In part two of my series I’m calling “Blog Posts Derived from Other Sources” (working title), I present to you an AMA from reddit.com I did a few weeks ago. “AMA” stands for “Ask Me Anything.” People go to reddit.com/r/IAmA to read and participate in question and answer discussions with other users, many of whom have far more interesting stories than I do. What follows here is a (somewhat edited) copy/paste of the whole thing.
I find the process pretty therapeutic, sitting down and answering questions like this. I like a bit of communication, see.
I suppose the title says it all, but I will give a bit of a Coles Notes version of what I’m doing. I have low vision (blind in my left eye, had three major retinal repair surgeries on my right eye in 2008 and 2009). I’m legally blind – I have a lot of trouble with faces and reading text at a distance. For example, I have to be about an inch from a newspaper to have any clarity, and even then there’s a giant hazy spot in the centre of my vision, so it’s a huge pain. I did an AMA about it (having low vision, I mean) last year (can’t seem to find the link right now, but it’s there).
Earlier this year I went through a bad breakup (ended in divorce). I was heartbroken, and after selling our house I moved back in with my parents, for the first time in a decade. After two weeks of that I decided it was time to ball up and do something for myself. So I hopped on Hipmunk, found a stupid cheap flight from Toronto to London and left Canada on 11 June.
After I lost the vision I became super-dependent on my wife and lost a lot of self-confidence. This (and other things) led to our demise, and I was determined to get back who I used to be (before the dark times…before the Empire).
I packed a bunch of stuff into a backpack and, white cane in hand (an elegant weapon; for a more civilized age), I landed in London. I dealt with depression, fear, anxiety, and couldn’t poop for two days. I began learning how to approach people again, figured out how to ball up and not care when people looked at the cane funny, and got on with shit.
It’s been hard, fun, scary, and ridiculous at once. I’m nowhere near done, but I figure I’d do an AMA becaujse people seem interested in my goings-on.
(I’m also writing about the trip at (http://danbarraberger.blogspot.com)[this blog], if anyone is interested.)
AMA about travel, hostelling, low vision, the divorce, or life, the universe, and everything.
(PS, sorry about any typos)
On Travel and Finances
What do you do about money?
Have you had any issues with assault or theft?
I am a small woman with a desire to travel alone. Do you have any tips or specific destinations to recommend?
I’m slowly draining my financial reserves, but it’s easy to cut corners and save money all over the place. I’m actively looking for a job (and really should get around to monetizing my blog, but I’m daft at that sort of thing…). I’m using a credit card that gives me discounts on the exchange rate (thanks to /r/personalfinance !) and that’s helping a lot. I also sweet-talked the girl at the bank back home to set me up with no international withdrawal fees. That’s a plus, too.
The only city I’ve felt unsafe in was Barcelona, and that was a case of circumstance, I think. I was with a few big Aussie dudes, though, so the beggars and dealers left us alone, generally. But if I fell behind in a crowd, the cane made me feel like an easy target…which I would be, really.
But really, the best advice is to be smart. A lot of people can’t do this, it seems. It’s common sense in action. Keep your bag/purse at your front, tie it to your chair when you’re sitting down (snatchers will try). Take nothing you value so much that you’d be even marginally upset if it were stolen. Make copies of your documents and upload them to a thing like Dropbox, just in case. Take two debit cards, if possible, and never keep them in the same wallet.
And then there’s the basic “Don’t go out alone at night,” which applies in North America just as much as it does all over the world.
I’ve found that having a smartphone while travelling helps avoid the “tourist look”. Get some map PDFs when you’re on wifi and then you’re not that dork with a huge map out, looking lost. You look like a local, texting or something.
Stick with groups, go with your gut, and you’ll be fine. If something feels unsafe, go the other way. Take cabs if you’re worried about finding your destination. Trust no one but hope in everyone, that’s pretty much what I have to do.
If I can clarify/expand, or anything, I’d be more than happy to help! It’s really not as scary as it seems from your end of things. Granted, I’m not asmall woman, but a 5’9″ guy. But if you were to see me, I’m not imposing in the least. I’m, after all, a redditor 😉
What credit card are you using.
it’s a Chase card, amazon.ca rewards card. The interest rate is debenture and it’s the only card in Canada with no international fees.
I have always been curious as to how people afford to do these sort of things… I assume the money from selling your home pays for most of it, but what about when the money runs out, what will you do to keep travelling? I am curious because I would love to go out and see the world, but I am not in a financial situation that allows this.
