A trip to Australia is on many of our bucket lists, whether it’s to see the country or meet with long-lost family members. For Charlotte from Milton Keynes, who lives with cerebral palsy, her dream of travelling Australia was for both of these reasons, and it was all made possible in April last year with a bit of support from Helping Hands.
One year on, Charlotte has been kind enough to share her personal account of her tour of Australia, and how having live-in carer Irma there to help her made all the difference.
Arranging the trip of a lifetime
Having spent many of her early years growing up in Australia, Charlotte’s journey held special significance. Perth had been her childhood home until she moved to the UK. Following the sad passing of her father, Charlotte decided the time was right to visit her original home country and reconnect with her siblings and other family members.
The next step was making the trip a reality. Charlotte got in touch with Travel Counsellors – a holiday firm specialising in creating bespoke holidays around the world. She also contacted our clinical care team at Helping Hands to discuss the options for a carer to support her throughout her trip.
After meeting up with Charlotte and finding out more about her trip Down Under, we matched her with live-in carer Irma and plans were made to visit some of Australia’s most beautiful destinations. Irma was there to guide and support Charlotte throughout her tour, helping her to navigate the ups and downs of the airports, overland treks and accommodation, and provide the extra care that was needed.
A testing start at Heathrow
Of course, travelling always comes with its challenges. From the stresses of getting to the airport on time through to baggage going astray, going on holiday can throw up all kinds of obstacles. For Charlotte, who uses a wheelchair and has specific medication and equipment needs, there were certainly a few extra complications. Luckily Irma was there to help smooth any issues that arose.
The first part of Charlotte’s adventure saw her depart Heathrow Airport on a 5am flight to Brisbane via Abu Dhabi. The majority of the flight went without a hitch, but when she arrived at her final destination, Charlotte was dismayed to discover that the hotel had no equipment to help her in and out of bed.
Fortunately, after a few discussions, Charlotte and Irma managed to get access to a chair and hoist. Their hotel also apologised with a bouquet of flowers wrapped in expensive-looking paper, which Charlotte still has. Then, when one of Australia’s luxury hotels also failed to provide the equipment that was agreed for Charlotte’s room, Irma was again on hand to address the issues.
“Irma went and challenged the manager for being incompetent!” Charlotte told us. “Luckily, having my own manual chair solved certain problems and Irma was very innovative when it came to getting me ready for bed, arranging pillows and cushions so I wouldn’t fall out.”
From the Sydney Harbour Bridge to a whale-watching cruise, and visiting the city of Perth to taking in the sights of Uluru (better known as Ayers Rock), Charlotte and Irma criss-crossed different time zones and states together. They learned the art of throwing a boomerang from an aboriginal tribe and even had the chance to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Charlotte sang her praises for airlines that were on-the-ball and had good procedures in place. When talking about her return trip from Uluru to Sydney, she says, “Virgin Airlines really had it down with the training and technical equipment.” She also credits other airlines that she felt had improved their procedures.
“Everything is so far away in Australia!” Charlotte adds. “Irma would tell people that we have been travelling for 45 days – I think she meant to say we will be travelling for 45 days!”
Seeing long-lost family
Despite the travel-related difficulties, Charlotte’s holiday had some incredible highlights. With Irma by her side all the way, Charlotte explored the wonders of Sydney and was captivated by the tranquillity of the famous Blue Mountains. Charlotte shares that Irma was a fantastic guide too, taking plenty of underwater photos of the Great Barrier and the artwork around Uluru.
One of the most poignant moments from Charlotte’s trip was meeting with her whole family for a party in Bowral, a country town around 85 miles south-west of Sydney. Organised by two of Charlotte’s brothers, Charlotte had the chance to catch up about the latest family celebrations and meet the newest addition to the family.
“It was lovely see everyone,” she says. “There was plenty of fabulous food and the town itself is made up of large and expensive mansions. Plus, it’s the home of one of Australia’s most famous cricketers.”
After returning to her home in Milton Keynes, Charlotte reflects on her holiday. “It was great in many ways,” she explains. “We had a few glitches, but it was great seeing my brothers and sisters. The Australians are so warm and laid-back – nothing seems to bother them!”
Although Charlotte says her trip was “certainly a worthwhile experience”, she also shares that she’s quite happy to be back home! But Charlotte still praises her live-in carer Irma for all of her support, companionship and resourcefulness in enabling her to embark on the tour of her dreams.