Expert Interview: traveling with a handicap made easier with a travel companion
Published Jan 17, 2020 • By Louise Bollecker
Travel, whether it's just next door or half-way around the world, seems like an impossible dream from many patients with a handicap that prevents keeps them from living independently. But, people like Pascale Crahay are there to accompany patients on their trips, which allows them to travel without having to constantly ask strangers for assistance. Costs, how to find a travel companion, how does it work?... We explain it all.
Hello Pascale, thank you for agreeing to answer our questions. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm originally a chiropractor, but I changed direction and now I accompany people with reduced mobility on trips either alone or with their partner. I'm a patient person, attentive, and I love organizing trips, traveling, and helping and meeting new people! I also volunteer at two associations for the blind (we do hiking, tandem cycling and pottery), and at an association for autistic people (I help organize hikes).
How long have you been accompanying people on trips?
Since 2019. I was a travel companion on 3 long trips (Pyrenees, Île-de-Ré, Calanques), and a few day trips in my region. I have several projects coming up this summer and fall, one is a trip along the Loire river next May on a tandem cycle with a team of 3 sighted persons and 3 blind persons. I organize trips with a blind friend from Lille, Antoine. Our goal is to prove that a handicap is not an absolute barrier to traveling and having an adventure. It's simple: if the program is well thought out, no worries! I'm already getting requests for this summer.
Is there a test or a degree for this an occupation?
No, there's no degree at the moment, but myself, I have a degree in chiropractic medicine and experience in home health care, which I think are a great base for doing this sort of work. Many travel companions have some sort of paramedical degree: chiropractic medicine, home health care aide, nursing, etc.
What types of patients could find your service helpful?
I accompany people living with all sorts of handicaps, physical or mental.
Can you explain how the process works, from the quote to the trip itself?
- Initial contact: This is just a conversation to discover what the person is looking for: where would they like to go, when, how? I don't charge for this initial step, which consists of organizing all the elements that the client gives me.
- The quote for my services: I ask the client to fill out a form with all of their requirements (very detailed with all the possible assistance they may need). We sketch out what my role will be; everything that I will or will not be doing for the client. For example, bathing or personal care is often done by a nurse who comes to the travel site; and I may ask the client to get a medical prescription from their doctor to allow them to get subsidized care in the place where they're on vacation. We also talk about transportation (car, train, etc).
- Payment - we draw up a contract and clients generally pay either from their personal budget (sometimes out of what they get from a disability benefit) or a grant from a charitable organization.
- I also ask them to sign up for travel insurance (generally from $10 to $40 depending on destination) that would pay for medical repatriation should anything happen to the client or to me.
- Before we go on the trip, we do a little overview of any outstanding fees; and the client puts down a deposit (50%) to confirm the trip.
- The client is responsible for paying deposits on accommodation, reserving train tickets, etc. I charge no commission for organizing the trips (unlike a travel agent), but the client finances my accommodation, transportation and food costs, and I make sure everything is crystal clear between us before the trip begins.
What sort of assistance do you provide during the trip?
In the morning, I help the person get up, get dressed if needed, prepare their breakfast and help them eat if they need it. Then we go out, either in a specially adapted vehicle for a road trip or on foot for a nature hike. Lunch can be at a restaurant, a picnic, in the hotel room, etc. In the afternoon, we go out again and then we prepare dinner and I help them to eat it if necessary and get ready for bed. I'm just giving you an example because no two trips are the same. I try to adapt to any reasonable request the client makes. Some like to be out all day, others prefer to take a nap, and some only want to go out in the afternoon. I usually try to reserve about an hour for myself in the afternoons depending on our schedule for the day. I also take photos that I offer as a gift at the end of the trip.
And what sort of assistance can you not give?
I don't provide any sort of medical care or service. Those are done by a nurse who comes to the vacation spot (and who also helps physically incapacitated clients to bathe themselves and with other tasks of a personal nature. All of this is usually covered by medical prescription).
What sort of relationship is there between you and the people you accompany?
That really depends on the individual and as always, I adapt myself to their needs. Some like to be friendly, while others are more formal. In general, the type of relationship the client feels most comfortable with becomes apparent before the trip even begins, since we talk quite a lot beforehand by telephone and email.
What's your best travel memory?
Walking along the seaside in the evenings with an older woman who knew this would be the last vacation she'd ever take, and how warmly she thanked me at the end of the trip. She passed away only a month after we came back, but we had a wonderful "last vacation", and I'm so happy I could do that for her.
And have you had any really bad vacations?
No, not really, because we can always find a solution if we talk out it. For example, I organized a night at a camping site for one patient. I'd never been there before and when we arrived, it was plain to see that it wasn't a handicap-accessible place even though the owners had told us it was. So, we ended up at a hotel for the night. Everything fell into place, and we had a nice time despite having to change our itinerary.
What advantages are there for a client who opts for your services instead of asking their family or friends for assistance?
The people I work with want a vacation for themselves, without having to ask their family or friends for help the way they have to any other time of the year. They want to change up their surroundings and clear their heads…Sometimes, a patient's loved-ones just can't do everything that I during a holiday because all the tasks I do myself are usually handled by several aides (I replace all the people who would normally come to their home, home health aides, relatives, etc.). My days are very busy! And it's still much less expensive than relying on a travel agency to organize everything.
What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about traveling because of their handicap?
We can always find a solution and plan a trip together no matter what your handicap is. You don't have to do the same thing as "everyone else", think about what you want to do and what you physically can do. Then, we can develop a personalized project together. And everything is planned before the trip begins, which means less stress and more fun on your vacation! I say, come on, let's go on vacation(if that's what you want to do, of course)! I'm always looking forward to new adventures.
Much thanks to Pascale Crahay for agreeing to talk to us about her services! Her site Handiescales can be accessed here (site in French). She charges on average between 100€-200€/day ($110 - $225) for her services and 200€/day for quadriplegic clients needing 24-hour care).
In the US, check out the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, Wheelchair Traveling and Tourism for All, or our article on travelling with a disability for more information on travelling with a handicap.
Carenity does not sponsor Pascale Crahay and cannot guarantee the quality of her services. The purpose of this article is to give our readers an overview of what a travel companion does.