Based on some of the great comments that came out of the “Ouch: 3 Trips to Avoid” post, it seems like a good time to take a post to talk about the unhonored and unsung members of the hiddenly disabled travel community–the traveling companions. Hey guys! We love you, and many of us couldn’t do it without you. Many of you are our spouses and partners, and you probably don’t need a primer on our health condition and daily needs before we go on a trip.
But some of you don’t live with us, and probably don’t know our daily routines. You’re not familiar with our med schedules, our doctor’s pager numbers, or what to do if something goes wrong.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about the care and feeding of my traveling companions over the years–most especially, what information to give them so that they feel comfortable traveling with me.
* A brief overview of the realities of your condition
I tend not to talk very much about some of my daily realities. They’re depressing, and talking about them doesn’t help. But when I’ve got a new traveling companion, I’ve got to get over it. A travel companion needs to know what she’s getting into, so give her the honest truth about what you need to do each day to manage your condition on the road. In my case, that means describing my need to sit down frequently, to nap or rest during the day, to be able to use the bathroom frequently, to take meds, and to sleep in. I emphasize things like “When I say that I need to leave a place now, or that I need to sit down now, I mean NOW–not in 15 minutes.”
This talk should be short–no more than 15 minutes. This isn’t the time to describe the horror of your latest hospital visit, or go into gory detail about your last surgery. There will be plenty of time for that kind of chitchat once you’re on the road. This is an information-imparting session. Describe a typical day for you. Tell your companion how you think you’ll need her assistance. And tell her what she doesn’t need to do too.
Bonus points for mentioning to your companion if you’ve got a specific question or phrase you hate hearing. Mine is “Are you okay?” Particularly when it’s clear that I’m not okay–if I’m lying facedown on the ground, breathing shallowly, I’m not okay. “What do you need from me right now?” is a better question.
* Med List
Even our spouses may not know the name, dosage, and schedule for every single medication we take. Friends and family traveling with us definitely won’t. So make up a list of each medication you take, the dosage, and the schedule (when you usually take it). Be sure to include non-prescription meds and supplements as well as ‘scripts. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong and your travel companion needs to give the list to ER staff, the list needs to be complete. It can also be helpful if you need to send your companion out to buy some more vitamins while you’re napping.
* Doctor’s names and numbers
Just provide a list of these to your travel buddy–hopefully it won’t be necessary, but if something happens your friend will have all the numbers she needs.
* A letter describing your condition
This exists soley for emergencies–should your companion need to talk to medical personnel because you can’t, he can hand it to a doctor. If you’re traveling abroad, get this letter translated into the local language(s) before you leave home.
* A break
Be sure to give your travel buddies regular rest breaks. It’s exhausting to be the companion to a traveler with pain–they’ve got to carry our luggage, do most (or all) of the driving, help us with various aspects of our daily routines, and worry about us 24/7. Let your travel companion keep to his own sleep schedule, go out and do what he likes when you’re resting, and pick out some of the activities you do together.
Have I missed anything? Companions, what is one piece of information that you absolutely need to know when you’re traveling with a non-spouse or partner?