SayWhatClub Online Voices April 2011

Traveling Around with a Hearing Loss

Jan Christensen
Copyright 2011

Almost eleven years ago my husband and I ran away from home in a recreational vehicle (RV), hoping to see the contiguous United States. We've missed five states, but have regretfully decided to stop traveling now for several reasons.

Before we began to travel in the first place, I bought the best hearing aids I could afford and learned how to use all the settings. I went back to the audiologist as many times as it took to be sure the molds fit and the aids were working as well as possible for me. I stocked up on batteries.

Traveling with a hearing loss is not much more different from staying home with one, especially if your partner is hearing and can make arrangements on the phone for the trips, check you into campgrounds, and so on.

The challenge comes when you're out and about meeting strangers over and over again. No one knows you have a hearing loss unless you tell them. And people who camp a lot are extremely friendly. They'll stop to talk at the slightest indication that you want to, or even if you don't want to. Usually they have something to say, so they start right in.

I've found that almost always when meeting someone for the first time, I have trouble understanding them in the beginning. Probably the first three or four sentences will go by so fast, I can't catch up. So I've learned to tell them right away I have a hearing loss. I think I shake my head when I do that. Then I ask them to repeat what they said to begin with. This slows them down--you can see the wheels turning. First they have to process that I'm having trouble hearing them, then they have to remember what they did say and repeat it. This is a good thing for me. I've finished noticing things about them that will help me remember them later and can begin to concentrate on what they're saying.

I figure there's no sense having another person think you're understanding what they say when you don't. Better to make it clear up-front that you might have difficulty, especially one-on-one. Most people who are standing close enough to me, with no background noise, are quite easy for me to talk to. But a car goes by, or an airplane overhead. They keep talking as if nothing was happening. Again, I shake my head, point to my ears, maybe say I can't hear because of the noise. Suddenly they realize there's sounds around us. They didn't even notice before. Or they turn away to look at something behind them, and I lose what they're saying. Again, I have to ask them to repeat, facing me. It's almost like training a pet. Once in a great while I meet a person who has someone in the family with a hearing loss. Usually he or she speaks clearly, facing me. What a wonder that is!

At least the acoustics in a motorhome are good. Not enough room for the sound to bounce around, and everyone sits fairly close together. I find I can usually hear well outside, too. Not sure why, but it's true. And as RVers, we are interacting with other people more outside than inside.

Groups are a different story. RVers love to have pot-lucks, barbeques, Italian nights, happy hours, shrimp and crawdad boils, ice cream socials, and whatever else they can think of. And the groups can be quite large. Again, I let everyone we're interacting with know I have a hearing loss. Sometimes we're with people I've already met but don't know very well. And they forget the hearing loss and begin chatting away. I admit sometimes I smile and nod. I try not to do that--I try to remind them about my hearing.

There are always some people I can understand very well, and others it's about impossible. There are different accents from all over the country, and even some foreign countries, especially Canada. Some I have no trouble with, others I have a lot of trouble with. One woman I've been interacting with a lot lately has an accent which I can usually decipher, but she drops her voice at the end of every sentence. I go along fine, understanding what she's saying, for the most part, until the end of most of her sentences. It's very frustrating, like listening to a joke where most people do that, too. And I can tell she's frustrated when I ask her to repeat so much.

Which is a reminder that those of us with a hearing loss are often frustrated when trying to communicate. But so are the people trying to talk to us when we don't understand them.

Traveling so much has been a huge adventure. And a great way to figure out how to meet strangers comfortably when you have a hearing loss. I highly recommend it.

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