When you think about traveling, it is a good idea to start with what you know best. You know a great deal about your own home: your house or apartment. You know the arrangement of the furniture, the shape and size of the rooms, the location of stair steps. If blindness were to occur suddenly, you might move about slowly and cautiously at first. But you would still have the same knowledge of your surroundings. When blindness comes to a person, that person must use different techniques to get the same information. Although the techniques are different from those used by the sighted, they are just as effective and just as easy to use. Your surroundings haven't changed, and you already know a lot about where you live. Using common sense to learn about your environment, you as a blind person can discover what you need to know and get around efficiently and gracefully without much trouble at all. In the initial stages of blindness, family members will often want to help you to get about in your home. It is desirable that you learn to do this without assistance as quickly as possible. With a little practice you will be able to find your way by yourself, and it will help you gain confidence in yourself as a blind person. All people (blind or sighted) bump into doorways or knock their heads on open cabinet doors occasionally. This may be annoying, but it is nothing to get upset about. The family pet will learn to get out of your way. You will be obliged to learn to manage with the other obstacles that are not able to see you coming: the chairs, the footstools, the coffee table, and the vacuum cleaner. For a person who has recently become blind, the problem about dealing with furniture in the middle of the room may seem to be a major concern. However, with a little experience, managing day-to-day activities in your own home becomes a matter of routine. It is often assumed that a blind person cannot go anywhere alone. Tens of thousands of blind people travel alone every day to work, to civic functions, to recreational facilities, and to shopping areas. The long white cane or the guide dog are the tools most often used for independent travel. The white cane is a long, thin object usually reaching from the ground to shoulder height. It is often made of fiber glass, carbon fiber, or metal. Some people, blind or otherwise, who have trouble walking need support canes--the sturdy waist-high kind with a hook-shaped handle on top. These support canes are much shorter than the travel canes used by the blind. Both white support canes and white travel canes may be purchased from the National Federation of the Blind. Either a long white cane or a guide dog can be used to find out all that is necessary to know about sidewalks, streets, steps, and obstacles. When you travel as a blind person you must get information about traffic movement by listening to it. Inexperienced blind travelers must practice in order to learn to use the information obtained in this way as effectively as they used the information provided by eyesight in the past. Traveling without vision is a new skill, but one that can easily be learned in a few months. It is not unusual for a newly blinded person to be very frightened at the idea of walking alone on the street with only a white cane. With experience and practice, this fear will diminish, and you will enjoy your new accomplishment. If you are walking with a friend or relative, it is a good idea to take the cane along also because you will want to get the same information from your cane that you would when traveling alone. Carrying your cane also gives you maximum flexibility. You may want to split up for a time from your friends and meet again later. When the cane is being used during travel it should be long enough that the tip rests on the ground a step and a half or two steps in front of you when you hold the handle slightly above your waist at the center of your body. The handle of the cane should remain centered in front of you and should be held with your hand cupped beneath it and your fingers grasping it. The tip of your cane should be swung back and forth from one side of your body to the other, using wrist motion to move it. Your arm should not move back and forth. This enables you to protect yourself from obstacles in front and on both sides of you. It also gives you needed information about steps and obstacles in time to make use of it. Generally, it is desirable for you to tap the cane each time you take a step. As you step with your right foot, tap your cane on the left-hand side of the path that you intend to travel about two inches farther out than your left shoulder will go. As the left foot moves forward, move your cane to the right. This motion becomes automatic, and with practice you will react instantly and easily to information supplied by the cane. The technique for traveling with a white cane is simple and can be learned in a few minutes. You should tailor your use of the cane to the situation at hand. For example, in a crowd you will want to keep the cane closer to your body to avoid tripping people ahead of you. When climbing up steps, you will probably want to hold your cane vertically, letting the tip bump the step ahead of you. At these times you will want to hold the cane at a point below its handle because the cane is too long to grasp its top. When the cane does not bump a step, you will know you have reached the top of the flight of steps. Similarly, you will probably wish to let the tip of the cane touch each step ahead of you as you descend a flight of steps. You will find other situations in which you may wish to use the cane somewhat differently. For example if you are baking a cake in your kitchen, and if you drop a cup measure on the floor, you may discover that it is faster to locate the lost cup measure by putting your cane flat on the floor and sliding it from side to side until it hits the cup. Your cane is meant to be a tool, and you are the best person to know how to use it to get the information you need. A white cane can vary in length from 24 to 69 inches. The length you choose will depend on your height and the speed at which you wish to travel. Taller people and those who walk faster need longer canes than shorter, more slow-moving folks. Probably the most satisfactory cane is one which is rigid and flexible. There are a number of folding or telescoping canes. These will work if they are rigid but flexible when fully extended. Blind travelers often find the landmark system of travel to be quite effective. If you know that there is a bakery on the corner, the smell of freshly fried doughnuts will tell you that you're getting close to it. The aroma of a shoe store, the sound of a particular revolving door or escalator, the noise of a school bell, a particular piece of rough pavement--these can all be indicators which help to pinpoint your location. These are only a few suggestions. There are many other ways to gain the information you need. You can ask a passerby to read a sign or tell you what businesses are nearby. Blind travelers are also frequent users of public transportation: trains, buses, and subways. Most transportation systems have a telephone number to call for information about routes of travel and times of departure. If you are using public transportation, you may need to be told where to catch the bus or subway. For a newly-blinded traveler, major transportation hubs may seem confusing at first. The National Federation of the Blind has chapters in almost every city of any size. We may be able to help you locate a blind traveler who can give you tips about public transit. Perhaps a person familiar with the area can help. Whether you travel with a guide dog or a cane, approach independent travel as an adventure. Blind people are often told that we should stay at home. Quite the opposite is true. The blind (just as others) should be a part of the world in which we live. We can be full participants in the mainstream of our culture. We can, that is, if we travel. For fun, for work, for the discharge of civic duty, for essential errands, for social occasions, travel is necessary and the blind can do it independently. If you would like more information about using a long white cane ask for our book, The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane. We will be glad to send you a large print copy of this book without charge.