SayWhatClub

SOLO TRAVEL: Getting Started

By Michele Linder

Training myself to be a better solo traveler — who happens to have a profound hearing loss — has been among the most valuable teachers in life. It has taught me how to cope with and embrace my deafness, and how to fit into a world I can’t hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with others, but some things you can only learn and experience by going solo. Traveling alone leaves you more open to unique discoveries and adventures, and there’s nothing that will make you feel more empowered.

Many would never consider traveling without a companion, even those who are fully-abled. We each are free to set our own limits — I’ve always supported each to their own — but for me, I am not willing to let anything take away my independence, or place limits on where I can go, and when. I want to control my own plans, not wait until someone can accompany me.

So, that is the first question you need to ask yourself: “Do I want my travel to be dependent on others?”

If your answer is “No,” then the next step is to take control and teach yourself to be a good solo traveler. That doesn’t mean you book a long and involved trip that includes flying to some far away land. It’s best to start in your own backyard.

The biggest deterrent, as with anything you undertake, is to fixate on what could go wrong. Shifting your focus on the goal — your destination — is essential. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to reach your destination.

PART I: WHAT SOLO travel CAN TEACH YOU

SELF-RELIANCE:  When there is no one else to depend on, you learn to depend on yourself. It’s up to you, and you alone, to make your trip a success. And by “success”, I don’t mean that everything went according to plan and was easy. You’ll learn the best lessons when things don’t go well, or when your trip takes an unexpected turn.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION:  When you travel alone there is no one else to hear or listen for you. It’s all on you, and it forces you to communicate effectively to get the information you need. You can’t fake anything when successfully reaching your destination depends on making yourself understood and getting specific information.

ADVOCACY:  Solo travel shines a big old spotlight on how we perceive ourself and our disability. If you want to learn how to shed diffidence, or that feeling of needing to apologize for the extra effort required to communicate with you, traveling alone is the cure. There is no better way to learn how to effectively ask for what you need.

PROBLEM SOLVING:  If I had to choose one point as the most important, problem solving would be my number one. Travel presents such a huge opportunity for the unknown — delays, cancellations, missed stops, etc. — and is so well suited to best laid plans going up in smoke. You’re forced to think on your feet and to figure out an alternative. 

CONFIDENCE:  Traveling solo takes you out of your comfort zone, and when you succeed at something that scares you, you can’t help but become more confident and capable.

PART II: FIVE SIMPLE RULES

These rules will become your commandments.

  1. DEFINE SUCCESS SIMPLY:  Reaching your destination safely.
    Bonus: If you focus on that one thing, all that happened on the way there becomes inconsequential.
  2. PANIC IS THE ENEMY Let go of irrational fear; it never improves a situation.
  3. ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED CONFIDENTLY:  Let go of the notion that asking for what you need is bothersome or equates to a favor. No one is doing you any favor by accommodating your difference.
    Bonus: You’re teaching them to interact with someone who is different; a win for all.
  4. LEAVE AS LITTLE TO CHANCE AS POSSIBLE: Do your homework, prepare, learn as much as you can about your route, mode of transportation, and destination. Think about what can go wrong beforehand, and plan for it.
  5. REMAIN POSITIVE If you can’t control it, exercise flexibility and tolerance.
    Bonus: That missed flight or delay is an opportunity to catch up on your reading, work on writing your next blog article, or chatting with someone in person or online.

PART III: TAKING THE PLUNGE

START SMALL:  Take a bus, trolley, light rail, or train in a city close to you.
POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND:  Choose a day and time when you’re in a good mood and feeling more confident.
BE PREPARED Familiarize yourself with routes and maps. Look online for this information or grab a bus or subway schedule the next time you’re in town.
BUY AN UNLIMITED OR DAY PASS OR TICKET Give yourself a cushion. A flexible ticket means a missed stop or wrong turn won’t be as big of a deal.

Once you’ve mastered a small trip, keep pushing yourself toward bigger and longer solo trips. Each success — arriving at your destination safely — builds your confidence, and before you know it you’ll be purchasing a Eurail pass and traveling Europe alone!

You might think learning to travel alone, while deaf, is something you’re doing for yourself. It is, but it also demonstrates to the world how capable people with disabilities are. When you do that, you’re making things better for all of us.

Learning a Foreign Language with Hearing Loss: A chi vuole, non mancano modi

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By Kimberly

     I walked into a pharmacy in La Spezia, Italy with torn khakis and a bloody knee, asking for help in my limited Italian vocabulary. The pharmacist smiled and proceeded to explain in slow, clear Italian the antibacterial wipes and creams that she had on hand, showing me the back of the boxes so that I could read the ingredients for myself. She used a hand gesture to indicate where I could pay, and turned the cash register screen toward me to make sure that I understood how much I owed. She did all of these things for me because she knew that I wasn’t fluent in Italian, but ironically, they are the very things that would help me in English as well because I have significant hearing loss.

