Dave’s story: Travelling with a PA


Dave and his PA encounter a cow while in Goa

In 2000 while living in Zimbabwe, Dave sustained a spinal cord injury at C4/5 level diving into a shallow river.

Dave had to adapt to the immediate physical challenges of getting around, getting dressed and eating with a high level injury. He also had to adjust to using Personal Assistants (PAs).

Dave, 38, says: “It was about understanding the role of a PA and how we’d work together. It’s quite intimidating. It was like having a person who you completely rely on like a child relies on a mother for everything. However, you’re an adult and you still want to go out, be independent, and have fun.”

Dave and his PA in Norfolk

Dave and his PA in Norfolk

One of the things Dave enjoyed before his accident was travelling. He moved around a lot for work, and took regular boating trips and hitchhiked around southern Africa. Having to find a different way of travelling was a challenge for Dave.

“It was difficult. My friends always wanted to take me places but I had to constantly think about things like access, getting in and out of cars, and where I was going to sleep.”

It was during this time navigating spinal cord injury and travel that Dave met Back Up.

“A friend suggested that I go on a multi-activity course. At first I didn’t want to do it because it seemed too daunting. In the end I convinced myself to do it and it was great. It was challenging, fun, and led me to becoming heavily involved with Back Up for a long time as a wheelchair skills trainer. I even took on the Snowdon Push.”

After the course, Dave decided to take on a greater challenge – he went to Goa, India.

“Planning the trip was difficult because I didn’t know what to expect out there. I’d travelled a few times before with PAs, but nowhere as remote where there might not be facilities for disabled people. If you’re both going into a situation with little knowledge and something happens like you fall out of your chair, it’s going to be tricky,” notes Dave.

Dave caught in a monsoon with his PA in Goa

Dave caught in a monsoon with his PA in Goa

Dave and his PA had to think about the particular challenges they might face in a country with limited equipment and facilities for disabled people

“I needed someone who could manage, if needed, to lift and move me around. We had to plan together how to manage things like showering and bowels. It was my responsibility to find the right equipment that was portable but stable. The equipment had to be adaptable to every situation and that’s not easy to find. But I wanted to do the trip so I had to find something my PA could use. The three-month trip was a success and tested us both beyond our comfort zones.”

When travelling to different places with PAs, it’s also important for Dave to ensure he’s maintaining his independence. “My parents’ house is very small and there isn’t much space. If it’s Christmas, for example, I make sure I have PAs that I know well and trust so that they’re just another person in the room,” Dave says. “In other situations, we arrange a time when my PA and I go separate ways. I make sure I’ve got whatever I need, and if I need anything I’ll just call them. It’s crucial to have that conversation to establish that we both need space.”

For Dave, it’s very important to have boundaries when travelling with a PA.

“When going on a big trip, there tends to be a lot of excitement with the planning and finally getting to the destination. It’s important to make sure that the job doesn’t get left behind or that the lines get blurred.”

Dave speaking to local people on a beach in Goa

Dave speaking to local people on a beach in Goa

Dave is planning a trip to Pakistan and, in addition to his care needs, he’s also thinking about the different cultural issues that might arise.

“If I end up going with a PA who is a woman, there are cultural and religious values that I’ll need to take into account. It’s important to be aware of all aspects of the environment you’re going into.”

However, Dave also says it’s important to know when to take a step back from planning.

“If you know you’ve organised your trip as well as you can, then you have to believe that it’s going to be okay and enjoy it.”

If you have questions about any of the issues raised in this piece, please contact our Outreach team at outreachandsupport@backuptrust.org.uk or call us on 020 8875 1805. You can also visit our support for you section to find out more about the services we offer and how we can help.