To Grandmother’s House We Go: Traveling for the Holidays with Special Needs

Almost one third of Americans will travel for the holidays, many of them to visit family. These trips can seem a little daunting for special needs families, but it can be done.

Here are some tips to help make your holiday travels easier.

General Tips

There are some basic steps that can always help whether you’re flying or driving.

  • Bring their favorite food, and plenty of it. Their favorite food will give them a little piece of stability during all the changes and make sure they stay fed at the same time.
  • Bring enough medication for the whole trip. Don’t try to find medications in an unfamiliar city if you don’t have to. Refill any prescriptions to make sure you have enough.
  • Get the right medical documents. Travel prescriptions and medical records will help in case things go wrong. A doctor’s letter about their condition can help smooth the road with TSA, airlines, etc.
  • Go over the trip beforehand. Visuals like a map or photo album can be invaluable for getting someone with special needs ready for the trip. The more they know about what’s happening, the better they should be able to handle it.
  • Choose your travel days wisely. Some typical travel days can get crazy during the holidays. Consider using a work vacation day to travel on an “off day” to reduce the amount of congestions or wait times.

Tips for Flying

A little planning and preparation can go a long way towards making your flight a positive experience for you and your children.

  • Fly at the right time. Most special needs children do better in the morning, but you should adapt the flight to fit your child’s schedule.
  • Spring for the direct flight or that longer layover. Some children will need a couple hours of running around an airport between flights. Others will do better getting it all out of the way at once. Choosing the flight schedule around your child’s disposition is recommended over choosing for price.
  • Select your airline and seats carefully. Different airlines are better at accommodating special needs travelers. Once you choose the airline, springing for that extra legroom or getting a window seat might make traveling easier for your loved one.
  • Prepare your child before the flight. Read about airplanes and airports, watch videos, or even visit the airport beforehand. This will help your loved one know what to expect before you reach the airport.
  • Prepare for the airport as well as the flight. Check out the TSA regulations on special needs. Check in at home to avoid long lines. Bring small bills for skycap or airport shuttles and get there early so you’re not rushed, especially during holiday traffic.

Tips for Road Trips

Road trips might take longer than flying, but they have the advantage of much more customization. Make the most of this freedom to make the trip easier.

  • Build stops into the schedule. Extra stops or taking longer with meals will help break up the trip to make it more bearable.
  • Prep the car. Child locks and seat belt buckle covers will keep escape artists safe. Double checking the car’s maintenance can avoid unexpected breakdowns in unfamiliar areas.
  • Bring plenty of food. Snacks and their favorite foods will help avoid meltdowns. If your child has allergies, consider a refrigerated cooler that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter so you can take enough food for the whole family.
  • Get creative with activities. Research road trip games ahead of time so you have a variety of choices. Instead of audio books, try having one adult or older sibling read the book to everyone else. Just be prepared to have fallbacks like favorite movies or music.

With the right planning and preparation, holiday travel with special needs children can become a fun and exciting experience.

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