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La Spezia, just before I fell!

     When I decided to teach a two-month study abroad course in Italy, I was expecting to feel the effects of my hearing loss more keenly. Any time that I’d spent in a foreign language class or watching a foreign movie had taught me that guessing what I’ve just heard (something that I have to do every day) is so much harder when I’m not hearing English. Most of the time, my brain automatically fills in words, and much like the autocompletion function on my cell phone, it’s usually a big help but sometimes hilariously wrong.

In a less familiar language, I have virtually no autocomplete helping me, and I’m forced to guess far more words—some of which I may know and some of which I may not. I expected to feel especially lost in Italy, but I decided to grin and bear it for the sake of a new and exciting experience (and the food)! What I didn’t count on was that living and working with people who speak Italian isn’t the same thing as trying to watch an Italian movie without captions. People in conversations, especially kind people (which many Italians are), will try to work with you so that you understand. And unlike my hearing loss, which people frequently forget about, my status as a foreigner in need of help was something that people in Italy almost never forgot. Unexpectedly, being an outsider helped me cope with being hard of hearing.

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The hiker’s view of Corniglia in Cinque Terre

     I had likewise overestimated the degree to which my hearing loss would make my time taking Italian classes more challenging. I had decided to take the accelerated Italian class with some of my students but harbored some doubts in the beginning about my abilities to keep up. However, being honest with my instructor about my hearing loss from the beginning helped us determine some easy strategies to help me follow along.

Whenever a new word was introduced, or even whenever I was having trouble with a sentence, she would write it on the board. As an instructor myself, I knew that all of the students were actually benefiting from this extra step put into place for me. I often find that that’s the case with accommodations for students. Because they reinforce an audio or visual component of the lesson, they typically aid learning for everyone else.

I still ran into frustrating moments in class. When my instructor asked me questions and I misheard what she had said, I felt the same sort of panicked feeling that I used to get when I was younger and not yet as accustomed to my hearing loss. I didn’t know where to begin—how to explain what I hadn’t understood, and I found myself frustrated that everything had to be just a little harder for me than it was for everyone else.

 

For some reason, being put on the spot and not hearing in a foreign language brought all of that back to me in a way that I can’t really explain. Still, I’d remember myself and remember that I’ve had so many of those moments in life, so I know how to deal with them. A couple of times, I’d see a student of mine struggling to keep up in an Italian class or conversation, nearly in tears, and I could say, “I know how you feel. It’s frustrating. Give yourself permission not to understand everything! Know when to try and when to take a break.”

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The view of Florence from Boboli Gardens.

     I’m not going to pretend like it was always easy. I ran into some real challenges. I had practiced explaining my hearing loss to people before I left. “Sono dura d’orecchi” means, “I’m hard of hearing,” but the first time that I tried to say it, the person who I was talking to snickered and told me, “Don’t say that. Say ‘Ho problemi di udito,’ which means, ‘I have problems hearing.’”

When I prodded as to why, I found out that “dura d’orecchi” was the clinical term for being hard of hearing but was also slang for “stupid.” That’s pretty much the most obvious example of audism in action that I can think of. “Audism,” for anyone who doesn’t know, is the belief that people who hear are better or smarter than people who don’t hear or have some hearing loss. It doesn’t take much of a leap to figure out how the word for “hard of hearing” came to mean “stupid,” just like Americans will sometimes use “retarded” that way.

Trying to figure out what I was going to call myself made me confront all of those foolish assumptions about hearing loss that used to make me ashamed, especially when I was a kid. I was actually afraid to let most people in Italy know that I had hearing loss, just because you never know how someone is going to react, and I wasn’t sure what their cultural attitudes were toward it. The more comfortable I got, though, the more I realized that people would understand. As long as you approach people with specific requests, like, “I don’t hear well. Can I stand near you while you give the tour?” they will help and be nice about it. Just like in the States, learning concise ways to explain what you need goes a long way.

     Learning how to ask for what I wanted was always a challenge. I’d ask an Italian coworker, “What’s the word for ______ in Italian?” and the answer would, of course, be incomprehensible to me! I learned to carry paper with me and ask, “Can you write that down?” Likewise, when I’d ask a waiter to repeat something, or when my husband would repeat it for me, the waiter would almost always switch to English, which was frustrating, since I wanted to learn the language. Simply explaining that I was hard of hearing first usually really helped, and when it didn’t, I just went with the flow. You can’t win every battle.

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The downtown nightlife in Genova.

     I had learned to let myself lose now and then when brushing up my language on Duolingo—a free language app that “gamifies” the study of foreign language. Rather than turn off the listening option, which would give me no practice listening, I simply tried listening and failed repeatedly! Yes, my scores suffered, and yes, it took me far longer than my husband to work my way through the lessons, but I was trying. I have to give myself permission to be pretty bad at languages! Even if other people never understand why it’s harder for me, I understand, and I cut myself a break.

