

The loss of an item can be a significant hurdle Having a plan for such situations, like keeping electronic tags on important items or packing one day's worth of clothing and essentials in your hand luggage. 

An Indispensable Travel Ally

The OrCam Read 3 stands out as a vital companion for travelers, especially those with vision loss or reading fatigue. Its compact, portable design and offline functionality make it ideal for on-the-go use, ensuring access to written information anytime, anywhere.

Key Features for Travelers:

  • Portable and Lightweight: Easy to carry and use while traveling

  • Offline Operation: Works without internet connectivity, essential for areas with limited or no Wi-Fi access

  • Full Page Capture: Quickly scans and reads entire pages, useful for reading maps, menus, or information boards

  • Multilingual Support: Available in over 20 languages, accommodating global travel needs

  • Stationary Reader Mode: Offers hands-free reading at hotels or rest stops

  • Smart Reading: Efficiently finds and reads specific text, assisting in navigating through complex documents or instructions


Traveling with a visual impairment can be a deeply rewarding experience, offering unique perspectives and opportunities for personal growth. As assistive technologies continue to evolve, the world becomes increasingly accessible, promising even more possibilities for visually impaired explorers.

With each tactile travel resource and each piece of assistive travel gadgetry, the promise of handicap accessible travel becomes more a reality than a dream.

The solo blind traveler now has a multitude of accessible travel tips at their fingertips, from adaptive travel technologies that simplify navigating airports blind to mobile apps that enhance visually impaired travel safety. And let's not forget the significance of accessible hotel accommodations, which serve as the cornerstone of accessibility-focused itineraries.

This is more than just a guide; it's a passport to a world where visually impaired travel is not only possible but is embraced with enthusiasmSo pack your bags with anticipation, for the path ahead is laden with possibilitie With every step, every touch, every sound, and every scent, you are not just traveling—you are pioneering a new narrative for visually impaired travel, one epic adventure at a time.

Key Takeaway:

  • Visually impaired travelers can enjoy rich, independent travel experiences with proper preparation and the use of assistive technologies.

  • Tools like the OrCam Read 3 empower visually impaired individuals by providing real-time auditory information from text and surroundings.

  • Advance planning, including destination research, understanding transportation options, and securing travel insurance, is critical for a smooth journey.

  • Organized packing, with accessible gadgets and well-labeled luggage, can greatly enhance the comfort and efficiency of travel.

  • Accessible accommodations and attractions enhance the travel experience and ensure safety and enjoyment.

  • Engaging with local cultures and socializing can be facilitated through group activities and technology.

  • Preparation for potential challenges, such as lost items or the need for emergency services, ensures peace of mind.

  • Reflecting upon and sharing travel experiences after returning home can inspire others in the visually impaired community to explore the world.

The Lasting Impact of Travel on Personal Growth

The experiences gained from traveling can have a profound impact on personal development, fostering independence, resilience, and a deeper understanding of the world.