Traveling this summer with Special Needs Children

Summer Vacation Traveling with Special Needs Children

Planning a summer vacation should be an exciting time for families as they prepare to seek out new adventures.  However, strong emotions often appear in both children and parents while planning and during the vacation.  Often when families of special needs children travel, the excitement for new adventure is often replaced with worry, anxiety, fear, and concern. 

I recently went on a road trip with my two children and little planned except the destination – the Cincinnati Zoo to see Fiona the Hippo.  I did not book hotels, plan meals, or other activities along the way.  Although the trip was an adventure and a test of everyone’s patience, I would not recommend this way of traveling and I will personally use the following strategies below for future travels next month.

Here are 15 Tips for planning an enjoyable Vacation

#1. Plan for Success

Ask yourself the following questions.  What do you want your family to get out of the vacation?  Is the vacation for relaxation? Is the vacation for family togetherness and bonding? Is the vacation for learning?  Is the vacation for adventure?  Set goals and be realistic.  Is it realistic to spend all day at the beach? Possibly.  Is it realistic to see three major attractions in one day? Possibly.  You must decide based on your family and your family’s needs.

#2. Be Brave! 

Start building your confidence by slowing picking destinations that are further and further from home.

#3. Planning is Everything! Do your research ahead of time.

Gather as much information about the upcoming vacation as possible.  Answer the following questions – When, Where, Who and What.  Establish an itinerary but allow for flexibility and back-up plans especially if planning activities outside.

#4. Consult with your child’s physician and be medically prepared

  • Carry a list of prescriptions drugs you child is taking and a copy of each prescription
  • Phone numbers and emails addresses of your physicians and specialists or access to your child’s mychart online
  • Carry your health insurance cards and phone numbers – Review your personal health plan and check for coverage where you will be visiting.  This will be extremely beneficial if you need medical care while on vacation.
  • Double check prescription needs 2 weeks ahead of time to make sure that you will have enough for the entire trip

#5. Pack Extra Supplies

It is important to pack extra clothes, snacks and activities.  I usually pack 3 extra days’ worth of clothing as spills and accidents can happen.

#6. Plan Down Time

It is important to remember that both children and adults will need some down time while traveling.  Often, time as adults we want to drag our children to every experience when traveling but remember that down time can help prevent burnout, tantrums, and other behaviors. Also, vacations are suppose to relax and refresh us.

#7. Bring comfort Items

Does your child have a special blanket, pillow or stuffy?  Bring it.  Make sure to double check that you have it before leaving each stop of your journey. It might help to give the stuffy name so you can always ask where “Ellie” is.

#8. Don’t Be Shy, Ask for accommodations.

Using assertive manners, let individuals know (restaurant hosts and waiters/waitresses), hotels, etc. what you need and expect them to make reasonable accommodations for your child’s special needs.  Most people and plans will be more than happy to help.  If they offer you an accommodation that won’t work, please politely decline, and explain why.  This is a great way to advocate for your child’s disability and needs.  Also, it is a great way provide disability awareness.

#9. Keep in mind this your family trip

You want to make it special for your special needs child but don’t forget about the other members of the family.  This vacation is about the whole family —- togetherness and bonding and fun.  This trip is about the family making memories that will last a lifetime.  Give special attention to your other children and your spouse.  By giving special attention to everyone they will be more willing to assist and be more cooperative when your attention is focused on your special needs child.

Keep points to remember – this trip or vacation is about making memories and togetherness – it is not about perfection and doing everything.  Safe Travels and Have Fun! Enjoy!


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