Tips For Travelling with a hearing loss

The old scouting motto ‘Be Prepared’ should be kept in mind when travelling with hearing loss and hearing aids.

 If you plan and prepare well, you’ll be able to enjoy both domestic and international travel as well as the next person.

  • 1
    Be prepared and plan ahead. Consider all the challenges you may face while travelling and work out a plan to ensure you’ll be well prepared to master any issue. Know your itinerary, including all destinations, how you will travel and once you arrive what you will be doing. Check with your accommodation if they have any facilities for people with hearing loss (such as captioned TV, looped reception areas, tactile smoke alarm) and inform the people you’re travelling with that you have a hearing loss. They may already know but give them some tips on how they can communicate with you while travelling and what to do to assist you, particularly when catching public transport.
  • 2
    Use the internet for booking and download maps before you go. If you feel confident to book your travel online, do so as you can compare prices, destinations, inclusions and many other options. Print everything out and collate it in your order of travel. Having a written itinerary to show people will help when there is a language difference and a hearing loss to contend with. There are some fantastic apps you can download on your phone to help in your travels. Google Translate is very useful (if you have a Livio AI you will have a translate feature in your hearing aid – see article in this issue), walking tours of cities, the local public transport app and many, many more. Some include downloadable maps so you can use them off-line if you don’t always have access to the internet. Check if your accommodation has Wi-Fi before you go. Once you arrive, find the information to log on to the local network and use this to help with discovering places in your new locale!
  • 3
    Make a checklist of what you need to packMost importantly this will include your hearing aid batteries or charging case if you have a rechargeable hearing aid (and your portable charger if you hearing aid came with one). Equipment to clean you hearing aid, (wax pick, wax guards, cloth and brush). If you have a dehumidifier take it with you, particularly if you are travelling to tropical or humid destinations.Keep all these items in your carry-on luggage as this will help minimise your chances of losing them if your luggage doesn’t arrive. If you have an old pair or spare pair of hearing aids, take them with you as well. It’s also a good idea to visit your hearing clinic before you travel and get your hearing aids checked – just to make sure they’re in good working order.
  • 4
    Set your phone up for travel. Phone costs when travelling overseas can be exorbitant so turn your phone off roaming and buy a local SIM card. This will enable you to send and receive text messages with your travelling partners or to any places in your country of travel. If you need to communicate with people back home, check with your telephone provider what the costs will be and organise a suitable plan. Most will offer an inexpensive day plan of around $10 a day. Another way to communicate with others while travelling is through apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. These smartphone apps will allow you to send messages to anyone in the world where you have access to WiFi – for free! Download one of these apps before you go and set up a group conversation with your fellow travellers. This will add to your ease of communication, particularly if changes are made to your itinerary.
  • 5
    Tell people you have a hearing loss. Remember hearing loss is generally invisible to most people and if others don’t know you can’t hear as well as you used to, they can’t help you in the communication process. Most people are happy to help, if they know what to do. Ask people to look at you when they speak so you can watch their face and lips. If you didn’t quite catch what they said, ask them to repeat it with different words. And carry a notebook with you, so if necessary, you can ask people to write down what they’ve said. Don’t be scared! Interacting with the locals is part of the fun of travel.
  • 6
    Transport while travelling. If you’re flying, ask the airline the rules on taking hearing aids on the plane. Check in on-line to avoid issues with communication at the counter. If you prefer to check-in at the airport, tell the attendant you have a hearing loss and make sure you’ve understood all the instructions (gate, boarding time, etc). When going through security let the guards know you’re wearing hearing aids. When you are going through the security scanner, leave your hearing aids on. They may set off the security alarm, but that’s better than putting them on the X-ray belt as this could damage your hearing aid microphones. Once you’ve found your gate, sit near the airline staff and tell them you have a hearing loss to ensure you don’t miss the call for boarding. Announcements are often difficult to hear at airports at the best of times, so make sure you’re prepared for this eventuality. Once you’re on the plane, let the flight attendant know you have a hearing loss so they can inform you of important information that you may miss over the intercom. Before you leave on your trip check, with your Audiologist or Audiometrist, the best setting to wear your hearing aid when on the plane or any other public transport. You can wear your hearing aids during take off and landing but if you take them off at any time, don’t put them in the seat pocket in case you forget them. Put them in your carry-on luggage to ensure they travel with you.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination you may use all kinds of transport such as trains, trams, cars, bicycles. Keep in the mind the following:

  • Trains - watch the board closely for arrival and departure times and any platform changes. Use the local public transport app to help with this as relying on PA system announcements, with all the background noise at the station, can be difficult. And once you’re on board, just as on the plane, let the conductor know you have a hearing loss to ensure you don’t miss the call for you station.
  • Buses and trams – as with trains, use a local app, watch the digital information board (if there is one) for information and tell the driver you have a hearing loss and where you want to get off. In many countries you will see the Telecoil sign in stations and ports. You may even see the sign on the actual vehicle as well (trains, trams and buses). If your hearing aid is Telecoil enabled, use that function while taking transport. This will ensure you’ll get all the announcements directly to your hearing aids.
  • Bicycles - many countries encourage the riding of bikes and they have precedence on the road – even over pedestrians in some places! If you are going to ‘live like a local’ and hire a bike, know the country’s road rules and stay alert. You won’t be able to hear much while riding so use your other senses. Practice riding a bike before you leave home to make sure the wind noise doesn’t affect your microphones. Wearing a sweatband or cap can sometimes help reduce the wind noise. If you know you are going to be cycling while on your trip, ask your Audiologist or Audiometrist for a specific cycling program to be enabled on your hearing aids. This should be one with noise cancelling or wind noise reduction and called Omni microphone setting. Remember to use hand signals while cycling and check with your travelling companions that everyone understands what each hand signal means.
  • Cars: If your hearing aid is Bluetooth enabled with streaming, use GPS maps and stream directions to your ears. You’ll still be able to hear other passengers while driving but remember to keep you eyes on the road! Other countries will have different road rules and it’s a good idea to study the road signs before driving. While communicating in the car, turn off the radio and keep the windows up to minimise background noise. You may even want to use a remote microphone in the car for better communication. Check with your Audiologist or Audiometrist before you travel if this would be of assistance to you.

Protect your hearing while travelling!

 Don’t expose yourself to loud noise, either with or without your hearing aids on. Planes can be noisy, as can the headphones when watching movies on the plane. If you have tinnitus, be aware that some pressure changes in the cabin can increase the tinnitus while on the plane. Using earplugs while flying may help with this and will certainly protect your ears from excessive noise. If swimming while travelling, dry your ears properly after being in the water to help avoid picking up any bacteria that may be in the water.

Be kind to yourself – travelling can be exhausting and when you’re travelling with a hearing loss, even more so. Make sure you have some down time to rest and enjoy the experience. Be prepared for challenges, be organised with your itinerary and make use of all the internet can provide. Be your own advocate, tell people you have a hearing loss and be independent – try not to rely on your travelling companions to be interpreters for you. Experience the wonder of travel. With your hearing aids programmed, you are ready to take on all the world can throw at you!