Can blind people take vacations by themselves?

June 24, 2015 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

Some people escape to lake houses, some to cabins in the mountains, others to villas overseas.

Me? When I want to get away by myself, I splurge on a fancy hotel.

That’s Hanni and me luxuriating in a lovely hotel room in Chicago a few years back.

What luxury — a plush robe waiting for me, my bed gets made every morning, clean towels magically appear in the bathroom, and when I walk through the lobby everyone — from the doorman to the people behind the front desk — asks if they can help me. Some even call me by my name. “Hello, Ms. Finke.” “Welcome back, Ms. Finke.” “Ms. Finke? May I help you to the elevator?”

Those of you old enough to appreciate James Thurber (or young enough to have bothered seeing Ben Stiller’s film adaptation of Thurber’s classic last year) will understand why I refer to my hotel stays as Walter Mitty experiences.

Staff at expensive hotels are used to taking care of demanding customers, so I don’t really stick out when I ask for extra help. “Can you cut a corner from the keycard? “ I ask. When I explain how that would help me feel which end to put in the key slot, no one flinches. “Our pleasure, Ms. Finke.” “May I help you with your bag, Ms. Finke?”Of course I say yes. The bellhop escorts most other guests to their rooms, so it feels downright normal to have him take my Seeing Eye dog and me to ours, too.

Once in the room, the first conquest is the phone. “How do I dial downstairs?” I ask the bellhop. “What’s the number for room service?” Next stop? The bathroom. I feel through my bag for rubber bands. “Which bottle is shampoo?” I ask. At one hotel, I washed my hair with lotion. You only have to do that once to learn a lesson. Now I stretch a rubber band around the bottle of lotion to differentiate it from the others.

I put a rubber band on our hotel doorknob, too. When my Seeing Eye dog leads me to it later, the rubber band will confirm we’re at the right place. Before the doorman leaves, I ask one last question. “Is the radio alarm on?” While he checks, I feel through my wallet for tip money and extend my arm in his general direction. “Thank you, Ms. Finke,” he says, and he’s out the door.

Hotel rooms are predictable, simple, easy to get around. The furniture is rugged, sometimes even bolted to the floor. Nothing fragile on the dressers or countertops. I can’t break anything.

Early on in my blindness, I would have never imagined this possible. Me. Spending a night alone in a hotel room. I feel like a grown-up.

And that’s Whitney ensconced before a gigantic rain forest shower that came inside a gigantic bathroom that was inside a gigantic suite we stayed in once.

All of my memoir classes are on hiatus until after Independence Day, and Tomorrow my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I are taking a train to a new boutique hotel we haven’t stayed in before. I’ll spend our quiet time there finishing a manuscript I’ve been working on  —  the one about all I learn from the memoir-writers I work with and how I manage to lead the classes without being able to see. I’m looking forward to the escape , hoping (finally) to finish this manuscript of mine. Time to get packing!

Janet On June 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm


The Empty Pen On June 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Have a fab time, Beth!

I’ve just returned from a business trip and I’m getting used to nicer hotels. I’m so used to the cheap options from my own vacationing experiences that people knowing my name and asking to help is a little weird.

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 7:30 am

Cam, you may have just given me fodder for a new blog post! Without being able to see, it can feel like “strangers” know my name and say hello all the time –I can’t see the people who are saying hello and don’t always know who they are by their voices. Strangers for *sure* offer me help much of the time –Midwesterners are kind, and when they see me buckling Whitney’s harness on her, or checking my pockets for my keys, or even buttoning my coat, they sometimes approach and ask if I need help. I think what I like so much about fancy hotel lobbies is that staff members there are calling *everyone* by name and asking *everyone* if they need help

Robert Ringwald On June 24, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Hi Beth,

I’ve stayed in enough hotels to where its no big deal, especially if I’m paying for it.

However, what I really enjoy is a cruise. You get everything you mentioned below on a cruise, but . . . . you also get all the food you want, any hour of the day or night.

Plus you can have room service if you wish, or you can eat in the dining room and meet really interesting people from all over the world.

There are also free shows, movies, stage shows, magicians, comedians, etc.

When I am in a hotel room by myself, I do all of the things you do, except for two more things.

I ask how the heater or AC works. Nothing worse than freezing or roasting and you don’t where the thermostat is.

I also make sure I know how the remote on the TV works. Now a days, most remotes in hotels seem to be pretty much the same. But in years gone by, I’ve seen remotes that I could not figure out.

Oh yes, one more thing, I always get the WI-FI code.

Hey, Doug mentioned that his sisters were thinking about going on the next Jazz cruise? Jan 8 Caribbean for 10 days.

I’ll be there. It would be nice to meet you and Mike.

Best, –Bob

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 7:32 am

I think the cruise my sisters were talking about going on with Doug is the one to Alaska — will you be performing with him on that one, too?