Last time I travelled, we saved for around six months, I think. Not counting flights, the two of us backpacked on ~$7000CDN for three months. Could easily be done for less, too. I’m nearing my 2 month mark and, with a bit of splurging here and there, I think I’m dinging ~$1800.
To keep travelling I plan on getting a hostel gig. It’s not glamourous, but it’s a job!
You said you might stay if you can find a job overseas. Wouldn’t you need a visa for that?
I’m actually a French citizen as well, so I can work in the EU. Luckily.
I travel on my Canadian passport though.
Besides the obvious (money, documents, cane, etc.), what what else do you carry in your backpack and is it just one pack or a few smaller ones too?
Big pack: shaver/toiletries, clothes, and shoes. Shoulder bag (nurse/satchel/etc.): iPad, iPod classic, apple keyboard, headphones, and various oddments.
Pocket: tiny Oyster card holder wallet, iPhone.
Apple products ftw for the accessibility support (zoom, VoiceOver, etc.)
As someone who is backpacking round europe right now, I am curious how you plan to do it indefinitely?
Are you still staying in Hostels, going on tours, the usual stuff?
By “indefinitely” I mean that I have no immediate plans to return to Canada. I’m running on my half of the sale of my house (with a bit of cash in reserve in case I do have to go back). I’m constantly applying for jobs as I go (retail, hostels, writing gigs…), so if I land something I’ll stay.
And yeah, I’m in hostels, eating at grocery stores, being as damn frugal as possible. It’s interesting what people will give me for free simply because my eyes don’t work that well. I don’t go out of my way looking for discounts (truth be told, I hate asking for them, and never do), but I keep being let into museums and things for free.
Best hookup from the low vision, for example, was free admission and pint pouring at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I’m not going to look a delicious horse in the mouth.
I hope you’re enjoying the UK – hope we’ve all treated you well 🙂
If you can visit the Lake District, do so (assuming you haven’t already). One of the most beautiful places in the world, let alone England, a world away from cities like London.
Anyway – do you think you’d ever settle here in England if the circumstances were right?
Thanks! Everyone in the UK was great. I unfortunately didn’t get to the Lake District, but I’m not ruling it out. I have no plans to return to Canada anytime soon, so odds are really good I’ll hit the Isles once again. Just after the Olympics are over.
I had a great experience with low vision in the UK as well. The people are very (generally) helpful and like to offer assistance. Considering I come from a city with a grand total of three subway lines, the Tube was incredibly straightforward to use. Plus, the Oyster card should be a de facto part of all subway/metro systems.
Would I settle there? Definitely. There’s so much to offer in such a small space, the transit is way beyond what I’m used to back home, and the people, as I said, are fantastic. That being said, Ireland drew me in more, but I’m only going on previous experience in London and the tourist spots. So, yeah, odds are good that I would.
How many places have you been so far?
Starting in London, I went to Brighton to visit a friend for a few days. I headed back to London and found a cheap train to Edinburgh, so I hopped on that. Went on a tour (Haggis Tours, actually pretty rad) to Loch Ness/Isle of Skye/Inverness. Hung in Edinburgh for Reddit Meetup Day (so fun!). Gained an Aussie travel buddy in Edinburgh and we hit the road to Belfast (by road I mean road/ferry…and more road). Stayed in Belfast a while at the best hostel I’ve ever been in [Vagabonds]. Went down to Dublin, Ennis, Killarney, and Galway. Fucking adored Ireland (looking for a job there, good luck me…). From Dublin I briefly hit Barcelona, but it was too loud/confusing to travel alone with low vision there. Headed north to Amsterdam and hung a right to Berlin. Stayed, ate, drank, and now I’m I’m Vienna, Austria. Next step is Salzburg, then maybe back into Germany or Switzerland!
I’m making it up as I go, and it’s great.
what hostel you stay in at belfast??
fairplay to you for taking the plunge
I stayed at a place called Vagabonds. It was small, but the staff is awesome, it’s comfortable, and they have a barbecue. They’re really central and it feels like you’re hanging at a friend’s house, not s hostel. Go there if you’re in Belfast!
Good to hear you enjoyed Ireland.
It’s great craic!
Swap you. I’ll go travelling and you can do software testing in Belfast 😀
Deal. Could use the cash!
Have there been any language barriers?
I try learning a bit of a language when I get a chance. I have a basic foundation in Latin and I can speak French reasonably well (by no means fluent, though). The Latin and French backgrounds help with Spanish and Italian. Portuguese fucks me right up though…I have no idea what’s happening there.
