travel

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Podcast on Long-Distance Air Travel with a Guide Dog.

The image shows a man sitting on a park bench with a yellow Labrador beside him.

Hosting a podcast on accessible travel, I often have the opportunity to chat with interesting people about a wide range of topics. My last few podcasts have been no exception.

I recently interviewed Michael Hingson on the topic of long-distance air travel with a guide dog. Michael has had extensive experience on the topic, having travelled not only for work but also following his experience escaping from the World Trade Centre during the attack on 9 September 2001.

Together Michael and his guide dog Roselle walked down 78 floors of the World Trade Centre and navigated their way to safety. Michael tells the story of that day in his book “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero”

Michael and his guide dogs have subsequently travelled around the world sharing their story. So he was the perfect person to interview on the subject of air travel with a guide dog.

You can hear some of Michael’s experiences in the podcast – http://iono.fm/e/1103477

While you’re there, why not listen to a few more exciting travel stories. And subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. With 53 published episodes so far, there is plenty to enjoy!

Two Phenomenal Women I Interviewed in August

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With August being Women’s Month in South Africa, I decided to interview two women on my accessible travel podcast, A different Way of Travelling.

For those of you who don’t know about the podcast – where have you been? We now have 52 episodes featuring interviews with travellers with disabilities, or showcasing fun inclusive travel activities. Even if you don’t have a disability, or know anyone with a disability, I guarantee you will be fascinated by the adventures that my guests have undertaken.

Back to the point – my guests for August…

My first episode in August featured Praveena Sukhraj-Ely sharing wonderful stories of her travels and her insights into the realities of travelling as a woman who is blind. Like Praveena, I enjoy having someone with me to share the breathtaking and diverse experiences of travelling. I also found the challenges she mentioned very relatable.

To listen to Praveena’s interview, hop onto http://iono.fm/e/1080899

My second guest in August was Neha Arora, owner of Planet Abled, a travel agency focusing on inclusive travel experiences in India and the East. We spoke about her company and discussed her thoughts on the accessibility of tourist sites in India. During the episode I asked Neha what types of activities she would recommend for me if I were to contact Planet Abled. She outlined such amazing options that I found myself feeling excited about the possibility of travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Even though I’m not yet ready to consider travelling, it’s nice to be excited at the thought of doing so. That episode will be out any day now.

You can listen to Praveena and Neha’s interviews by searching for A Different Way of Travelling on your usual podcast player, or on our podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

While you’re there, why not take a quick tour through some of our other episodes to hear from previous guests…

Paws for Thought on Trains

the image shows a wet Fiji on the beach, with Lois kneeling beside her.

I don’t like trains.

I think train travel must be important, because I hear lots of trains whistling and screaming past my house from early morning to late at night.

Clearly lots of people travel on trains. Which means that some guide dogs must also go on them with their humans. But I don’t think I’d like to take Mom on a train unless I had no other choice.

I see trains often when Mom and I are walking on the road that is next to the trainline. To me, trains look like giant snake monsters that want to gobble me up. And they make a dreadful rumbling and moaning sound. They shake and shudder as they go from one place to another and their wheels scream and shriek as they go by. And their horrible unearthly whistles try to shatter my poor eardrums. Sometimes their doors whoosh open and sometimes they don’t, which is also intimidating. Is it any wonder trains make me a little nervous?

Admittedly I’ve only travelled by train once, back when I first met Mom and had to help teach her how to work with me. All of us guide dogs took our new humans to the train station and caught a train to Fish Hoek beach. While I loved having the chance to run, wrestle and play with my guide dog friends on the beach, while the trainers made sure our humans didn’t misbehave, I honestly would have preferred to travel there by car.

I know my guide dog sister-aunts Leila and Eccles used to take Mom to work on the train before I was her guide dog, so I know it must be possible for us to go on a train and not get gobbled up by the nasty snake monster-type thing. I’m sure I would probably also get used to it if I had no other choice. But I honestly think it would be far better to go by car or by Uber. Or simply to walk there, provided it’s not too far. But since Mom now works from home, it’s all hypothetical anyway.

So, while I know trains are good and are important to help humans and some guide dogs get to where they need to go, I’m just as happy that I don’t have to use them. Unless it’s the only way to travel to the beach. In which case I might be willing to consider taking Mom on a train again.

My Thoughts on Why You Might Want to Listen to My Accessible Travel Podcast

Alt text: The image shows a styalised image of the African continent that resembles a bare foot

I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.

I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.

In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.

Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.

  • To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
  • To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
  • To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
  • To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
  • how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ

I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.

If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

Or on your usual podcast player.

Go on, give it a try!

A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

Five Wonderful Years with Guide Dog Fiji

The image shows Guide Dog Fiji licking Lois on the nose

Who would have thought it? Fiji and I celebrate our fifth anniversary today! And what an amazing five years they’ve turned out to be – full of fun, adventure, learning, independence, sharing our story, and lots of wonderful companionship. Sure, there have been a few less than perfect moments, too. But so few and far between that they fade into insignificance.