Joan Miller On June 24, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Beth, Enjoy your mini vacation at the new boutique hotel. Joan Miller

Nancy Lerman On June 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Happy trails and tails Beth! Hope you and Whit are both treated like pampered pups.

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 7:34 am

Thanks, Joan & Nancy. Whit & I do hope to be pampered, and I hope to get some work done, too (Whit not so mucyh, I think she hopes I’ll take her harness off once or twice to let staff members give her a belly rub).


Mel Theobald On June 24, 2015 at 6:15 pm

One of the best parts about what you have described is that you don’t have to waste a day flying to your dream destination. Good luck with the writing and I hope you and Whitney get the royal treatment. You certainly deserve it. When you get back I’d like to invite you and Mike to spend an evening sitting by the pool. That’ll give you a chance to dip your toes in the water and we can have that conversation I have so long hoped we could have. Enjoy!!!

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 7:35 am

You are so right about trains vs. planes, not to mention train stations vs. airports! And a dip in the pool sounds nice, but you’d better book us quickly. Next week is Fourth of July already!


Mel Theobald On June 26, 2015 at 3:37 pm

The invite is in the mail…seriously.

PamB On June 25, 2015 at 7:19 am

Hi Beth,

Your latest post has really hit home. I’m going to Orlando all by myself on July 3rd. I won’t actually be all alone as I’m going to the NFB convention for work & I’m sure I’ll know a lot of people there. However, I’m a bit nervous about navigating the hotel room by myself. The rubber band trick is a good one. I’m planning on bringing a slate & stylus with me along with a role of dymo tape, but I do realize that rubber bands are quicker. I’m thrilled that I do know some Braille, so I’ll be able to find our floor on the elevator & our room number on the door, but I get worried about taking up the staff persons time. I mean there’s so much to remember: as you mentioned the different bottles in the bathroom, but how about the heat/air conditioning or the coffee maker & I have no idea what else!

I love that you write about such things, it makes me feel not so alone.

Good luck getting your manuscript completed & I hope you have a wonderful adventurous weekend.

BTW, have you read the book Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear? I think it’s rather new & I really liked it a lot. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s about a woman from New Your who’s got RP. It’s written with a great energy & I think you might like it!



bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Oh, I know enough Braille to read the number on the door, but the simple rubber-band-around-the-doorknob trick still serves as a good confirmation that I did indeed read the numbers correctly — as for the heating and A.C., I may just forward your comment to bob Ringwald above, maybe he can let you know how he handles it. Have fun at the convention, and thanks for the book recommendation (I hadn’t heard of that book before) and, especially, your encouragement about these posts I write. VERY much appreciated.

Benita On June 25, 2015 at 7:58 am

You give a whole new meaning to Independence Day! Great article and excellent use of rubber bands.

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

Yes, and those rubber bands also come in handy if I need to snap anyone for grabbing the last bit of free salty snacks at the swanky bar before I get to them.


Karen Steiner On June 25, 2015 at 9:36 am

I also have washed my hair with lotion. Hope you and Mike are well! Cheers, Karen

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

Hope you are well, too, my friend. Mike and I are coming to CU to spend time with his nephew Aaron and Arron’s kids next week — we’ll probably attend the 4th of July parade, maybe we’ll run into you there? (Not literally, I hope, Whitney and with all the excitement of a Champaign-Urbana parade she might be a little distracted…!)


southloopreferral On June 25, 2015 at 11:22 am

Thanks for “taking” me on the vacation! So fun. Can’t wait to read the new book! Thanks for sharing. ….Mary

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 11:44 am

Happy to have you along for the ride, Mary, and as for the new book, you can bet that the first booksigning party will be at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, the pride and joy of the South Loop neighborhood

Sheila A. Donovan On June 25, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I love James Thurber! I miss memoir class and you. Enjoy working on your manuscript and come back refreshed!

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Thanks, my fellow memoir writer!


Monna Ray On June 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm


I hope its a wonderful stay. Whenever I feel like I am challenged I think of you.

Our lunch was special. I hope it will happen again.

Love, Monna

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Oh, you are sweet. And wouldn’t you agree that (sometimes) the challenges are worth it?


Brad On June 25, 2015 at 1:34 pm

What a delightful blog, Beth. I smiled all the way through it. I believe I once told you my Mother wanted to live in the best hotel in my hometown when she got older. Unfortunately, it was converted to a low rent home for the aged.
Oh, well.

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Eyebrows up! You know I’d *love* to end my golden years in Milwaukke’s Pfister, and hey, if they convert it into low rent housing for the elderly by then, I may be able to afford it!


Diana On June 25, 2015 at 3:29 pm

I love reading how you take care of yourself and enjoy the adventure. I could feel that nice big robe wrapped around you.

bethfinke On June 25, 2015 at 6:43 pm

I can’t deny it. I love a hotel robe.


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