Vacations allow families to have fun together and create memories that last a lifetime. Traveling with a family member who has special needs may require some extra planning and preparation to ensure that everyone can relax and enjoy. Consideration should be given to the mode of transportation, lodging and attraction accessibility, food options, and scheduling.
Below, we offer suggestions on how you can make traveling easier for you and your child with special needs. At Enablr Therapy, we believe with a few preparations, you and your family can have an unforgettable family vacation!
Contact Transportation and Facilities to Discuss Accommodations
While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public facilities be accessible, it is still wise to confirm accommodations to ensure that your family’s specific needs are met. For instance, does an “accessible” hotel room include a roll-in shower or a tub with a shower seat? Are electric carts or amplified listening devices available at an attraction? Are there sensory-friendly visitation times? Contacting hotels, restaurants, and attractions in advance can help to clarify what modifications and assistance is available. Many popular activities or locations such as Walt Disney World, Morgan’s Wonderland, and many of the National Parks have accessibility services that are geared to meeting guests’ needs and answering questions.
Airlines also offer traveling assistance such as early boarding options, assistance to move through the airport, transport of service dogs, and seating accommodations for those with special needs. Travelers are encouraged to contact the airline in advance to discuss their individual needs and to learn about the travel protocols. Note, medical oxygen is typically not allowed on a flight due to safety concerns.
However, portable oxygen concentrators are permissible. Power wheelchairs are typically stowed in the cargo area during the flight. Medically necessary liquids can be taken in carry-on bags but will be subject to additional screening. For more information regarding accessibility services for air travel, see the US Department of Transportation.
Pack the Essentials in a Easy to Carry Bag or Backpack
Being prepared means having access to all of the items that you might need. Some items that you might want to have with you at all times might include:
Your family member’s picture ID
Written medical history, medication list, and physician contact information
Snacks or food to meet specific dietary needs
Necessary medical equipment such bandages, diapers, walking devices, hearing aids, sunglasses, communication devices, or suction
Sensory objects if needed: weighted blankets, vests, chewelry, toys, visual schedules, fidgets and anything that is essential for the individual to feel safe and secure
Try Short and Small Trips First
Your family member may enjoy attractions with lots of sights, sounds, movement, and smells or prefer a quieter activity like taking a nature walk or sitting on a dock to go fishing. Taking small trips close to home before an elaborate vacation can be helpful in determining what type of vacation plans to make. For instance, your family may visit a zoo, aquarium, water park, or nature park that is within driving distance of your home. Once you know the interests and preferred activity level for your family, plan a short trip away. Work up to longer and more adventurous vacations.
Consider Taking Another Adult If Needed
It is important for caretakers to also have some downtime and relax. Having another adult join your family on a trip can help to spread out the demands and caregiving responsibilities while traveling. Inviting another family member, close friend or paying a caregiver to travel with you are all options. Be sure to choose your traveling companions wisely and clearly communicate expectations.
Keep Children Entertained
Whether it’s flying, a car ride, or hours in a hotel room, it is important to keep children entertained. Does your child like to read? Color? Play on an iPad? Listen to music? If so, make sure they have access to the things they love to do when they’re bored. Games like I Spy and Travel Bingo can be fun to do in the car.
Using a stroller or wagon when out and about can not only keep your children close to you but also gives you some space to take along a few extra items that you might need.
No one likes being stuck in a car for hours. Plan to take breaks at rest stops, restaurants, or even a playground if you are traveling with kids. For individuals that have skin and pressure area concerns, it is important to change positions often.
When scheduling activities, keep in mind the amount of energy that will be needed. Working in naps, late starts, or early bedtimes can help everyone be well rested and ready to go.
With a little planning and preparation, vacationing together as a family can be a fun and exciting adventure! Enablr Therapy wishes you safe travels!