Traveling with Hearing People? A Survival Guide

Posted by: Staff Writer on April 13, 2015

Here’s the deal, you’re going on a vacation with a large group of hearing people. The occasion varies - a family reunion, a long-planned cruise, a destination wedding, or a trip to a resort or amusement park. The result? You will be surrounded 24/7 with people that you might struggle to communicate with. Now, how do you survive it relatively intact, and have some fun thrown in for good measure?

Step One: Know the Plan

Figure out who is planning the trip. Once you have identified the decision-maker, send them an email or ask to meet over coffee and see if you can get a copy of the itinerary or the daily schedule. And if the group isn’t into “planning” and they’re of the go-with-the-flow variety, send out an email to everyone and explain you’re happy to take the lead with planning, and emphasize that by doing so, you get to be included in the process and decision-making.  When you can take charge of the situation or environments, you have more opportunities to create more positive, #deaffriendly experiences.

Step Two: Fill Up Before you Go

By the end of your trip, you will be depleted- exhausted from communicating with hearing non-signers. You will miss being in an environment where communication is easy.  Be proactive and get your ASL fix in before you go. Fill up the ASL gas tank with ASL shows, poetry slams, Deaf parties, and one on one time with signers so you’re not running on empty when you leave for your trip. 

Step Three: Model Deaf-Friendly

Use our website to your advantage. Encourage hearing members of your group to pick restaurants and venues that have been rated four stars or more on Each time you attend a new business on your trip, take the opportunity to discuss it with your travel mates- ask them if they thought the business was #deaffriendly or  #deafchallenged. Then share your opinion. This will help elevate their awareness and in turn, apply those lessons and help them become more #deaffriendly themselves. Lastly, don’t forget to write reviews on based on your #deaffriendly and #deafchallenged experiences with businesses.

Step Four: Schedule Alone Time

Arrange for some quiet, alone time to re-charge and decompress. Let others know in advance that you will be spending some time-out to read, go for a walk, do some sightseeing on your own. Bring a book, your laptop to watch movies, or use your phone to connect with others and disconnect for a bit. Maybe take a long bath or an afternoon nap. Schedule a massage or go on a run. Do something for yourself at least once each day and consider taking an entire day off if you can. This will help you manage the physical and emotional demands of the week.

Step Five: Keep the Tank Full

Come up with strategies to keep you filled up emotionally before you go. Mentally prepare yourself for the reality that hearing non-signers will expect you to shoulder most of the communication burden. Expect that you will hit your limit or experience some intense feelings. Have a safe person either in the group or accessible via phone (e-mail, text message, Glide, videophone) who can listen to you vent and validate your experience. It’s important that they are good at holding space for you to express yourself without feeling the need to swoop in and fix the situation. It’s helpful too, that they can empathize with your experience and normalize your feelings.

Step Six: Communication Planning

How will you approach communication during your trip? Here are some ideas, workbook style, to help you prioritize and identify where communication issues might arise.

  • E-mail your travel mates and include a link to our Tips for Communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing people; this sets the tone that everyone is a part of effective communication - so you don’t have to do all the work. 
  • If you’re a signer, consider asking the group to chip in for an interpreter for some key moments during the trip (during the wedding for example, or one or two meals.)
  • Have pen/paper readily available. And hand out small notebooks and pens to each hearing person to help facilitate communication. 
  • Hire a local person to come and teach a brief two hour workshop on communication strategies, some basic ASL and/or Deaf culture. 
  • Advocate for well-lit restaurants or restaurants with round tables so you can see people better.
  • Coordinate some smaller, more intimate meals with one or two hearing members of your group so you can communicate better. 
  • Host a Silent Dinner where people gesture, and no talking is allowed. 
  • Suggest activities that don’t involve talking such as card games or Charades (you can write the answers instead of shouting them out.)

Step Seven: Find Your People

Everywhere you go, Deaf and hard of hearing people are near. See if you canschedule a tour of the local Deaf residential school, Deaf club, Deaf organizations or Hearing Loss support group.. Maybe meet up with friends who live in the area. If you don’t know anyone nearby, ask someone in your local community to help connect you to Deaf or hard of hearing people where you are going. Or take initiative and find out what local Deaf events are happening and attend one of them.

Traveling with a large group of hearing non-signers isn’t for the faint of heart. But using this guide combined with your preparation, you have a shot at surviving your trip. You might even have fun, because when Grandma does charades, your Uncle writes about his year ad nauseam in his notebook, and all the cousins truly get crazy at Silent Dinner, all bets are off. 


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