Generally, everyone speaks a bit of Engish, at the very least. It’s really shameful how most English speakers don’t know any other languages, and here’s an entire continent of (mostly) multilingual people.
Smiles and a basic attempt at a language go an incredibly long way with locals. If you start with english, you’re basically insulting the person you’re ttalking to (in my opinion).
[Referencing an earlier post of mine]
Here’s a rough breakdown of the kind of people you meet at this point:
Just scrolled through your blog and found that. MY FUCKING GOD. I just got back from a random trip around Europe and that is BANG-FUCKING-ON. And its eerie because I encountered every single one of those type of groups in the few weeks I was there…. even the solo-Spaniard.
I have done my research 😉
Hope you had a great trip!
Oh I did. I also did an IAmA (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/w85a6/iama_spontaneous_solo_traveller_ill_take_your/) before I left.
I’m from Ottawa… I think you’re from Toronto. If you’re ever in the area, I’d love to hear your stories one day.
Back when I was in Goa, India – the most interesting pair of people I met were two completely deaf females. It was awesome trying to communicate with them. Wish I had bumped into you.
Make sure to make your way to Croatia. It is awesome there – a hidden gem.
Like any Canadian travelling, I answer the largest city someone may have heard of near my actual town. Generally, if it’s a Canadian asking, we tend to ask “Cool, where’re you actually from? (I’m writing the discourse for the benefit of others reading 🙂 ). I’m originally from north of Toronto, a small town no one has heard of. I lived in St. Catharines for ten years after that! Not that exciting, but there it is.
I usually follow “Toronto,” with “…sorry.”
I’ve heard a few amazing things about Croatia. I know a guy who just did a boat trip down the coast, absolutely loved it. The problem for me is mobility, but it sounds like a place I could go if I find a travel partner (not hard to do!)
It’d definitely be cool to pick each others’ brains back home! And thanks for the link!
Hah – try having no one know what Ottawa is. “You know Montreal? You know Toronto? … yah – in between those. It’s the nation’s capital”.
I actually had an awesome experience where I met this guy who invited me on his yacht/sailboat in Croatia and we sailed around the Adriatic islands for the day. Hit me up when you’re back.
What is the biggest pickle you’ve gotten yourself into so far?
I fucked up my flight from Amsterdam to Berlin. It was my own stupid fault but I misread the date. I showed up at the airport and they’re like “Uh, this is for tomorrow.” I nearly shat a brick. I had to pay an extra 80 Euros to get on the flight, since I couldn’t get another night’s stay in Amsterdam.
Sorry, it’s not that exciting a pickle…but there’s still time!
Edit: I was a bit…hazy in Amsterdam and walked into the women’s washroom at a McDonald’s. My presence was not welcome there.
Was this the mcdonalds in the middle of town? My friend ran in there in a fit of drunken rage at being made to pay to piss and shouted “chicken nuggets are shit!”. Good times. What did you get up to in Amsterdam?
It was an incredible McDonald’s. I never found it again. It was immediately next to a Burger King, which I’ve never seen before. I didn’t think that could happen.
I did what you do in Amsterdam. I ate a lot and wandered the city with my mates. I also went around on the trams a lot. I really wanted to go to the zoo: they have a tapir!
We did a day trip into the country and saw windmills. It was stereotype Amsterdam trip.
Are you heading to Germany?
I was in Berlin for a week and loved it. I’ve been to Köln and Munich before, too, and had a great time. Can’t wait to go back! The people are super friendly and willing to help me whenever they can.
How many languages have you picked up, if any? My personal favourite European language is Portuguese without a doubt. Just love it :3
I’ve gleaned a bit of Spanish and already know quite a bit of French (my grammar is total crap though). Turns out I know way more German than I thought, which I’ll attribute to my ex. She was near-fluent.
And she says I never listened. /shrug./
What are you planing to see?
I’m hoping to see…myself.
Honestly, though, whatever I can. It’s not a tourist trip, I’m Here to meet people, and to prove that people with disabilities can do this kind of travel. I’m testing how accessible places can be, not just for me, but for everyone.
Meeting people from all over has been great.
Who would play you in the movie about your life?
My friends would probably have a better opinion. I’ll ask. Edit: My friend said Seth Rogen. I don’t know how to feel about this.
Have you been to any retched hives of scum and villainy?
Hah, generally train stations and shady bus terminals.
But if I go to Tunisia, I’ll stop outside of town for some blue milk.
I’m legally blind as well, 20/650 in both eyes with an astigmatism. Would you say you have a goal during this trip or just winging it. Maybe nothing specific but something like, “I’d love to make it to X sometime during this journey.” Good luck!!
