I recently traveled to Cuba as part of a people-to-people cultural exchange program organized by Insight Cuba. It was a magnificent trip full of art, beauty, learning, eye-opening experiences and Cuban cigars. I highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity and interest.
Before the trip I was concerned that my hearing loss would make things more challenging. Accents and unfamiliar words in a new language are always difficult for me to follow. I promised myself that I would advocate for myself to optimize my chances for good communication, but that I would also manage my frustration if I was not able to hear everything. Much of traveling can be enjoyed by simply taking a look around, and that was my plan, barring any catastrophes.
My trip taught me important lessons about traveling when you have hearing loss. See my tips below and please share yours in the comments.
Prepare In Advance
Research whatever location you are visiting in advance to see what hearing loss accommodations are available. Hotels in developed countries often have special rooms for people with hearing loss (flashing lights for the phone and doorbell) if you request them in advance. Many museums in larger cities provide hearing loops or other assistive technology if you know to ask for them. The same goes for theaters and other performance spaces. Use the internet or email the venues directly for up to date information.
In less developed countries, such as Cuba, few if any accommodations are available, but informing my tour company in advance let them know about my needs just in case.
Read up on your destination in advance to familiarize yourself with the names of places, important historical figures and the like. That way when you hear these names, they will sound more familiar and be easier for you to understand.
Advocate For Yourself
On the first day of the tour, I announced my hearing loss right up front, as I typically do in any new group situation. During the introductions and orientation, I mentioned my hearing loss and asked the guide to make a special effort to speak clearly and while facing the group whenever possible.
Before I even got the words out, she showed me her own two hearing aids. Quickly after, two other travelers in the group of 10 mentioned their own hearing issues. We all had a good laugh about how common hearing loss is. I was very lucky that my guide was well aware of the challenges of communicating for people with hearing loss. This is not always the case. Be sure to explain your needs fully.
I provided the same information to our local Cuban guide when we met him later in the day. He spoke English well, but with an accent, which is always a challenge for me. I let him know that I would be standing close to him while he was speaking so that I could hear him and see his face for lipreading. I didn’t want him to feel odd or uncomfortable with my constant presence.
Remind People What You Need
People often forget about hearing loss because it is invisible, so don’t be shy about reminding people about your needs. Through gentle prompting (the hand behind the ear usually works well) and frequent requests for the guide to use the microphone on the bus, I was able to understand most of what he said. When I had questions, I asked them, usually as a follow-up one-on-one later in order to keep the group moving.
When logistical information was given, the guide wrote down critical times and locations, which was appreciated by all of us, hearing loss or not.
Bring Ear Protection
I was amazed how loud traveling can be, particularly in an underdeveloped country. The old cars (most are 1950s American cars like in the photo) do not have noise suppression technology the way we do now. The trucks are equally old and smelly and cause quite a racket as they barrel down the streets of the small towns we visited. One evening I turned off my hearing aids to remove the auditory overload and enjoyed the visual peace and quiet of a small Cuban town. It made quite a difference.
Another day, we took a 15 minute ride on a commuter ferry, which I clocked at 95 decibels! I quickly turned off my hearing aids so they would act as earplugs, but I felt badly for others on my trip who did not have that option. I can only imagine the hearing damage suffered by the locals who use this ferry on a daily basis.
Enjoying local music performances is a wonderful part of traveling, but this can also be very loud. One local club was playing music at 110 decibels. I walked right out despite the wonderful performers. Nothing is worth damaging my hearing further.
Traveling is all about embracing different people and places, and my trip to Cuba was no different. With the right advance planning, self-advocacy behaviors and a positive attitude, traveling can be a wonderful experience for people with hearing loss. Where should I go next?
Readers, what tips do you have for traveling with hearing loss?
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19 thoughts on “How To Travel When You Have Hearing Loss”
Personal FM systems are very helpful for all guided tours – just as they are in docent tours available in our domestic museums. The tour guide wears the microphone and transmitter and you wear the receiver, with either headphones or neckloop. Then you hear everything as if they’re talking directly into your ears. You can give the mic and transmitter to every person leading your group. Some museums have these for all their guided tours.
Yes, great suggestion. Thanks for sharing it.
All of the riverboats provide these for onshore tours. Everyone likes them with it without hearing loss. I wish the ocean cruises would adopt this approach as well. We should all advocate for that if going on a cruise.
Good to know. Thanks for sharing the information.
Remember, Shari…as I mentioned before…due to the fact that hearing loss is invisible, you can’t expect people to remember that you’re HOH. That’s why I wear my hearing loss buttons, which ask people to face me when they speak to me. With the button staring them in the face, they can’t forget that I need them to look at me!
A button can definitely help. Thanks for your comment.
I recently suffered a significant hearing loss due to a car accident. Coupled with loss that I already had It has been trying. Anyway I had a trip to Ireland scheduled which I decided to cancel until issues resolved. Thank you for your suggestions so that in the future I hope to be able to resume my travels.
I hope you can resume your travels soon. Good luck to you and thanks for your comment.
The first time I traveled to Europe, we were in France, and I wore my “I READ LIPS” button. There was also an unexpected benefit: it silently announced that I spoke English. Therefore, it broke down two communication barriers at once!
Nice idea. Thanks for sharing it.
I admire your courage in being so up front about your hearing loss/needs. I recently took a 2 week trip to the Philippines with my wife and 2 young kids. While it was a great trip, it would have been much less stressful if I had mustered up the courage to adocate for myself/hearing needs. I’m relatively newly HOH (1.5 years) so I’m continuing to work at it.
It is such a relief once you can be more open about it, but it took me a while which I regret. Good luck on your journey.
I have always loved to travel. I was married to a profoundly deaf man like myself, and we managed amazingly, taking many trips all over the US. But we avoided narrated group tours due to not really benefitting from hearing all that was being said. But there were still many challenges for us such as hearing our boarding call for flights and trains, a few times we ended up on the wrong train! Now that I’m single, and an experienced “wiser” traveler, I’ve taken some fabulous solo trips to Europe, and found the language barrier to be a positive instead of a negative with hearing loss. (But still ended up on a wrong train, lol!) But I try not advertise my hearing loss, avoid asking for a hearing impaired room for security reasons, and I always book my room for 2, even when I’m traveling solo. HAPPY TRAVELS!
Happy travels to you too! So glad you are making it work!
In the UK the NHS system is wonderful, or at least my local area service is. For a small deposit they allow patients to borrow a spare set of hearing aids to take with them in case anything happens to the ones I wear.
The deposit is returned when I take the spare aids back to them, undamaged and unused.
I’d recommend any readers here in the UK who have NHS hearing aids to bear this in mind.
I can’t imagine anything worse than being without my aids. I can’t function.
That is a wonderful thing. Thanks for sharing the information.
reading this a bit late. However, many tour companies now provide hearing loops when the guides wear mics. This works and is wonderful. Everyone taking a tour should contact company in advance to find out if they have this option
Great suggestion! Thank you Carol.