Whenever possible, I certainly prefer to travel with a buddy. My fiance is my favorite traveling companion, though I also love to drag friends and family members along whenever I can. Part of my problem when I had that little mishap in Atlanta last week was that I was alone. If I’d had a companion, at the very least I wouldn’t have caused such a ruckus at the airport.
Some people with hidden disabilities shouldn’t try to travel alone. These include folks whose hidden disabilities cause cognitive impairment, either constant or episodic; people who’ve recently had surgery; people whose conditions can cause problems by flaring or spiking under stressful conditions, and people who have conditions that require care they can’t give themselves.
But not every traveler is so lucky as to have a partner who can travel with them all the time. My fiance can’t always travel with me–I’m a travel writer and he’s not. He needs to be home so he can work while I’m off touring midpriced motels and visiting local museums filled with creepy life-sized dioramas. Most of my friends and family work too. And to be honest, if I’ve got a problem with my bladder that requires someone to help me in the bathroom, my father will not be the person I ask for that particular type of assistance.
The answer: rent a traveling companion! Ironically Nancy, my shipboard stateroom-mate at the SATH congress, works as a professional traveling companion for Linking People and Places*, a division of Community Solutions Limited. While the company’s in Ontario, Canada, they’ll work with most anyone who wants to travel in North America. They offer different types of travel companions based on the needs of the client–you can get everything from a simple companion up through an RN to assist you with the confusion and chaos of getting through airports, checking into hotels and getting set up in rooms, wheelchair transfers, help in the bathroom, medical appointments at your destination, and pretty much anything else you need while you’re on the road. In addition to providing companions for clients’ individual trips, Linking People and Places offers a variety of annual getaways for their clients–things like trips to the Ottawa Tulip Festival and a week-long trip to Disney World in Orlando.
Nope, it’s not cheap to rent a travel partner. Frankly, I don’t know exactly how much it costs, and obviously the cost is going to vary radically depending on the length of trip, destination, and type of companion you require. I’ll get some info from Nancy about this, and add it to an upcoming post about budgeting for traveling with a hidden disability.
But if you’ve got the money, there are several awesome things about hiring a travel buddy. first, it gives your regular caregiver a break from his/her responsibilities, whether or not she’s come with you on the trip. That kind of break can seriously help a spousal relationship. Second, with an experienced professional traveling companion, there’s a level of impersonality to it that makes certain needs easier to deal with. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so comfortable with the idea of asking my dad (or my friend’s husband, or my male cousin) help me in the bathroom. Third, traveling with another person is just flat-out more fun that traveling alone most of the time. You’ll not only have a helper and caregiver, you’ll have a genuine companion you can share the experience of traveling with. Nancy tells me that it’s common for travelers who use Linking People and Places to request the same companion repeatedly, because that companion has become a friend.
If Nancy had still been with me in Atlanta, the whole incident would have been much easier to deal with. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have collapsed at all, because I’d have told her that I was having trouble and needed her to wait for me in the bathroom, and she’d have been able to help me immediately. Why wasn’t she with me in Atlanta? Because I hadn’t hired her to travel with me–she was just my cabin-mate for the conference we both attended. But she quickly became a friend, and we had a blast. I hope I get the chance to travel with her again. If you ever decide to use Linking People and Places–request her!