A successful family vacation takes planning. Traveling with a family member with special needs or a disability takes planning to the next level, and for that reason, many families choose not to travel. It can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Here are some tips that can help make the process easier, and lead to a fun, memorable experience.
1. Work with a travel advisor who specializes in special needs travel.
Don’t try to do it alone. A travel advisor with a certification in Special Needs Travel – a Certified Accessible Travel Advocate – can help you identify the best and most accessible destinations and activities for your particular situation. Not all destinations are equal, and some may not be suitable for your particular needs. They will personally work with all the suppliers and tour operators to make sure they are aware of your needs and that your accommodations are met, taking the pressure off of you. If you have a child with autism, look for someone with the certification of Certified Autism Travel Professional.
2. Don’t be shy
You don’t have to go into every single detail or provide medical documentation about your needs and requirements, but be upfront with your travel advisor about what you require. Special needs can be wide-ranging and varying. Do you require special dietary accommodations? A refrigerator for diabetic supplies? Oxygen or special equipment. You want to make sure you receive the complete services you need and want. Everything will be kept completely confidential.
3. Talk to your child’s physician
In addition to working with your travel advisor, do not forget to talk to your child’s physician before leaving on your trip. Ask for recommendations, tips, and information about putting together a special “travel pack” with items you may need in case of an emergency. Such a pack may include:
· A list of any prescription drugs your child is taking and a copy of each prescription
· A physician’s description letter of your child’s condition and needs in case of an emergency.
· Phone numbers and email addresses of your medical team
· Recommendations for physicians and specialists in the area you are visiting.
· Health insurance cards and phone numbers
· Supplemental travel protection (your health insurance may not cover you at your destination – make sure you get a policy that covers pre-existing conditions).
· Phone numbers of any necessary medical supply company (your travel advisor will also work with companies that can supply certain items).
4. Choose your destination carefully
Determine your family’s vacation style, so think about what the whole family wants to do (after all, it should be fun for everyone) and then make a list of destinations and activities your family is interested in. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t think you have to be restricted to special needs destinations or what you see other families doing. Then talk to your travel advisor about the logistics of your top choices and how they will work for the whole family. For example, will they be easy to get to? Are there adaptive activities or accessible tours? Is the staff at the resort autism certified? These are just some of the questions that you will work through. The beauty is that the world is wide and there is something for everyone out there.
5. Work through the logistics of air travel.
If you choose to fly, there is a lot to consider when flying with special needs. Carefully consider your specific needs when traveling on an airplane – what accommodations will make your life easier? Do you need to be close to the front of the plane to access the bathroom? What will put the least amount of stress on your family?
For children with autism, airport rehearsals are amazing tools that provide so many benefits. Programs like Wings for Autism will help your child navigate the airport and airplane boarding process, showing them at their own pace what to expect and help them process it, removing the fear of the unknown. Your travel advisor will help find a nearby program
Through the TSA Cares program, your travel advisor can also contact TSA in advance to arrange accommodations during the security screening. They will also make sure any disability requirements are noted on the reservation.
Preboarding is a great option in some situations. For those with mobility issues, it allows you to board at your own pace and settle in without the hustle and bustle of the other passengers. For children with autism, it may help them by getting them out of the overstimulation of the gate area. Talk to the gate agent about how you would like to preboard.
6. Pack extra
If your child or other family member needs any special items, pack more than you need. Better safe than sorry. Don’t set yourself up for any problems by running out of a crucial item, particularly medication
7. Manage expectations
One should never expect perfection on any trip. This is particularly true when traveling with a person with special needs. Life happens, and sometimes schedules activities need to be re-arranged or missed. Every trip is a learning experience. Remember, memories can be made at any time in the most unexpected places.
8. Remember, it’s a family trip
If this is your first family vacation, you will of course be concerned about how your special needs child is managing. But, don’t forget about the other family members. Make sure you offer quality time and attention to the other kids and make sure you schedule time or some self-care as well (a massage, perhaps).
9. Do not overschedule
Your trip is not a death march. Everyone should enjoy it and come home wanting more. Make sure you plan plenty of downtime for the family to rest and recharge.
Go and have fun. Make those memories.
One World Family Travel, LLC is both an Accessible Travel Advocate and a Certified Autism Travel Professional.