Tips for traveling with a child with special needs

May 10, 2023 | Blog, Family Engagement

Travel can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. Traveling with children, especially children with special needs, can present an additional layer of stress. The keys to a successful trip are preparation and planning!

Here are some tried and true tips from families who have done it and lived to tell the tale:

  1. Talk to your child’s doctor. Before you do anything else, make sure your child’s doctor says it is okay to travel. Once you have the “all clear” ask them for any recommendations or special items that you can take to make your trip easier.
  2. Just do it! We know it is scary, but unless your doctor has said no, putting aside your fears can lead to amazing memories for your whole family!
  3. Plan, plan, and plan some more! Choose a route and destination that can meet your family’s needs. Contact your destination and ask about accessibility and accommodations.
  4. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Pick the transportation that will best meet your family’s unique needs. Is your destination close enough to drive? If you are driving, think about where you will stop along the way. If you are flying, can you get everything in your suitcases, and how will you navigate the airport? Also, if you are flying, how will you get around once you arrive at your destination? Are you prepared if you get stuck in traffic or experience delays or cancellations?
  5. Make a list and check it twice! We’ve all forgotten something when traveling, but while you can easily pick up a toothbrush or deodorant when traveling, finding medications and equipment for your child can be a bit more difficult. Making a list of all the things you will need during your trip can help you make sure you don’t forget anything important. When making your list, think about bedtime, mealtimes, bath time, time in the car or on the plane. A few less obvious items that you may want to add to your list are –
    • A list of any prescription drugs your child is taking and a copy of each prescription.
    • A physician’s description letter of your child’s condition and needs in case of an emergency.
    • Contact info for your child’s physicians/specialists.
    • Recommendations for physicians and specialists in the area you’re visiting.
    • Health insurance cards and phone numbers (be sure you’ve reviewed your insurance policy before you leave because many require prior approval before out-of-town emergency room or doctor’s visits).
    • Phone numbers of any necessary medical supply company.
  1. Pack extras – That old phrase, “You’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” is the motto for this trip. This is not the time to pack light! For this trip, you want to bring more than you need for all those “just in case” moments.
  2. It never hurts to ask! Many travel destinations do an excellent job meeting the needs of all their customers. Some airports, cruise ships, and sightseeing attractions are even part of a network of organizations that provide a sensory or Autism friendly experience. But on the off chance you visit a location that does not meet your family’s needs, don’t be afraid to kindly let them know how they can. For example, if you are offered a room or seating accommodation that won’t work, politely decline and explain what you need and why.
  3. We are family! When traveling, your attention will naturally be on making sure your child with special needs is comfortable. Make sure you are also spending time with your other family members! When possible, perhaps when your special needs child is napping or playing, set aside some quality time with your other kids as well.
  4. Have realistic expectations. No trip is ever perfect. Life happens and things go awry! Don’t give up! Focus on the good memories you are making and the fun your family is having. You can always review how you will do things differently next time. Also remember that as parents, our reaction to unexpected surprises can set the tone for how our kids react as well. Just keep calm and be flexible because the best laid plans can always be disrupted!
  5. Take a rest; you’ve earned it! There’s no rest for the weary! Or maybe there is…. Consider building in a day at the end of your trip to catch up and get back into your normal routine. Traveling can be exhausting, so make sure you plan some time for you and your family to relax and reset after your trip.