Travel Companion Frequently Asked Questions
Who are SJ Travel Companions?
Many Special Journey volunteers, or Travel Companions as we call them, are current or retired staff or managers from agencies, group homes, and workshops who assist SJ on trips in their off time. We also have Travel Companions who are retired individuals from different professional industries with no previous experience working with special-needs individuals. Some Travel Companions are also parents or siblings of individuals with disabilities. Whatever the experience, past or present, may be, all of our Travel Companions are individuals with heart and passion to assist people with disabilities.
What is the cost for me to assist?
All costs are covered except snacks and souvenirs. Expenses such as lodging, transportation, and meals are provided by SJ. If you are assisting on a cruise, optional soda cards on Royal Caribbean are not covered and would need to be purchased by the Travel Companion. On Disney cruises soda is free for all guests. Both Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise line cruises do not include WiFi. Almost all ports have locations where you can use WiFi for free.
Am I required to have experience working with adults with special needs to be a Travel Companion?
Though experience working with disabled adults is certainly helpful, it is not required to be a Travel Companion with Special Journeys. We select Travel Companion based upon each trip's specific needs and not solely on one's experience working with disabilities. A trip's needs can include many different variables, such as who is traveling with us, the trip destination, or vacation duration. There may be some trips where a Travel Companion's skill set, work experience, or experience working with SJ previously may be needed over another's. However, all of our trips include Travel Companions who do not have previous special needs experience and these individuals are guided by our Head Travel Companions during the trip.
How do I get to the bus?
We pick you up and drop you off! Travel Companions are picked up and dropped off at your home, work place, or other desired location.
Who are your typical travelers?
Typical Special Journeys travelers are individuals with developmental, physical, or other disabilities. On each trip, we typically have a small group of travelers who may use wheelchairs. While most or all travelers with wheelchairs may bring their own staff, on occasion we may ask experienced staff to help.
How many travelers do I assist?
Travel Companions will be assigned a small group of 3-4 travelers. You will assist these travelers at the hotel each night and morning. During the day Special Journeys travels as a large group where we all assist one another.
What types of Traveler Cares will I be assisting with?
Each night Travel Companions lead travelers to their assigned hotel rooms and as necessary help with selecting matching clothes for the next day and ensure that dirty clothes are put into appropriate bags. They assist as needed with shaving and other personal hygiene and grooming needs. Some travelers may need limited assistance with showering such as getting in and out of a tub safely, providing washing prompts and making sure that showers are being taken. Travel Companions also check in again a little afterwards to make sure doors are locked and that travelers go to sleep at night. For most travelers the days are tiring, and they head straight to sleep but sometimes TV movie marathons call! On mornings when we are checking out of a hotel Travel Companions help with packing suitcases and putting them outside the room door.
At meals Travel Companions provide assistance such as ordering within the limitations of any food or diet restrictions a traveler may have. Some travelers may need a little extra assistance, such as cutting a large hamburger in half. Another responsibility is monitoring drink intake to make sure the travelers have liquid but are not consuming too much soda. Due to bus restrictions we also need to make sure that drinks are consumed at the restaurant and not taken on the bus. Most travelers are independent or relatively independent at meals. There are specific procedures for travelers who need more involved eating assistance. These travelers sit together and are assisted by experienced Travel Companions.
Attractions & During the Day
At attractions Travel Companions walk with travelers and make sure that they are engaged in the experience. At regular intervals they give bathroom reminders and prompts. When we arrive at the gift store (always a traveler favorite) they assist with shopping. This would include helping to select items, verifying sizes, and budgeting, but they never handle the travelers' money. Once travelers are finished shopping Travel Companions then assist in ensuring everyone boards the bus. Throughout the day they also assist with entering and leaving buildings as well as at curbs and other locations that travelers with mobility issues may struggle with.
Engaging the travelers in the experience is a very important part of the trip. It is something that Travel Companions need to be proactive with in order to involve the travelers and make sure they are having a good time. For example, Travel Companions start conversations with travelers, asking them about what they are looking forward to and what they have enjoyed on the trip. Bus rides are an opportunity to get to know the travelers on the trip and make sure that they are involved in the experience.
What type of Information do I receive before the trip?
You'll receive our Procedures document shortly before each trip. The procedures will provide you with an overview of what happens each day on the trips and what Travel Companions are responsible for helping with. No traveler-specific information is sent before the trip because of traveler confidentiality.
When you join the group, you will receive a backpack including a detailed information packet about the travelers assigned to you. You will also receive more general information about all travelers in the group (such as shopping related information) to refer to during the day. Traveler-specific information is collected at the end of the trip and shredded due to traveler confidentiality.
What type of information do I receive during the trip?
At the beginning of each trip, you are provided with several focused documents covering different areas of traveler information, such as shopping notes and shirt sizes to assist with shopping. As the trip progresses, you receive information about travelers' current spending balances when it's necessary to help travelers shop for souvenirs.
Special Journeys also provides you with information covering ADL (assisted daily living) needs in an easy to follow format for the specific 3 or 4 travelers assigned to you. In addition to the information for your assigned travelers, you are also provided with information for daytime concerns about all travelers. This allows everyone to be able to assist any traveler during the day, should they some need assistance.
How are new Travel Companions trained?
Once you are approved as a new Travel Companions you will receive the Policies document which provides information about how the trips operate. Shortly before your scheduled first trip you will receive a Procedures document which provides detailed information on how the trips operate and your responsibilities.
