Braille Monitor                                                July 2013

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Me, Myself, and Seattle

by Emily Zitek

From the Editor: the following article is reprinted from the Spring 2013 Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota:

When I think of taking a trip or vacation, I think of going somewhere nice with the family or my husband. Together my husband and I have traveled all over the United States and even to Mexico for our honeymoon. Until now, any time I have taken trips, they have always included at some point during the trip at least one other person I already knew. Often I have taken a plane to a specific place where I would be meeting with a specific group of people. All I had to worry about was getting there, and the itinerary for the week or weekend had been set up for me. But I never imagined taking a trip out of the state, totally by myself.

In mid-August of 2007 I had been teaching a life-skills class at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, where I had been working for almost ten years. After class that day Shawn Mayo, the executive director, asked if I would be interested in attending a seminar in Seattle about how to teach English to blind immigrants. The prospect seemed quite interesting, not only because of what I would be learning, but because I would be traveling completely alone to a new city. The other woman attending the seminar was someone I had known for quite some time, but I wouldn't be traveling with her or even staying at the same hotel. I recognized that this would be a challenge, something new that I would remember forever.

I told Shawn that I needed to think it over, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how exciting and challenging it would be to travel completely independently as a blind person. At first little voices in my head were nagging me with questions: what would I do to occupy myself during the days when the seminar wasn't going on? Would I just sit in my hotel? Would I be able to find stores and places to eat? What would happen if I got off the bus in the wrong neighborhood on my first night in Seattle? I am sure these are fears that sighted travelers also face when going to a new place by themselves, so I knew it had nothing to do with being an incompetent blind person.

Despite all my anxieties regarding the trip, I told Shawn that I would attend the seminar. Of course she had considered asking others, but I knew that this was an opportunity I would regret passing up because this kind of challenge might never come my way again. Ever since I was a little girl, whenever I put my mind to something, I could do just about anything. After all, I told myself, this trip would be fun. The seminar was to take place Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the week I would be in Seattle, and on Tuesday and Thursday I could set up my own itinerary of things to do and explore.

Shawn told me to do some online searches for reasonable airfares and book my own flight. Then with the help of one of my longtime friends in the Federation, I got the names of decent hotels in Seattle. The hotel I chose wasn't very close to the seminar location, but I got the phone number for the transit center in Seattle, which is almost as efficient as the one in the Twin Cities area.

After I made my flight and hotel reservations, I began making plans for what I would do with my free time. By two days after I was invited to go on this trip, I had information about how to get from the airport to my hotel and then to and from my hotel and the Kaizen Center, where the seminar would be held. In fact, the people at the hotel were very friendly and helpful over the phone and gave me the names and addresses for some great restaurants and diners, and even a supermarket and drugstore within walking distance of the hotel.

By the time I left for Seattle, I felt more confident than ever, and an overwhelming sense of excitement had taken me over, especially when my week in Seattle started. I couldn't believe how simple it was to get around the city using the buses and how informative the people had been over the phone.

I had a great time that week. I had almost forgotten how much fun it was to sit up late watching my favorite TV shows and talking on the phone without worrying about disturbing somebody else trying to sleep. Married people don't always have the luxury of sitting up late at night, going out to dinner at midnight and coming in late from listening to a jazz band, or working out in the hotel's workout room whenever you want, even at 5:00 in the morning. As planned, I took the seminar on the designated days and learned a lot, and on the other days, when I wasn't studying, I ventured out to Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, and I went on a two-hour cruise around the lake, where I listened to detailed descriptions of different historical things we passed during that cruise. I found a nail shop and hair salon and spent an afternoon getting pretty. I visited many shops at Pike Place Market and bought a few souvenirs to bring home with me, and there I ate some of the best fish I'd ever eaten. Sharon (the other woman taking the seminar with me) and I met once for dinner at a New Orleans-style restaurant we had heard about, but other than that I was completely on my own, and I came home with a great deal of enthusiasm about the trip and self-confidence, because all my fears about traveling alone had been washed away by nothing but great experiences.

If you're ever up for a challenging adventure, I recommend taking a little trip by yourself if you haven't done so before. Even if the trip you take has no specific purpose, I can assure you that it will be very rewarding and will give you a great sense of freedom and independence. Even if you only have a day or two to spare and only want to go to the nearest big city, go ahead and do it. You'll realize how nice it is to take time out for yourself and set your own itinerary and schedule, and doing so will make you want to try it again. Doing research about the place you choose beforehand is a big help. Talk to friends, family, or other acquaintances who have gone there. This is where I began my research. Researching online was also helpful, but the things that made this trip so successful were my determination and ambition.

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