When I was taking the formal Italian class, I asked for transcripts of oral exercises. One of my classmates, of course, griped that I “had it easier” on exams because of this accommodation—completely oblivious to the extra challenges that make this one “advantage” so necessary. Again, I could brush it off. When you’re hard of hearing, you have to either give yourself permission to fall behind or give yourself permission to ask for help, knowing that there will be frustrating consequences either way and that it’s important to pick your battles.

     I think that humility is a skill that anyone has to hone while learning a new language. Because of my hearing loss, I’m used to not knowing what’s being said. A lot of people aren’t! So maybe my abilities to learn a new language aren’t going to be as sharp as a hearing person’s, but my attitude can still give me the edge. I’m a different learner, not a worse one.

Learning a new language, especially through an immersion experience, is disorienting and tiring. For those of us who have the extra challenge of hearing loss, it can sometimes feel impossible. Yet, we have our own superpowers—our ways of dealing with confusion and exhaustion that we have honed over the years. Living in Italy reminded me that I’m far from helpless, and that there are always a few people out there willing to make the extra effort to communicate when it really counts.

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Traveling, Accents & Hearing Loss

by Chelle Wyatt

My husband and I took a belated honeymoon/anniversary trip to Costa Rica a few weeks ago.  I decided to go minimal knowing we’d be moving to a different part of the country every few days.  I left my usual purse at home, using a super small, flat purse to carry only a few essentials.  Knowing it was going to rain every day and be super humid, I decided to leave my hearing aids at home.

I know some of you out there are gasping at the thought of leaving hearing aids behind.  Hearing aids are just too expensive to lose and I didn’t want to chance it.  I’m fairly comfortable not wearing hearing aids here at home but I’ll admit, I was a little worried about how I’d hear English with accents there.  Lucky for me I was going with a hearing person. Still I didn’t want to lean on him too much, I was sure I’d find ways to communicate as needed.

Our first driver spoke very little English.  I was super tired after flying all night in a tin can, packed tightly together.  Airline seats don’t go back far enough to sleep without pecking corn (my heading falling forward over and over again as I tried to sleep).  When I’m that tired, I can’t hear at home either so I only knew our driver was talking but understood very little of what he said.  Ken said he couldn’t really understand him either.  I fell asleep in the van which was more comfortable than the plane believe it or not.  We stopped for a picture at one point and when I had a hard time understanding him, he resorted to gesturing.  Perfect!  Gesturing is universal.

We went to a restaurant and the menu was in both Spanish and English. I thought I’d try the Spanish words since I was in their country.  “I’ll get the hamburguesa atun.”  He looked down at me and said, “You want the tuna sandwich.”  I almost laughed out loud.  I think he meant “Don’t massacre my language.”  I didn’t try ordering in Spanish again sticking to English.

We stayed in three different towns in different parts of the country.  We stayed in Manuel Antonio the first few nights which mostly resting up from our plane ride over.  Then went to la Fortuna the next couple of nights where three activities were planned; the hot springs at Tabacon, a trip to the Arenal volcano and the Fortuna waterfall.  We had an English-speaking guide for the volcano and waterfall, he was very good about facing me.  He was a biology student so he and Ken got along well, he even convinced Ken to eat a few termites…no I didn’t even try.  Ken said it was ‘woodsy flavored.’

Over the course of the trip I realized the same rules apply abroad as they do in the states.

  1. If having a hard time, I told them I couldn’t hear well.
  2. I told them I use lipreading.
  3. If I could relax, I could hear/lipread them, especially after spending more time with them.

My favorite hard of hearing moment  of the trip was while we were Tamarindo and went out on a catamaran for snorkeling.  I’m not one to jump in the ocean so I stayed on the boat while the others splashed around.  I was happy with mojitos, the view, the sun at least and getting to know some of the crew who were super accommodating. I was sitting at the back of the boat relaxing and one of crew members sat down next to me.  He said, “I know you don’t hear well and that you are learning my lips…”

And I thought perfect, yes!  I’m always learning people’s lips.  I’m learning their lips, the words they use, their facial expressions and their accents.  I was certainly learning his lips.  To continue…

“…and you’re learning my lips but I don’t know how you understand me so well.”

Well… I grew up near the Mexican border in California so maybe Spanish accents are a little easier than I thought they would be?  That’s what I told him but after more thinking maybe it’s a combination of things.  Maybe I spent enough time with him?  Or was it that he made sure he faced me?  Maybe some people are easier to lip read accent or no accent no matter what.

I had a grand time and I would not hesitate traveling in other countries.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Travel forth my hearing loss friends!

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My friend on the boat.
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Me
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Melwin at the pool who I could also undestand fairly well.
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My husband, Ken, and the volcano guide who spoke very good English.