My initial goal was met when I began feeling like myself again. For actual places, I’ve already toured Europe (when I could see) so I’m kind of just here for the scene.
That being said, I’d love to make it to Oktoberfest, Tromso (north of the Arctic circle in Norway), and Morocco (if I can swing it). Just kind of loving the nomadic lifestyle right now!
My brother was a bodyguard for one of the generals in the army for many years. He got to tour all of Europe obviously not partying but he did come across alot of the sights. He said Oktoberfest was one of his absolute favorite experiences while traveling and wants to organize a trip with me once I’m out of the USMC. I hope to see you there!
On The Split
How long were you and your wife together before the low vision set in? Was it a major factor in the break-up or were the “other things” quite significant? What does your family think of her now?
We met in 2005, married in 2007. Lost the vision in December, 2008.
She was a total trooper and took the vision loss with a grain of salt. She just stepped up and provided for us both, she really busted her ass to make ends meet. When I recovered to a point where I could apply for jobs, it was really hard to overcome a lot of things (which I now know were related to depression I’d been ignoring/not admitting to). She became less my wife and more my caregiver, and she couldn’t take any more.
So, the disability started the fall, my not realising it was an issue and not addressing the mental state I was in ended it. Other factors contributed, but that was the main one. I don’t begrudge her anything; she did what was best for her, and, it turns out, best for me. I’m becoming who I was when we met. I wish I could show her that, but I think that train has sailed.
My family doesn’t hate her, since the split was what it was, the way I described above. They’re sad, they miss her, but they’re happy for the both of us, in different ways.
If that answers the question.
Yeah man, that more than answers the question. Must have been tough for both of you, but you sound incredibly level headed about the whole thing.
thanks for that. It’s taken a lot of thought and introspection to get here. A lot of confusion, tears, and the anger. Oh, the anger.
It’s going to take a lot more work, but I think it’s getting to the point where I can be myself again. It’s the getting to the point that is the hardest part.
Thanks for asking 🙂
On Having Low Vision
Maybe this was somewhere in the post im not sure i just scanned through it, but anyways if you haven’t always been blind and now you are blind is there a certain color you see all the time? or is it almost impossible to describe
it’s hard to describe, but the vision itself is hazy, snowy like an old tv not properly tuned. Add to that a big central blurred patch. As for colours, I have trouble with the blues, greens, and purples. Red versus orange is a bit tough, too.
Speaking of not beeing able to poop for 2 days. I have always wondered how a blind person knows when he is done wiping after going nr2.
Luckily I have enough vision to know when the paper is sullied…but do you ever look? I guess you just give’r until you’re satisfied with your handiwork.
You’d be surprised how often this question comes up. The best answer I have is that it’s like being in love. When you know, you know.
One guy asked me if the that’s in the dog guide’s job description. For the record, it’s not.
Yeah, i have to look, even if i think i am donei have to take a peek and more often then not do i realize im not done. But i guess you are lucky to be able too see that.
Yeah, never imagined it to be the dogs job:)
I will say this: when you get a clean sweep on the first swipe, it’s damn unnerving.
Why is it called legally blind? Can you be illegaly blind too?
To be honest, it is a stupid term. You can actually have really shit vision and still be “sighted.” Being legally blind means you’re recognised by organisations (such as the CNIB in Canada) and can benefit from their services.
And you get a restriction on your drivers license, “Corrective Lenses” (State of Florida at least)
Oh, it’s not a restriction. I get a “no licence because you’ll kill people” stamp.
I used to have a little dot on my old licence indicating corrective lenses (varies, province to province, state to state, I guess).
Do you sometimes wish using a sword cane was an option? Folding it would be near impossible but it’d be so cool…
When I jokingly asked my orientation and mobility instructor about one he had a silent freakout. Square.
I’ve opted for the poison tip barb attachment. Great for teenagers.
Are you sure [of where you are]? (sorry)
[Me] I thought I was in Ibiza but it turns out I was just wandering the lighting area at an IKEA. I really wish I hadn’t been naked.
Nice tan, though.
How can you be 100% sure you’re really in Europe?
The loogies, the curious money, and the lack of genetically modified corn.
Also I can’t find a Tim Hortons for the life of me.
Can you be illegally blind?
I suppose if I drive.
Or if you stole my cane and pretended, then you’d be illegally blind.
[Are you traveling] because you cant find your way home?
I sold my home so I’m basically fucked now.
How are you sure of what you are typing?
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