Last year I shared a conversation between Fiji and myself in which we reflected on the four years we’d worked. And this past year has hardly been anything for either of us to brag about since we’ve not been able to add much to our adventures due to COVID-19. But, even with the little we are able to do right now, I am reminded of how much independence Fiji gives me and how much joy she provides.

Admittedly, there are a few things that have changed in the last year. For one thing, Fiji has turned into a vampire runner. By which I mean that she no longer joins Craig and Allie on their runs if they do so in the morning. Rather she waits for the sun to be well and truly down before being willing to head out and hit the road.

The guide dog trainer said she thinks Fiji is self-managing her running and that maybe she’s feeling the heat of a morning run more than she used to. So, rather than leaping up and demanding a run whenever she can, she is regulating both how often and how far she gets to run. I guess I have to acknowledge that Fiji is getting older – she is now 6.5 years old. But it’s still sad for me to see it in her behaviour… even if it’s only apparent in small ways like when she chooses to run.

Having said that, the vet told us last week that Fiji is in remarkable shape for a dog her age, and someone who encountered Fiji when she was walking with Craig the other day asked if they could buy one of her puppies. And she is still as playful and as loveable as ever – still leaps into the air to catch her crunchwater, chases her tennis ball, and plays rowdily with her doggy sisters.

More than that, Fiji’s discovered a new toy. A few months ago we found Eccles’s old squeaky toy. And when we squeaked it, Fiji came hurtling up from the other side of the house and leapt for it. And proceeded to squeak it and shake it with glorious abandon. Which is strange because she’s never shown any interest in it before

Every now and then we find her staring up at the dressing table where we keep the squeaky toy with a wistful look on her face. Until we pick it up and toss it to her. And then we have a leaping, shaking, tail-wagging gleeful Fiji once again.

Most importantly, Fiji comes running whenever I pick up her guide dog harness, twisting in circles and wagging as fast as she can. Her love of guiding is always a joy for me to experience. And I’m sure she and I will continue working together for many years yet.

A very happy and waggy anniversary to my precious guide dog companion – and many more adventures for us… And a successful book launch when we finish her book later this year. But we’ll update you on that soon, we promise…

Closing the Chapter on My 2020 Reading Challenge

Bus

First, a very happy new year to you all! May 2021 be a year with many wonderful adventures for you! Let’s hope the year will bring a little more stability than the last one.

My tradition over the past few years has been to start off with a post about my intentions for the year ahead. Frankly, with so much uncertainty, I don’t really feel like writing on that subject. So I’m doing something else instead.

In 2020 I set myself a goal of reading at least one non-fiction book per month. While I have always been a prolific reader, somehow I’ve just never found myself drawn to non-fiction books. Last year I decided to try and change that. At least a little.

And I think I succeeded – in total I read 17 non-fiction books during the year. So I met and exceeded my target. In a previous post I listed the books I read in the first half of the year. You can find the list in the post published on 14 July 2020.

Here’s the list of the non-fiction books I read in the second half of the year:

9 Make Money from Non-Fiction Kindle Books: How to Maximise Your Royalties, Get Paid to Capture Leads, and Rapidly Build A Successful Backend Business – by John Tighe.
10 Timeless on the Silk Road: An Odyssey from London to Hanoi – by Heather Ellis.
11 One More Croissant for the Road – by Felicity Cloake.
12 Walking without Skin: A Journey of Healing from Fear to Forgiveness to Freedom – by Lois Wagner.
13 Kong Boys: Seven Friends from Hong Kong Take on Eleven European Cities for Their Thirtieth Birthdays – by Gerald Yeung.
14 Fundamentals of Leadership: Your Treasure Map for Leading in a New Era Where Everything Has Changed and You Have Become Lost – by Rowan van Dyk.
15 Podcast 101: Simple Steps to Create Your Own Podcast, Build Relationships and Grow Your Business – by Paul Brodie.
16 Ditch the Fear and Just Write It: The No Excuses Power Plan to Start Your First Book – by Alexa Bigwarfe.
17 Adventure by Chicken Bus – by Janet LoSole.

This year I have started another reading challenge – to read books by authors with diverse voices, experiences and from different cultures and geography from myself. I’m starting with a book called Homegoing, by Ghanaian author Yaa Gyasi.

I also plan to read a few classics that I either missed when I was younger, or that I disliked as a teenager and that I’d like to try again to see if my impressions have changed. The first of these is The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald, which I couldn’t stand when I originally read it. I’ve decided to give it a second chance as so many people hold it in such high regard. It’s always possible that I just read it at the wrong time. Only time will tell…

I think I’m in for an exciting reading year!
XXX

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 04: I Don’t Have Super-Abilities

The image shows Lois using her sense of touch to explore the Athens Museum

You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me if my blindness has given me extra sensory abilities – whether I can hear, scent, and taste better than a sighted person, and have a more sensitive sense of touch.

