Traveling with Special Needs


As someone on the spectrum and also with a child on the Autism Spectrum with additional special needs, we know first hand how daunting traveling with special needs can be. Many vacations may seem impossible or overwhelming to even consider, feeling ultimately trapped. Let's be honest, your vacation may look very different than the ones we see on TV or social media, and that is completely ok! Today there are so many options out there that will allow your family to build lasting memories while minimizing the stress of the unknown.

When  you or someone you care for has special needs many things in life take on a difference reality. It is a unique concept that many families may need to begin with practice vacations and familiarizing themselves to gain comfort and confidence to take on more complex adventures. While everyone is different, I recommend following a stepped approach to travel as follows:

Practice vacation with staycations and inclusive local resorts.

 Keep it local and keep travel times to a minimum. This will maximize the time you spend at your temporary home away from home so you can identify potential triggers, barriers and immediate needs. Additionally, if you forget anything in the hustle and bustle you can easily go home or have a friend or family member bring it to you. This can also allow for trusted therapist, nurses, or aides to also come. Continue to test this out until you begin to feel more comfortable at different locations and perfecting your rhythm. Some things to identify:

  • Accommodation requests: some accommodation requests like an accessible larger room, allergy friendly room (no feathers), room with a tub (many come with just showers), on a lower level, closer/farther away from the elevator, etc
  • Room type: What will give you and your family the most peace of mind. Will a typical 2 queen bed room suffice or while you need a larger suite with a separated bedroom. Will you need a full kitchen, mini refrigerator and/or a microwave. A separate sitting area serve as a quiet decompression area.
  • Potential Triggers: you may not feel like you are on vacation because the first few times you are going to be identifying those triggers and seeing where things begin to fall through the cracks of all your planning. It is ok and that is what this is all about! Make note and jot down ideas to prevent or prepare in the future
  • Identify your wins! This is the best part because you can finally see the light and hope of what is to come. Even if there was tears and it wasn't a complete win, look to those glimpses and smiles. Was it at the pool, a walk around the courtyard, a gigantic bubble bath in a jacuzzi tub, dining out, or something else? These might really end up surprising you but it serves as a great way to focus your energy(and time/money) for more memories in vacations to come 

More Practice + incorporating activities & outings

Trying out new locations and new arrangements. Start to incorporate going out to nearby activities or dining out. It's an additional piece so you can begin to see how much you can realistically fit in a day! Some families learn that they can go from sun up till sun down and sleep peacefully. Others might realize one activity in the morning could ruin the rest of the day and opt for afternoon activities or shorter outings.

Road trip!

Once you begin to feel a bit more adventurous, plan a road trip by expanding your time and travel away from home. You may feel like your entire life is already spent in the car chauffeuring your family around but a road trip brings different challenges and adventures. Boredom can make kids do interesting things but also knowing how long you can travel without  stopping before all chaos breaks loose will prove invaluable.

Plane, trains and automobiles!

At this point you have a routine down on how to be away from home and manage many potential stressors. You will need to decide what type of transportation you and your family would like to try next. The process of flying today can be overwhelming but there are a number of programs that allow you and your children to experience airports and even flying before a long trip. If these aren't available locally, you may want to pick a shorter flight and then pair it with a hotel that is similar if not the same as somewhere you have already stayed. This limits the amount of stressors to you and your children so there isn't as many changes to be overwhelmed by at a time. Many times the room setup, linens and even hygiene products for certain hotel chains will be very similar so that may be another option.

Inclusive one stop shop

Once you know how to get there and are ready for overnights away from home, sweet home, you can begin to really plan a full itinerary. The easiest way to incorporate all that you have learned is to make your trip an all-inclusive one. This can be in the form of an domestic or international resort or possibly even a cruise. Many have special programs for different special needs and are a destination vacation with food, activities and lodging all rolled into one for your convenience. Being close to your headquarters (ie room accommodations) will give everyone piece of mind to finally relax after all the amazing things you do for your family!

Finally, find your happy place and visit often. Just like riding a bicycle, some skills can be forgotten and/or get rusty. If there is a special place you have found to be most enjoyable for your family, make an effort to visit often. Additionally, if you are looking to try something new or more complex, brush up with a trip to your happy place so you feel prepared.

 As a travel agent, we can discuss the unique needs and let me do the research to follow up with any accommodations you might needs and tips to be proactive. Whether it be needing a sensory space, mobility aids, or the ability to plan for extra breaks and naps, your travel memories are a possibility! Your family's joy becomes my utmost priority because I know how these are the once in a lifetime memories that ultimately get us through all the hard times. Let me help you break free to explore this world the way we were all meant to! Feel free to contact me using the form below or through any of my other contact methods.

Certified Autism Travel Professional
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