Here are my tips and tricks for traveling with a hearing loss and hearing aids. Updated for 2012 from my popular post several years ago.
Traveling is as an opportunity worth taking advantage of. Nothing challenges the brain more than completely immersing oneself in a foreign language and culture.
In 2001, I suddenly experienced the urge to break out of my comfort zone and head to a place I’d never been. I picked Peru.
Part of the experience meant coming to grips with my own hearing impairment and doing so on my own, without assistance. I took on the Spanish language and worked through countless moments where I didn’t hear what a person is might normally hear: an announcement for a flight, a question about my background at the bank, a demand for money by a policeman. The world isn’t interested in always being understanding of peoples differences, especially not while demanding a bribe or your wallet. I came out the other end of that experience a little wiser. Here are some tips and tricks for deaf folks that want to travel:
1. Travel Announcements and Assistance from Airlines
I’m often nervous that I won’t make my flight, bus, or train because I won’t hear the announcement for departure. It doesn’t help that the announcements are usually broadcast on low quality PA systems.
I usually set a vibrating alert on my phone for the departure time. You could also use a watch with a vibrating alarm, but I have mixed feelings about how well those work.
Modern airports have TV screens that announce the flight at your gate. You can also ask for assistance when you check in at the airport. Someone might escort you to the gate and make sure you hear the announcement. However, don’t count on assistance from an industry that never makes a profit and is constantly downsizing.
I often find it more productive to approach random citizens and ask if I might get a tap on my shoulder when the transporting vehicle is leaving. Most people want to help. I’ve grown less and less nervous about missing a flight or bus over the years. It hasn’t happened once. Be willing to approach people you don’t know- there are a lot interesting people in the world to meet. I once met a ex Nazi piano player on a train from Zurich to Bern when I asked for assistance (I’m of half Jewish stock).
2. Learning a Language
No reason why you can’t do this. I recommend immersing yourself completely and ditching your native language. This language hacking guide dishes out some great advice. The best way to get started is to hire a tutor for one on one conversation and practice. I went to an incredibly cheap school in Quetzatanango, Guatemala and spoke with a native speaker for 5 hours every day. I was exhausted at the end of the experience but I came out speaking Spanish.
I’m a very visual learner (like most of those with long term hearing loss) and used several vocabulary and grammar books to assist me on the way. However, speaking ever day with a native speaker was the best way to get started. I also recommend walking up to little kids. Kids love to correct people and have the time and patience to speak with you.
Lip reading in a foreign language is tough to learn. I still can’t lip rid in Spanish anywhere near like I do in English. It takes a lot of time and there are no shortcuts. You just have to be around people.
Learn how to say, “I didn’t you what you just said, could you repeat that? I wear hearing aids”. Practice saying it without a hint of defensiveness or insecurity. Say it matter of fact like you would say, “The weather is nice today”.
3. Protecting your Hearing Aids
Many countries outside the U.S. are hot and humid. The electronics in your hearing aids hate moisture and despite the modern aqua-phobic coatings on hearing aids, you will need to get a small drying kit. This is especially true with CIC and RIC hearing aids.
And I recommend bringing a inexpensive backup hearing aid that can be powered by the sun and rechargeable batteries (because you can’t assume you’ll be around an electrical outlet or have easy access to hearing aid batteries). Speaking of batteries: bring your own for your main set of hearing aids.
Have one or two places tops that you place your hearing aid when you aren’t wearing them. I have two places: a waterproof case and my shirt pocket. A protective case is a must because you want to make sure they don’t get banged up in your bag (or wet).
Also important: extra hearing aid batteries, cleaning brush, extra domes if you need them, and extra wax guards if you use an RIC type hearing aid.
4. Assistive Technology
I like to be able to text or IM people in foreign nations. Cell phones are ubiquitous now, even in broken down industrial cities and poor rural towns. I’ve seen little Guatemalan ladies on the bus in the middle of nowhere attending to their cell phone. Women all over India run their businesses through a phone.
It is best to get a cheap cell phone that you can use replaceable SIM cards with. You’ll also need the appropriate plug adapterfor the country you are visiting. Look for a phone with a good keyboard. If you are texting someone in a foreign language and the alphabet characters are different than here, use a translator.
5. Cultivate Patience
Speak Up Librarian distills some great advice about traveling with CI’s and hearing aids.
Gimp on the Go as some great advice for hard of hearing folks who travel.
Advice from the American Academy of Otolaryngology