Tonight, as I sit here writing a plethora of lists for our family holiday travel, I posted a poll to a parenting support group on Facebook asking for tips and tricks for surviving holiday travel with special needs kids. And boy, did they ever come through.
Even with planning, travel is stressful for everyone. When you add a special needs child who is out of their element, things can get hectic really quickly. If thinking about travel sends you to the corner in the fetal position, then check out these lists. While all kids are different and need different things, there might be something golden in here for you. Safe and happy holidays to you, road-wary (and potentially road-weary) travelers!
Some kids don’t need to be prepped beforehand, while some need a step-by-step itinerary to help them prepare for an impending trip. How best to do this is really up to you. Does your child prefer a pictorial itinerary, countdown calendar, or packing list? If you’re flying for the first time, it can be super helpful to give a detailed description of what to expect on the day and maybe even act out the adventure from the ticket counter to the landing.
Traveling by Plane:
- Act out the day to normalize it for your kid.
- Tell the desk agent at the gate that you need to pre-board due to special needs. This will help you board the plane first.
- Use a car seat if you can, as it can offer a bit of comfort and familiarity.
- If you use the car seat, ask for a seat with extra space so there is enough leg room.
- If you are screen-time-friendly, be sure to bring your child’s favorite device, extra chargers, batteries, power packs and noise-canceling headphones.
- If your kid gets motion sickness, pack a plastic bag, wet wipes, paper towels Dramamine, and motion sickness patches or bracelets. Don’t forget a change of clothes for you and your child.
- Snacks can be your friend.
- Bring something to suck on or chew, like gum, to help with ears popping. Suckers are also a great way to keep hands and mouth busy.
Traveling by Train:
- Budget for a little exploring time. Take your kid for a tour around the station and check out the train. If your kiddo is a train enthusiast, this could be a lot of fun.
- Practice the sandwich game with your kids: If you’re traveling with another adult, have the kid(s) between you and them, and have the kids come up with fun sandwich fillings that they can pretend to be.
- If you are screen-time-friendly, be sure to bring your child’s favorite device, extra chargers, batteries, power packs, and noise-canceling headphones. The headphones are great to reduce stimulation, as well as to be courteous to other travelers.
- Board games, puzzles, and paper and pencil games are also good ideas if your child enjoys them.
- Pack snacks and meals, especially if your kid has special dietary concerns.
- If your kid gets motion sickness, pack a plastic bag, wet wipes, paper towels, Dramamine, motion sickness patches or bracelets.
- If you’re traveling overnight, consider getting a sleeping compartment.
- Use a map and itinerary to countdown the station stops.
- Not all trains have changing tables available—especially ones for shorter trips—so bring your own changing pad and supplies. Don’t forget a change of clothes.
Traveling by Automobile:
- Schedule bathroom, snack and meal breaks. Know your route and where all of the rest stops are ahead of time.
- Use social stories beforehand to prepare your child for the trip.
- Leave for the trip very early or drive overnight if your kid will sleep in the car.
- If you are screen-time-friendly, be sure to bring your child’s favorite device, extra chargers, batteries, power packs, and noise-canceling headphones. Load up your tablets with favorite and new-to-them games and videos. If your kid loves YouTube train videos or car washes, make sure you have enough to last double the length of the trip.
- Bring a camera along for your child to take their own pictures and videos.
- Games and books and music are all very helpful:
- License plate game
- Car Bingo
- Mad libs
- Trivia cards
- Joke books
- Audio books
- Favorite songs
- If your kid gets motion sickness, pack a plastic bag, wet wipes, paper towels, Dramamine, motion sickness patches or bracelets. Don’t forget a change of clothes for you and your child.
- Bring a portable potty, toilet paper and plastic waste bags.
- Bring bag of “new to them” toys and activities. Our family picks up cheap thrift store toys and games and doles them out a little bit at a time.
- Take regularly scheduled breaks. You can use a visual timer to let your child see the progression of time until the next break. During breaks, have your child do big movement exercises and stretches.
Do you have any tips to share?