One challenge that many people with disabilities face is finding a person who can assist them while traveling. Personal care assistants help us with many tasks in our daily lives, including bathing, grooming, personal care, transportation, shopping, errands and more. Having to wait on airport personnel to get you to baggage claim after the flight has landed or waiting in a long line in the hot sun to get tickets to an event can take a toll and leave you with a less than stellar experience. Your friends and family may be willing to help out on your vacation, but how much does that affect their ability to enjoy the trip on their terms? Hiring a PCA to assist during your vacation can help alleviate some of those challenges and reduce the burden on your traveling companions.
Hiring a PCA to accompany you on a trip or vacation
In order to have a good experience it is critical to establish clear responsibilities of the assistant; you need to interview the individual. It may be someone you already feel you know well, such as a friend or family member, but if you have not travelled together there are topics that must be clarified before you go. Determining financial expectations is critical. You need to be upfront about the days and hours the person would be required to assist you. Establish if there is free time for them. Make sure you determine when they will have time to take care of their personal needs as well. Make sure they know that you are hiring them as an assistant and not so that they get to go on vacation. Being a personal care assistant is a job.
Determining if a PCA will be the right fit
Some of the questions that need to be addressed in the interview may seem straight forward, but be careful not to make assumptions. Do not assume that they understand what needs you have. First determine if the individual can help you in the areas you really need. If you need assistance with transfers, are they strong enough and agile enough? Do they understand the basics of biomechanics so they can help you without hurting themselves? Are they comfortable helping you with personal needs such as toileting and bathing if necessary? Are they okay with medical issues you may encounter such as constipation, incontinence, respiratory issues, etc? Can they handle any medical equipment you use, such as catheters, nebulizers, or subcutaneous dialysis? Are they able to safely operate a Hoyer lift or transfer board? If you have not yet traveled you may want to consider the “what if’s” and make sure you and your travel assistant are prepared to handle them.
Ask the individual about their previous travel experiences. Have they ever been to where you are planning to travel? If so, how long ago, because it may have changed considerably since they have been there. Why do they want to do this trip? If they are looking at it as a way to take a vacation, be very clear that you are hiring them as an assistant and that the trip is about you and your experience.
Setting expectations for a travel care assistant
It is critical that you be very clear with your expectations up front. Make sure your potential travel assistant knows what you are looking to get out of this trip! Are you interested in experiencing the local culture and food? If so, do they have dietary needs or restrictions that may make it hard for them to accompany you to eateries you want to go to? Are you an early bird or a night owl? What do they think about staying up late to go to the discothèque or getting up early to watch the sunrise on the Mediterranean? If you dream of going to the top of the Eiffel tower and find out once you are there that your assistant is afraid of heights, what then? If they are not able and willing to do what you want to do, then what sacrifices are you willing to make?
Expenses: Who is responsible for what?
Lastly and most important, be very clear with expectations regarding expenses. This includes not just the basic needs of travel, such as airline tickets and accommodations, but daily needs such as meals and ground transportation. Are you planning on paying a set amount for the assistant services, a daily rate, or an hourly rate? Establish a way to track the assistant’s hours if you are planning on paying an hourly rate. Will you pay for the travel assistant to have his or her own accommodations or is the individual expected to share a room with you? These are important conditions that should be set in advance.
Daily expenses can be tricky. Be clear about meals and snacks and how much you are willing to pay. If you normally have a protein shake for breakfast and your assistant expects a breakfast of eggs and bacon that could make for a complicated morning trying to go to different places to fulfill both of your expectations. Additionally there will be unexpected expenses, such as tolls or tips for baggage handlers. Determine who is expected to track the daily expenses and how. It may be useful to give the assistant a prepaid debit card or a set amount of cash for those daily expenses.
One of the great opportunities of travel is going to places or events that are not otherwise available to you at home. These often require entrance fees or ticket purchases. If you go to a concert and get backstage passes after the concert, are you also procuring one for the assistant? If you are in the Caribbean, and want to take a boat tour, and you are able to experience it without assist, do you pay for a ticket for the individual too, or does the assistant have time to explore the island during that time on his or her own dime? What if they also want to join you on the boat tour? Since you do not need their help, do they have to pay for their own ticket? Anticipating these scenarios and discussing them in advance will help you to avoid awkward situations during the trip.
PCAs make travel possible for many people with disabilities
Paying another person to come along and assist you may be daunting at first but it will prove to be a worthy investment if it allows you to have the experience you deserve.
Finding a travel assistant may sound complicated but the more up front and honest you are with yourself, your needs, and your expectations, the smoother the trip will be. If you are not confident the assistant will be a good match, take a shorter local trip to test the waters before committing to a full adventure.
Communication is key! Be open and honest about what you need and what you want. The right travel assistant can allow you to fully experience the joys of travel!
Deborah Kahrs has over 14 years of experience working as an occupational therapist in adult physical rehabilitation, home health and nursing facilities.
She has six years of experience teaching a comprehensive basic medical condition course to occupational therapy graduate students at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Allied Health, a nationally recognized top-ranking medical school.
Deborah’s company, Independent Travel Care, LLC, provides 1:1 assistance to individuals who need physical help in order to travel to any event or destination with confidence and peace of mind. She considers herself a conduit enabling individuals to live fuller and more satisfying lives.
Deborah is also an active mountain biker, snow skier, snowboarder, hiker, kayaker, backpacker, camper and world traveler. Visit www.IndependentTravelCare.com for more information.