My honest answer? I don’t think so.

I don’t believe my other senses have improved since losing my sight. But I do believe that I pay them more attention than I did when I was able to rely on my sight. Which means they may appear to be better than they were.

When I was sighted I relied most on my sense of sight to give me input. I believe most sighted people do the same thing. Since losing my sight, I have used the input I gain from my other senses to fill in the gap caused by my visual impairment. My ability to interpret the world around me is dependent on what I can feel, hear, and smell. So I pay far more attention to the input I gain from my other senses than I used to.

When I’m walking to our local train station I use my other senses to help me identify where on my route I am – whether it be the scent of a particular plant, or the sound of a specific dog who always barks at Fiji and myself as we pass. Whether it’s a patch of gravel that helps me realize I am approaching the station itself, or a dip in the road that identifies the spot where we need to turn and cross the road we’ve been travelling for the past 10 minutes. My other senses compensate for my lack of sight and help me navigate the world.

My lack of sight means I experience travel very differently. Of course I miss out on the sightseeing that a sighted tourist would be able to do. But I regularly pick up things that a sighted person, who relies primarily on their sense of sight, might miss. For me, travel is a multi-sensory experience that incorporates every sense I have at my disposal. Which gives me a vastly different, but no less rich, experience of a destination.

When was the last time you focused on the input you could gain from your other senses? Why not take a moment to notice what you hear? Smell? Touch? And see what an extra dimension your world gains. Now, imagine doing the same when you are next in a new city or country.

There is so much that I wasn’t aware of because I was able to use my eyes to interpret the world around me. I’m not saying that my other senses completely fill in what I used to be able to see, but they certainly give me an alternate way to explore the world.

25 Tips for Bloggers

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Here’s a link to a great travel podcast with tips on travel blogging. Actually, I’d say the tips can be used by any blogger to help them get started.

The podcast is the brainchild of travel writer and podcaster Alexa Meisler, from the Break into travel Writing blog and podcast. I was fortunate enough to be a guest blogger on her Aspiring Travel Bloggers feature a few months ago. In this podcast episode she gathers together a tip from the first 25 bloggers in the series, including one from me.

You’ll probably find a few themes running through the various tips. And I’m sure they will either teach you something to help you grow your blog or reinforce some of the things you’re already doing. Either way, they’re well worth a listen.

Link: https://breakintotravelwriting.com/25-travel-blogging-tips-for-new-travel-writers-and-bloggers/

And, if you’re a travel blogger who hasn’t heard Alexa’s podcast before, this is one you’ll probably want to subscribe to – she shares some fantastic interviews and content.

Normandy – An Unexpected Discovery

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In France, as in many other European countries I’ve visited, the sound of church bells is a regular part of any community. Whether they’re marking the passing of time or ringing out to summon the faithful to a church service, the sound of church bells is certainly part of the audio memory I have for many European trips.

So it wasn’t especially unusual to hear church bells when we stopped at Villedieu-les-Poêles In Normandy. Except these church bells were playing part of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. And a few minutes later they played part of Auld Lang Syne. Which we took to be a good sign – it meant we had discovered the bell foundry, which we’d decided to hunt down after hearing a mention of it on an audio guide of the WWII D-Day landings.

We were thrilled to discover we could take a guided tour of the foundry in English – tours are also offered in German, and French of course. And that the tours are able to accommodate those with sight impairments as well as those with mobility impairments.

The foundry was opened in 1865 and is still in operation. On the tour we learned that the way bells are cast now varies little from how they were cast when the foundry first opened, although they use a more modern process to melt the bronze and copper from which the bells are made. They make bells of all sizes, from tiny hand-held bells right the way through to those for churches and cathedrals. In fact, this was the foundry that made the new bells for Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2013, before it was damaged in the tragic fire.

I was surprised that the process of making bells isn’t more mechanized and was able to explore the components of each stage of the process with my hands. Though no firing was happening while we were there so there was no danger of me burning myself.

Something else that I found fascinating as a musician was that they can only approximate the pitch of the bell when it is being cast – the fine tuning has to be done by hand, shaving the inside of the bell to alter the pitch until it is tuned correctly.

But my favourite part of the visit to the foundry was the fact that they have an entire courtyard of bells that you’re not only allowed, but encouraged to ring. Which of course we did, with gleeful abandon. The photo shows me striking one of the smaller bells and, if we’d had the foresight to video it, you’d have heard me tapping out the tune of Mary had a Little Lamb.

Out of interest, every 10 minutes the bells we’d heard on our arrival played aa refrain from a famous song. When we asked our guide whether the townsfolk became annoyed by the constant bells ringing, she told us that the community loves the sound and that they are proud of their foundry. It’s certainly a unique memory that will remain with me as a reminder of our visit.

Although the bell foundry wasn’t on our original itinerary, it was a wonderful discovery and I’m glad we went out of our way to track it down and spend some time there. It was not only interesting; it was lots of fun!

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