Have you ever thought of travelling with a support worker? It’s often difficult to know where to start, how to negotiate pay and hours with a potential worker and how to ensure you pick the right person.
Tegan is 30 years old and lives independently in Hamilton, New Zealand and regularly travels with the assistance of support workers. Tegan has agreed to share her insights in the hope of helping others, so we’ll let Tegan take it from here.
I use a power wheelchair for mobility and I have Muscular Dystrophy. It means I require round-the-clock physical support to be able to do all of the normal things plus all the exciting things involved with travelling. When I am not travelling, I am at home working as a life coach/mentor with people seeking support and encouragement to progress towards their goals. In my free time, I dream of writing my next novel and travelling again.
Choosing a support worker for travel
For most of my travels over the last decade, I have travelled with people who are already part of my support staff team and others who are familiar with my care – such as previous employees, or friends and family. As most of the people I have travelled with have already been experienced with my care, it has been easy to decide who I’d like to take with me. Mostly the choice has involved practical considerations such as availability and physical capabilities. As pretty much all of the people I work with are people who would make a good travel companion and support worker.
I have only travelled with people who were not part of my support team on two occasions. The first time I did this, it didn’t work out ideally as I realised the important factor of personality match and the social connection was missing. Even though my support needs in a practical sense were being met well, I was not able to fully enjoy my holiday experience because of this mismatch. However, the second time I travelled with one person who was not part of my support team alongside two others that were – it was a far better experience. I believe this was due to a better personality and character match and the added comfort and familiarity of people I was used to working with.
Support worker qualities and qualifications
Even though I have generally found people within my existing support network, it has taken consideration and sometimes a lot of asking around to find people who have the interest, time and resources available. When I was searching for people outside of my immediate support network, I put the request out on social media and talked to local media about my search as well as the traditional word of mouth approach to try and find interested people to interview for the opportunity.
When I am assessing people as candidates to travel with, I take the same approach as I do with interviewing support workers for my home life. Below is a list of things I take into consideration and they are listed in the level of priority I give them:
The intention they bring to the role/how they see their part in the experience
- Personality match/match of interest.
- Communication skills and how we get along.
- Understanding personal routines, e.g. night person or morning person, how much sleep do they need and how they handle a busy schedule.
- Useful skills they can bring to the trip, e.g. driving, practical fix-it skills, and useful language skills.
As you can see, my main concerns are how well I get along with them and their commitment and intention they bring to the support role. This is because I feel like almost anyone can learn the practical skills of providing support, whether it is personal care or more straightforward practical assistance. However, not everyone will have the right personality and approach to match what I am looking for.
Negotiating pay and hours
Every time I have travelled with support staff, I have – as a minimum, paid the primary travel costs including flights, accommodation and (shuttle) transfers. The payment of staff has varied depending on the trip. Several of my trips where I have travelled with four people have involved an agreement that staff were not paid in exchange for their travel costs and additional visitor passes to attractions being paid for. For other trips, staff have received partial pay or full hours pay. This has, at times, been pre-set and the staff may either accept or decline the offer. Other times, there has been negotiation involved.
Free time for support workers when travelling
I have found that it is best to roster my support team and then give the option for them to negotiate with each other if they need a change in schedule so that they can participate in a certain activity. It works best having scheduled hours for my care because I require full-time support in the sense that there is very little that I can do independently. Although I don’t need constant monitoring, if I want to do something, I need assistance to make this happen. Therefore, a roster keeps things fair and manageable so I know who I should ask first at specific times. Having a roster also allows people to have time off to be able to go and visit places or do things that I am not interested in or unable to participate in.
Good support worker experiences
Because of the connection I have with the people I travel with, it is hard to say that there is one outstanding experience, as each has been unique and amazing. I think, however, where it has been most memorable is when I have had people who have helped me engage with every opportunity possible during our travels. Whether this was doing something spontaneous and daring, like finding the confidence to introduce myself to a YouTube creator – who I had the opportunity to meet during one of my trips. The other factor that makes these experiences stand out has been how well the support team members get along with each other – which, in turn, becomes an added positive dimension to the trip. This may include the various in-jokes that are developed or the complimentary range of skill sets and personality traits which all contribute to a smooth and positive experience.
When it doesn’t work
I have only had one trip in which I wasn’t completely happy with the team I was travelling with as we didn’t totally connect. It was the first time I had travelled with people I didn’t know very well but three of them knew each other. I had underestimated the impact of social and emotional connection on how I would experience the trip. I had also not taken into consideration the importance of working with people who understood how to be inclusive and help me engage in opportunities as much as I am able to. Overall, my support needs in a practical sense were being met well; however, my enjoyment of experiences was not maximised due to this mismatch.
Advice when hiring
I would advise people to make lists of the ways they receive support at home, a list of support they’ll need while travelling and a list of the prized qualities that are shown by the people they currently work with. That way, they can assess whether there is the opportunity to take current staff or have an idea of the standard they’d expect from a new travel companion in order to ensure you have the best possible care while travelling.
Flying with support & boundaries
I have always flown with Air New Zealand and always sit with my support staff as I need to be able to get their attention via touch as my voice is soft and is even more difficult to hear if I have my Bi-PAP (ventilation mask) on. It is easiest for me to have a row of seats where I can lie across three seats and the seat where I put my feet is taken by the person on shift so that I can nudge them if I need something, as I have reasonable movement in my feet. During the flight, especially long-distance, the on-duty person rotates so that everyone can get some rest. The other travel companions sit in neighbouring rows to ensure they are within eyesight and communication distance. As far as how I approach working with people, my main consideration is, “could I be friends with this person?” I feel like this tends to create a foundation of deep trust, respect and loyalty so they are likely to provide the utmost support they can for a positive travel experience. This improves the outcome for everyone involved – particularly when everyone is like-minded. I know it can be a risk to not have so many professional boundaries as there may be in other types of working relationships, but this gives me the most meaning and satisfaction for my experiences and ultimately improves my quality of life experience – both at home and while travelling.