On Traveling the World Blind with Jessie Wang

Jessie Wang is one of many who has been bitten by the travel bug. World travel isn’t exactly easy, but she has always been up for the challenge.

With several countries already under her belt, Jessie continued to place her love of discovering new foods, cultures, and languages as a priority in her life. And not long ago, she even quit her job in the US to become a full-time digital nomad.

But here’s the thing: she travels independently while blind, making her one of the bravest and most inspirational travelers I know.

“I’ve always wanted to travel since my late teens,” Jessie shared, “In the US, I traveled around to different states, such as Colorado, and later traveled further abroad to Europe.”

“However,” she continued, “I was born with an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. It, and other medical conditions, causes your eyesight to degenerate over time as you get older. I can still see light and some shapes, but that becomes harder when it’s dark.”

Jessie was born in China, then moved with her family to the USA when she was in her teens. On trips back to China as a teenager, she would also pass through Hong Kong. Jessie expressed how the vibrance and incredibly unique blend of Eastern and Western culture in Hong Kong fueled her desire to visit more of the world.

The two of us have not (yet!) met in person, but were able to connect online through a Facebook travel group.

We became further acquainted thanks to several factors. One: because we are both Americans, and Two: because of Jessie’s Youtube channel.

She made videos chatting in easy-to-follow Mandarin about her travels for the purpose of helping Chinese learners improve their listening skills. I loved her style, and as a Chinese learner, found her videos very useful.

(Check out her channel: Blind Venture! She shares travel videos and tips in English too.)

Here in her inaugural Youtube video, Jessie describes her dream of traveling the world, despite her visual impairment.

Not long after I discovered her videos and got to chatting with Jessie directly, I learned of her exciting news to start a new era in her life as a full-time traveler. With an online job as an interpreter and accessibility consultant, she was no longer location dependent.

She would start out in Europe, with stops in Norway, Poland, etc., and stay for a longer stint in Portugal, to see if it would make a good home base. Then she’d whisk away to Costa Rica for six months of living in a rural mountain town, practicing Spanish.

Seeing as we were two birds of a feather, both American digital nomads, we kept in contact and often bounced travel ideas off each other.

One of Jessie’s main desires as she travels is to inspire others to do the same. So today Jessie is sharing her experiences as a blind traveler with us. And for those with a visual impairment, she has a collection of helpful tips and apps to use.

I asked her a few burning questions I had:

How Did You Get Into the Travel Lifestyle?

“My vision started to deteriorate in my early 20s. Because of this I tried to find some people I could stay with in Europe, allowing me to travel there alone, without being completely on my own. It’s not always possible to find a friend who can travel with you.

A friend of a friend in Germany was willing to host me. I literally just picked up my suitcase and went. Then, after Germany, by bus I moved on to meet up with an American acquaintance in Poland, but mostly traveled Poland on my own.

I went through Asia a lot and fell in love with Hong Kong. I did an exchange program in Mexico with my university and had a really good experience. I went to China often and one year went to Singapore. 

After those early years, I tried to find other ways to continue traveling, but with a sense of community.

Wherever I went, I looked for connections with other blind people- to ask for tips or to hang out. I stayed at hostels, where I could usually find people to hang out with. I discovered Couchsurfing and began to use it in 2016 or so.

Couchsurfing, along with the Couchsurfing community and events, allowed me to meet more people and have really fun experiences. With these methods, I realized traveling on my own was more possible.

Free walking tours were also great for short term travels. But by 2017/2018 I had a goal to live in other countries for longer periods of time, to hop around and explore a little bit.”

When Did You Start Traveling Full-Time?

“At the end of 2019 I quit my office job and started traveling around. I got stuck in Morocco due to lockdowns — really strict lockdowns there — and stayed in an Airbnb until I flew back to the USA.”

Because of health issues, Jessie needed to stay in the USA for a while. She found an apartment in Hawaii and stayed there for a year. 

She started traveling again after things opened up, focusing on making local friends and connections everywhere she went.

The world after lockdowns was substantially different, and she adjusted her travel methods accordingly.

Travel Tips and Apps for the Blind

in 2020, the Couchsurfing website, a global community of over 14 million members, began charging a subscription fee. As Couchsurfing had been built on the idea of cultural exchanges without money, this new fee crippled the site and community in a large way.

Nowadays, many travelers, such as Jessie and myself, rely on Facebook groups more than ever for finding local news, hang outs, etc. in whichever place we go.

Booking Accommodation and Tickets

Accommodation websites such as Booking.com or Agoda.com are useful. Both Jessie and I are not big fans of Airbnb, as prices on that website almost always ridiculously expensive and the customer support is not supportive whatsoever. There are also a much smaller selection of hostels, after so many were forced to close down due to lack of business in recent years.

