Travel can be a daunting prospect for special needs families. Depending on the specific needs of your child, it can be tough finding appropriate accommodation, transport and activities to meet all your requirements. It can also be overwhelming leaving the safety of home for the many unknowns of travel.
However, travelling as a family offers so many benefits, benefits that should be available to every family, regardless of disability or diagnosis. Travel provides a glimpse into different lifestyles and cultures, opening minds. It provides opportunities to communicate and interact in new ways. Travel helps you realise the world is so much bigger than you ever thought. It also helps develop responsibility, confidence, organisation and independence.
To help your family take advantage of these benefits, here are some tips for successfully travelling as a special needs family.
With disability in the mix, it pays to research everything before you leave, to ensure your proposed holiday destination is truly accessible. Aspects to consider include:
- Transport – understand disability provisions and codes for airlines, trains, taxis, etc.
- Accommodation – select secure and accessible accommodation to suit your needs.
- Destination – research accessibility provisions at your destination(s).
- Personnel – ensure travel agents, etc., are experienced in disability and accessibility.
- Insurance – check your travel insurance will cover all your needs while away.
- Activities – take note of accessible and inclusive activities and experiences.
- Food – make sure there are options to meet your specific dietary requirements.
Don’t be too ambitious for your first holiday. Start small to reduce the risk and give yourself time to discover what works best for you and your family. Stay with friends or family close to home or pay for a hotel room in your city. This way, you can test the waters in a safe environment and call it quits if it’s all too hard. Once you know what works (or doesn’t work), you can move further away and take bigger risks on your travels.
Take things slow
Allow enough time each day for everyone to slow down and rest. Ensure your plans have some flexibility so you can change things up and give your family the downtime they need. The excitement, the jetlag, the pace of exploration and the underlying stress of being away from home can make everyone tired, irritable and in need of a rest. Make it easy on everyone and build quiet time into each day.
Pack with purpose
Take a backpack with activities and favourite belongings for your family to make travelling a little easier. This is especially handy when waiting at airports or when you’re looking for a quiet activity when staying in. Colouring-in, reading books, dolls, cards and cuddly toys can help keep kids calm and occupied when away from home. Electronic games, phones and tablets are also handy for this reason (just don’t forget the chargers!)
Develop an itinerary for the kids
Talking to the kids, involving them in planning and creating a visual itinerary for them can be a big help, particularly for kids on the autism spectrum. Include photos, maps, trivia, activities and information answering the core questions kids have – why / where / when / who / how / what. Let your kids see where you’ve been and where you’re headed next and ask for their input as you travel, to make it a more fulfilling holiday for everyone.
Don’t forget the gadgets
These days, smartphones serve a number of purposes and are a great tool when travelling. You can make phone calls, search the internet, play games, watch videos, listen to music or access accessibility apps from anywhere. Noise-cancelling headphones are another great gadget for travel, especially when flying. If you have young children, or kids who are prone to running off, there are a number of electronic trackers that can be used to keep tabs on them too.
Plan to have fun
The stress of planning and organising a holiday can be overwhelming, making it hard to see past the worry and allow yourself to have fun. However, don’t forget to have fun. Remember why you planned the holiday in the first place. Make sure you’ve planned activities you can look forward to and try not to worry too much. With good planning and preparation it will more than likely be a success. Let yourself have fun. Embrace the joy. You deserve it!
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