On the trip, you will be assigned to a Head Travel Companion who will work with you. The Head Travel Companion will review each traveler assigned to you and discuss their needs as shown on the documentation provided to you. During the day, the Head Travel Companions will guide you through what happens next (at the hotel, on the bus, at meals and attractions). If you have questions or need assistance at the hotel with ADLs (Assisted Daily Livings) your Head Travel Companion will be available to assist you. They will coordinate with the Med Team passing pills to ensure you know where the travelers go for pills, and they assist you in locating travelers who have not completed that process.
The main focus for all Travel Companions is to ensure that the travelers are well cared for, comfortable and having a great time!
Will I be expected to provide 1:1 dedicated care for a single traveler?
No, Travel Companions do not work with travelers with high levels of needs. Some experienced Travel Companions may be asked before the trip to assist individuals in wheelchairs or those who may have other serious issues, however it is fully their choice to do so.
A Typical Day
What does a typical Special Journeys trip day look like?
Our number one goal as Travel Companions is to ensure that the travelers are well cared for and having a great time. Our days begin with helping each traveler with the specific care they need. Then luggage is packed up and set outside the rooms. Travelers are then guided to the hotel breakfast room. As necessary they may also be directed to a dedicated med room to receive their pills from the Med Team.
If we have attractions that day the Travel Companions walk around with the travelers and engage them in the experience. When the group is shopping at a gift store, Travel Companions will help with selecting items, checking sizes, and coordinating with individuals who are done.
At meal times Travel Companions will assist with general eating assistance such as getting fountain drinks and ordering off the menu.
When we arrive at each hotel we will begin setting up rooms for the travelers. Once that is completed, we bring travelers to their rooms and help them get settled. At the end of each day we help travelers into bed, and once their needs have been met, we can go to our rooms to rest. In the morning, we wake them up and help them get ready for the day's activities.
Special Journey trips are demanding on Travel Companions. Yes, it is a vacation, but it is also a lot of work. Travel Companions must assist travelers with many tasks such as personal hygiene, shopping, eating, getting on and off the bus, and sometimes walking. The main focus of a Travel Companion is to ensure that travelers enjoy themselves and are well cared for. While Travel Companions get to see and do activities and go to new places, the Travel Companion team's primary focus is to serve the travelers' needs first.
How do we keep the trips running smoothly?
The Tour Leaders have decades of experience leading efficiently run chaperoned trips. Special Journeys uses trip-tested, custom-made documents, support equipment, and custom software that have all been developed from our experience with the specific needs of travelers we have taken on trips. We have developed repeatable processes and procedures to ensure that travelers remain safe and well-cared for, that activities run smoothly, and that everyone in the group knows what is happening and what to do. For example, before we even arrive at a hotel, we already know which rooms we have and who will be in each room.
We've received many compliments on our trips from people who tell us that Special Journeys is the most organized and efficient group they've ever seen!
Money, Meds & Luggage
How do I handle travelers' medicine?
Travel Companions do not handle traveler medicine. Tour Leaders, a nurse who volunteers on the trip, or pre-assigned staff (who have years of Special Journeys travel experience) will handle all traveler medicine. If a traveler has a dedicated 1:1 staff from the traveler's agency, that staff almost always handles the medicine for their individual.
Do I have to be responsible for travelers' spending money?
No, Travel Companions do not assist with handling travelers' money. Money is tracked and managed by the Tour Leaders who have custom-created software to manage spending money. Travel Companions will be made aware of a traveler spending balance, when necessary. While we are at stores, the Travel Companions will use documentation provided by Special Journeys to assist the travelers while shopping.
How is travelers' luggage handled on trips?
Luggage is automatically delivered (not by the Travel Companion) to rooms each night and collected in the morning from outside rooms. Many of our travelers completely handle their own luggage inside their room. Travel Companions have minimal interaction with luggage except for some in-room handling including ensuring that travelers have their suitcases packed and placed outside the room each morning.
What type of transportation is used on trips?
Typical transportation to and from the trip's destination and activities is a full-sized motor coach with bathroom facilities in the rear of the bus.
How does the role of a Tour Leader differ from a Travel Companion?
Each trip is led by our experienced tour leaders who have guided over 300 trips. Tour Leaders gather food orders electronically and prepare simple sheets that allow instant food tracking and distribution, they handle travelers' medicine and spending money, use custom software to keep the trip organized, and deliver luggage to travelers' rooms, all of which Travel Companions do not do.
Are we able to request certain trips?
Absolutely! We encourage you to let us know what types of trips you are interested in when you sign up. We would, however, prefer your first trip be a bus trip so you can familiarize yourself with how our trips operate on a simpler trip than a flight or cruise trip. Cruises and overseas trips are offered first to our experienced Travel Companions.
This sounds like something I would be interested in. How do I start the process?
The Traveler Companion section of the website has an application that you need to fill out and submit. Once this step is completed, we will forward you documents for a background and reference check. You will also receive release and non-disclosure agreements to review and sign. Then our Travel Companion Coordinator will contact you and set up a phone interview. The final step will be a review from the Board of Directors of Special Journeys Travel Companion Association. Once the Board approves you to be a Travel Companion, you will receive a certificate and additional training material. Then, a few times a year we will contact you with trip availability.
Return to the main Travel Companion web page.