Travelling with sight loss (and children!)

In August this year, Francesca Scott shared her experience with us of losing her sight at aged 39, with two young children, a full-time job and living in a remote area... We caught up with her again and discovered how none of this has stopped her passion for travel and adventure.

“When I was diagnosed with Stargardts Macular Dystrophy about 10 years ago, one of my biggest fears was that it would stop us from having fun and adventures as a family.  I’d loved travelling in my youth and was keen to pick this up again when the children were a bit older. We all enjoyed the outdoors – walking, camping, climbing and canoeing, but suddenly these things seemed pretty difficult to do with failing sight and no car…

As my condition has developed, we have continued to have great adventures.  I’ve become an expert at linking bus journeys with trips into the mountains, and I’ve found that whilst the Lake District (where we live) doesn’t have an abundance of public transport, the routes are designed with tourists in mind, which works well for mountaineering. In fact it often works better, because we don’t have to get back to where we left a car – we can just hop on a different bus home.

We’ve occasionally had trips turn into epic adventures because the buses didn’t fit the original plan – so a walk on a Sunday morning became an overnight “sleep out under the stars” because we couldn’t get an early enough bus on a Sunday morning.  The journey has so often become part of the adventure because we can’t just jump in a car and drive there.

Fran with her son in the hills in the Lake District.

Another solution has been to join walking groups or clubs. This is great, and not something I would really have considered previously. I’ve met like-minded people who are very happy to car share."

Fran's daughter kayaking in Thailand.

Two years ago some friends invited us to go on a sea kayaking expedition to Thailand. You don’t need particularly good sight for this, and travelling with friends was a great way to get back into managing foreign travel.  It was an amazing experience for all of us and we got the travel bug, which led us to India this year! I had to make a few concessions, in that we booked an organised tour with a guide, rather than travelling independently, but this was also a bit about travelling as a single parent with my children, who are now 12 and 17 – still a bit young to be left alone in India if I got run over by a bus! We had a fantastic guide (who made sure I didn’t get run over by a bus!) and the tiger safari was amazing – having a guide desperately trying to make me see a well-camouflaged tiger in the distance still makes me giggle.

Being a parent to teenagers throws up different challenges than with younger children. Most other parents of kids this age complain of being a taxi service, and I’ve been spared that.  My son is realising that I sometimes need a bit of help finding my way around, but only after deliberately guiding me into a bench in the dark last bonfire night to test how bad my sight really is!

They’ve had to be more self-reliant. My daughter has got her head around the idea that I can’t pick her up from parties at 2am, but she also knows that if she needs me I’ll find a way to get there. The contingency plans are in place, but fortunately, we’ve not had to use them yet!  Being a parent it’s quite natural to trade favours with other parents, and there are lots of things I can still help out with (like babysitting, drop-offs and pick-ups on foot, etc) so I feel OK about asking for help when I need it.

I learnt an invaluable lesson from Karen Darke – she’s a Paralympian and adventurer who broke her back aged 22, but has gone on to have some incredible adventures. She once said that her secret was that she wasn’t afraid to ask for help and that has stuck with me throughout my experience of sight loss. It’s important to be independent and not to over-rely on others, but equally, we’ve had some fantastic times with friends who have been more than willing to help, and who might not have known what help to offer if I hadn’t asked.  A bit of imagination in solving problems, turning it into a challenge and being determined about doing the things we really want to do have all played a part too, and they’re good lessons for teenagers to learn. I want them to grow up knowing that they can do practically anything – there’s always a way even if it’s not the easiest or most obvious.”

Make sure to check out Fran’s earlier blog: Juggling work, kids and sight loss.

If you feel you or someone you know is struggling with sight loss and needs some help to get heading in the right direction, then call our First Step Team on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk. 

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Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.