Blind travel adviser brings unique perspective to planning your vacation
It might be hard to believe, but the fact that Elgin travel adviser Brandon Yaniz is the fifth-generation of his family to own a business on the 100 block of East Chicago Street is probably only the second-most interesting part of his story.
Yaniz, the owner of The Adept Traveler, also is legally blind.
“I believe that anything meant to help somebody should be applicable to everybody,” Yaniz said. “My disability helps me help all people travel better, not just people with disabilities.”
His family has quite a long history on this block of Elgin’s downtown.
Yaniz’s great great-grandfather owned a pub in the early 1900s across the street from where Adept Traveler sits at 165 E. Chicago St. His great-grandfather worked for Wilson Shoes, located right next door at 163 E. Chicago St., and eventually bought the business. It later was owned by Yaniz’s grandfather and then father.
“And now, here I am, the fifth-generation business owner, right next door to three generations and across the street from the first generation, carrying on the tradition,” Yaniz said.
A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Yaniz started his own technology company when he was 19. He later worked as a business consultant for many years before his vision got so bad that it was affecting his ability to attract quality clients.
Yaniz was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare condition that makes the cells in the retina break down slowly over time, causing vision loss. The 43-year-old wasn’t diagnosed until about 2015, at which point he stopped driving and had to make other life changes.
“I knew I had vision problems but I didn’t understand what it was,” he said.
He currently has a 10-degree field of view, meaning he can see what’s directly front and center and can’t make anything out just inches in either direction.
“I’m also night blind, light sensitive, there’s flashes in my vision, it’s a whole mess,” he said. “My vision is an absolute disaster.”
When COVID hit and all his consulting projects got pulled because of the economic uncertainty, Yaniz decided it was an opportunity to reevaluate and “figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
He and his wife sat down to figure out what he could do and set out three criteria. It had to be something he loved, it had to be something where his disability was an advantage and it had to be something where he was helping people.
He said the only thing that made sense was a travel agency.
“My disability gives me a different outlook because a minor inconvenience to you when traveling could be a major disaster for me,” he said. “So when I plan trips, I plan as if I’m planning for myself and I try to identify as many potential problems along the way and either mitigate them in the planning phase, or have plans to deal when them if they come up. It takes the stress out of travel for able-bodied people and people with disabilities.”
He initially considered exclusively doing “accessible travel,” a term he dislikes but has become the industry standard for catering to people with disabilities, but decided it limited his market. Plus, he found the two things that were most important when working with clients with disabilities — understanding their needs and then planning around potential problems — work for all clients regardless of their abilities.
“As we started looking at what it means to plan travel for a person with disabilities, we quickly came to understand that is just how every trip should be planned. It makes a smoother trip, a more enjoyable trip for your expert, able-bodied traveler as well as your disabled traveler,” he said.
As part of his business approach, Yaniz does a video series that he posts on his website and social media about travel news and education, traveling with disabilities and discussions with travelers on places they’ve enjoyed among other topics.
The videos have earned Yaniz the international Magellan Award in 2022 and 2023 from Travel Weekly for marketing client education.
Yaniz said a large portion of his client base increasingly is becoming the recently retired who benefit from his insight.
“They’re really responding to this process I have where I want to understand how they travel, what they’re capable of and what they want to get out of their trip,” he said. “Going through the process of starting our business, we’ve just realized that accessible travel is how travel should be planned for everyone.”