Here I sit again. Once more I find myself seated and facing the helpful travel agent who made all the necessary arrangements for my trip. I’m not certain if being here is right—in a way, it feels like I’m going backwards. Like I will undo all the progress I’ve made, all that confidence gained.
I did it once before: I flew from Canada to Mexico in the first month of 2017, with only airport assistance. Without that help, I am a blind woman lost in the airport. I don’t like the feeling of helplessness. But when it comes to travel, I am rather used to it.
Traveling alone without sight is my biggest adventure yet, going to a writing workshop so far away. This time I am not traveling with family, friends, or a boyfriend. I am doing this alone, taking risks I’d been unwilling to chance until now. Once I arrive, I will join with other writers; I will know what I am supposed to do.
It’s the travel, there and back, that is unpredictable.
In my fear, the world seems like a void, dangers hovering in the shadows. I dread getting lost somewhere or becoming lost to myself, whether I dare to leave my house or remain tucked away from everything I don’t want to miss out on. But I assure myself this trip will help build character. I will stare down my biggest fears, go for something I desperately want. It’s a way to grow—not just as a writer, but as an explorer of the world around me.
I am a grown woman who wants to see the world, but it isn’t so simple when lack of sight makes adventure, travel, simply getting up and going more difficult. It feels like a plan must always be put in place; a plan with no veering, no improvising. I feel choked off from any possible spontaneity in my life.
There are no selfies showing me smiling in a corner of the airport, filled with excitement on my first solo trip. I was too stressed as I made my way through Detroit, Dallas, and then the smaller airport in Mexico. I was on constant alert, afraid I’d become distracted for a minute and end up at the wrong gate, miss my next flight.
Imagine walking through a busy airport with your eyes closed, unable to open them to assess your surroundings. There is a constant shuffle of people rushing to make their flights. I wait to be guided to my gate by a porter who I can barely communicate with because of the language barrier; he does show up, and off we go. I sit and enjoy the ride while being taken, along with my bags, to where my ticket tells him to deliver me. It feels like I am just another piece of luggage in this place where luggage moves alongside frenzied passengers.
As I wait, I can’t even listen to my music without being paranoid. What if I miss some essential sign while Paul Simon blares in my ears? My family text me, wanting to know that I am okay. It’s not like they can do anything for me now; I am beyond their reach and their help. I am on my own, truly but not entirely. People pass me by on their way to somewhere new. I want to shout, “I am here! Don’t forget about me, please!”—but I don’t. Instead I listen for announcements, for any sudden movement from those sitting all around me.
I make it onto the airplane and tremble in my seat at the thought that I am finally embarking on this journey to a mostly unfamiliar destination. I feel invisible in my otherwise empty row of seats, unsure if I will even speak to a single traveler on the plane, wondering if anyone notices me sitting here at all. There are so many unknowns. I cannot see how I will actually get to where I need to go. It’s thrilling and superbly terrifying at the same time. But it’s a good kind of terrifying, the kind that keeps me hyper-focused yet floating on a strange kind of air as we take flight.
Patches of sun move over my face in the next airport as I am shuffled from terminal to terminal: me, my luggage, and an elderly couple. The three of us enjoy the ride as the driver of the motorized cart shouts every thirty seconds for distracted travelers to get out of our way as we pass through.
Soon I am on my own again. My travel agent has called ahead to the airline, which is supposed to send help so I get to my gate on time, but time ticks on and there’s still no sign of anyone. I hold my white cane out in front of me and hope I am easy to spot.
I’ve been sitting in a row of chairs for what seems like forever, my heart beating extra fast at the thought that I could miss my flight and be late for the introduction dinner at the villa with the rest of the workshop writers. It’s a little too quiet as I wait; something isn’t right. I say something in the direction of the check-in counter. It’s good I spoke up—otherwise, nobody would have taken control, informed me that my gate has been moved. Another porter arrives to transport me to the gate. That was a close one.
I am helped off the plane in Mexico and pushed in a wheelchair out into the warm Mexican sunshine. Once through Customs, I sit and wait nervously for my ride. What if I am walking—being pushed, rather—directly into the path of some dangerous situation in a country where I barely speak the language?
I have all my paperwork, and the shuttle driver knows my name. As I get into the van, I can’t help but think that the whole journey, thus far, has gone a little too smoothly. I must trust and have faith in the decency of my fellow human beings, but I still expect something to go wrong. I climb into the van and hear the door slide closed. I relax a little as we start to move. I am still afraid, but I know I would regret more the things I never did than the risks I’m now finally taking. I sit back and enjoy the ride.
Now that first trip is behind me, and I am off again for the second time in less than six months. I know I am lucky: I am making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see a distant part of my country of Canada with my parents. While there is something intrinsically safe and comfortable about that, I know they won’t always be around to offer such shelter, and I plan to see a lot more of this glorious planet.
The feeling of being out on my own is worth all the fear I must fight to get there.
“Are those drumsticks?”
I am brought out of my own thoughts by the passenger seated next to me, their unexpected question. I am unable to make eye contact with fellow travelers, which makes it hard to strike up a spur-of-the-moment conversation with anyone, but my cane appears to be a conversation starter in this case, lying folded up in my lap.
“Um, no. It’s my white cane, actually,” I say, holding it up so she can get a better look.
“I’m traveling on my own, too,” she tells me.
I instantly feel a kind of kinship with this stranger. We aren’t so different, and it’s this last test of fortitude—the fear of flying that, it turns out, we share—which leads to us talking for the entire flight, both to pass the time and distract ourselves from our anxiety.
What a pleasant way to travel my final leg of this transformative trip, I think. Soon I will be home again. No maximum cruising altitude could put me any higher than this feeling I have now, on my return flight—a first of many, hopefully. Travel makes me feel a little lost, and then found once more. I’ve found my own way, and I have faith I always will.