Transportation tickets can be bought on Expedia.com or Kayak.com

Getting AroundTransit Apps

Getting around while visually impaired can sometimes be the trickiest part. The apps Jessie personally uses can vary depending on the region.

For bus information, she often uses the app Moovit where available.

Taxi apps such as Uber or Bolt come in handy especially in bad weather.

Visual Aid Apps

Google Maps is useful for walking around, but is best used in conjunction with apps for the blind or visually impaired, such as Aira or Be My Eyes.

Aira employs expertly-trained visual interpreters to help people with visual impairments in real time. By using your smartphone’s camera, someone from this service will describe your environment and assist you with navigating. They will be online and able to search for any information about your location or questions you may have. As this is a highly useful and professional service, it does come with a fee and requires a lot of data while using it on your phone.

Be My Eyes, on the other hand, is free to use, but as you might guess, is not as helpful. They can only see through your smartphone camera, but are not able to assist in looking up directions and so on.

Ariadne GPS an app that reads out house numbers as you pass them, so long as house numbers are used in that place.

And finally, a big tip is to always ask people for help, as long as language is not a barrier. 

How Has Infrastructure Been While Traveling? Are Many Places Handicap Friendly? Do People Generally Offer to Help You?

“Language is a big problem,” Jessie replied. “People are generally very helpful if language is not a barrier. Travelers would help me. For example, some Spanish travelers were able to help me since I knew Spanish. Knowing languages goes a long way.

Sometimes you feel invisible. People will just walk right by as if I’m not there. In those cases, I may use the Aira app.

There are still many countries that do not have handicap friendly infrastructure, including European countries. You might be surprised. Many cities have poorly designed sidewalks, such as Oslo for example. Sidewalks in the center of Oslo were put right next to the tram tracks without a divider. It was a nightmare. Tram tracks were a major issue for walking around and crossing the road in Warsaw, Poland as well.

Portugal turned out to be quite bad for accessibility, especially for wheelchair users. There were lots of steps in older places, and elevators usually didn’t work or have been powered off on purpose to save electricity costs.

VIP services in the UK were maybe some of the best: on the Underground in London, for example, there were employees who help you get from one stop to the next. The same went for metros in Italy. Spain wasn’t as good for that kind of service. Switzerland made you arrange for mobility assistance on trains a whole day in advance, as do Denmark and Norway.

The level of automation in Sweden and Denmark made doing anything more difficult for visually impaired. At bus or train stations, there was no one around to help you, only a machine. I had wanted to visit Malmo from Copenhagen, but wasn’t able to since there was no one to help me.

As for Costa Rica, the sidewalks were also very narrow in the villages where I traveled. However, in big cities, such as in Palmares or in San Ramon, the sidewalks were wider and flatter.”

Side note from me: My family and I found the automation of everything in Sweden to be a huge pain too, even with being able to see. Just to find information about train routes and schedules, we had to ask a local Swede at the reception of a hotel. She took out her phone and used four different transportation apps, all only available in Swedish, to find the answer.

“I would definitely love for handicap infrastructure to improve,” Jessie concluded.

What Do You Look For in a Potential Long-Stay Location?

“For longer stays, I tend to look at factors such as political stability, food, the health care system, quality of life, environment, prices, and visa rules for length of stay. I am currently in the process is looking for a longer term base.”

A good home base is a travelers dream. We hope Jessie finds one she loves!


I personally enjoyed hearing updates from Jessie during her six month stay in a mountain town in Costa Rica. I was maybe most impressed that she was able to find other blind people in the community and connect with them. She went on nearby trips with the Costa Rican family she rented from and each day ate and practiced Spanish with them. She truly immerses herself and builds friendships wherever she goes.

I’ve noticed Jessie is particularly resilient and quick to find solutions. And most of all, I can clearly see her penchant for adventure and willingness to step out of her comfort zone to experience new things, places, and meet new people.

I’ve been inspired by her and hope you have been too.

All the best to Jessie on her travels!

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4 thoughts on “On Traveling the World Blind with Jessie Wang”

  1. Jessie is a incredible young woman. I really admire what she is doing in her life. Thanks for this story. The courage that it takes to travel is real, but to travel the way Jessie does with her limitations is amazing.

  2. I met Jessie while she was in Hawaii,
    We went swimming, hiking and even did zipline together.
    She is independent, was able to live by herself, cook and basically have a normal life despite not being able to see… even more she was educating other blind people how to use functions on their devices so they can have more accessibility.
    What an amazing story of an exceptional person!

    1. Wow, that is beyond impressive! Really neat to hear that— thank you for sharing! I totally agree– Jessie is exceptional.

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