Lots of families choose to travel during the holidays, some to visit family and friends and some to get away for a vacation. AAA has estimated that a whopping 109 million Americans will travel during this year’s holiday season. If you and your family are planning a trip this Christmas, it’s wise to plan ahead, especially when traveling with a child with special needs. We’ve compiled a list of some handy tips and suggestions to help you plan a smooth trip so that your family has a holiday that is merry and bright.
First, figure out how you’re traveling – by car or airplane, for example – and work out all the details related to your chosen mode of transportation. If you’re traveling by air, most major airlines have some kind of accessibility services with trained employees who understand and can help those traveling with a family member with a disability. There is also a service called TSA Cares. You can reach out to them to explain your situation and your child’s specific needs, and they can help you prepare for when you go through security at the airport. Make sure you let them know about things your family may need, like extra time going through security or loading the plane, any devices your child may use, such as a wheelchair or adaptive stroller. If you have someone picking you up from the airport or if you’re renting a car, make sure you’ve planned ahead to ensure your child can ride safely in the vehicle.
When traveling, always allow for extra time – your family may need a little extra time navigating a busy airport, or even some extra time when traveling by car to allow for those unexpected bathroom breaks. Try to ensure you’re not asking too much of your child as well. If they wouldn’t typically tolerate traveling all day in the car, don’t expect them to be able to travel all day in the car for holiday travel, either. Take breaks when needed. Personally, I’d rather take a bit more time getting to my destination with a calm and happy family than to get their quicker but have an upset and uncomfortable child.
While you’re mapping out your trip, it can be really helpful to make a note of nearby hospitals and other healthcare centers at your destination, especially if you have a child with medical needs. You may also wish to touch base with your health insurance provider ahead of time as well, to make sure you are as prepared as possible in the event someone in your family needs medical attention while away from home. If your child takes medications, it can be a good idea to carry a typed list of your child’s medications from their doctor and keep all medications in a clear plastic bag. Also, make sure you have plenty of your child’s medications available for your trip, or get refills ahead of time if needed.
When traveling, as in most other situations, good communication is key. We recommend reaching out well ahead of time to whomever you may be staying with during your trip, whether you’re staying with family or at a hotel. You’ll want to ensure they know your child’s unique needs and help them plan ahead so that everyone can be appropriately accommodated and comfortable during your stay. While you’re packing for your trip, go ahead and think about any possible scenarios you and your family may find yourself in, and pack whatever you think you may need. While we realize most people want to pack as lightly as possible, when traveling with a special needs child, you don’t want to be caught off guard either.
If you’re staying overnight during your holiday travel, also remember to consider how your child will sleep. If your child uses a safety bed at home, they may not be able to sleep in a typical bed while traveling. A travel bed such as the Safe Place Travel Bed is an excellent option for keeping your child safe while sleeping during your holiday travels. The Safe Place Travel Bed is an inflatable safety bed designed for special needs children. It attaches securely to any stationary bed, and it will give you peace of mind, knowing that your child can sleep safely and comfortably wherever you may go.
Lastly, we have found that it can be really helpful to the whole family if you try your best to stay as close as possible to your normal daily routine. Traveling for the holidays will inevitably throw off your routine to some extent, but if you can try to incorporate some of your family’s usual day-to-day procedures into your travel, many children will appreciate the sense of normalcy and stability that can provide. While it can be tempting to try to see all the sights, do as much as possible, and make the most of your holiday travel, we also recommend that the family not overdo it. You know your child best, of course, but remember that even grownups can get travel-weary and overstimulated. Wherever you go this holiday season and whatever you choose to do, we hope that you and yours have a wonderful trip and that you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!