Travel With Disability Guide– Vacations are times for family trips and every family plans to make them memorable and interesting. And they quite manage it. However, families with a special needs kid require putting in extra efforts to make their family trip a trip to remember!
I speak from experience as I am blessed with a child with special needs. My son was diagnosed with microcephaly at birth. He is a non-vocal child with mobility issues and communication is by setting a routine. It took me quite a while to get used to the fact of his severe disability, rise up to it and try to still lead our life as any normal family would. The journey was not easy and I agree that having a child with special needs does restrict possibilities; you need to make a lot of compromises along the way but I and my husband still gathered the courage to embark on new adventures. And we have collected a bagful of amazing and unforgettable memories!
If in this endeavor of yours, you get support from your family then I feel you can even scale peaks. In my case, my parents and my in-laws were my pillars of strength, and my husband who stood by me in all decisions concerning my son made the way easy. I feel blessed that we have been able to do all possible to offer a normal growing environment to my son with special needs.
Since both I and my husband loved to travel, we did not let our special child hamper our enthusiasm in this regard. We made adjustments for him and took him along to every outing, every vacation, or every get-together. And times today have changed; from the initial stares and questioning I used to encounter, the glances of onlookers now have changed to admiration and empathy.
Following are some tips that I have found useful in all our journeys to date.
It all starts with preparing the mindset to venture out with your child with special needs followed by planning which is done days in advance. But more than this, adopting the ‘never say never’ attitude if unfortunately, a snag does occur in the plan is of crucial importance. Hope and trust in having a better next time need to remain!
Preparing Your Mindset
The thought of undertaking trips with special needs kids is quite terrifying for most mothers, at least maybe for the first time. Their child’s outbursts and behavior before strangers can lead to many awkward and uncomfortable situations. However, this fear should not curb your passion for travel.
I used to be terrified about how my son would react while meeting people unknown to him. I had to act as an intermediary and make polite responses on his behalf. Later on, it stopped affecting me; I used to let him be the way he wanted.
So remember, everyone needs a break once in a while and you are no exception. Summon the courage to take your child along, plan well, get set and go!
Don’t Shy from People
You will be interacting with all sorts of people as you travel with your special needs child; don’t shy from them.
There may be some who will be plainly inquisitive or there may be some who will not know how to deal or interact with your child. A few more will just want to relate to you because they too happen to be undergoing a similar experience.
What is required on your part in such situations is being calm and diplomatic in your response. Do not let their stares or questioning get under your skin. Treat them as people who need to be enlightened about such children and just do what you can to hike their awareness.
There are many occasions when people are extremely helpful and go that extra mile to make your stay or your travel as comfortable as possible. Cherish your interactions with them as those will be adding tons to your chest of unforgettable memories.
People also offer help out of genuine concern; don’t feel ill at ease; accept their help if it is needed.
I remember, the first time some passerby happened to ask me about my son while on the way to the therapist I clamped up thinking they had no right to pry into my life. But as time passed by I loosened up, became more relented and today the questioning does not bother me at all. And I don’t hesitate to ask for help if it is needed.
So, connect with people along your travel journey! Your special needs child is going to bestow upon you some beautiful and amazing travel experiences.
After having prepared your mind and garnered sufficient courage get down to basics.
Plan Every Aspect of the Trip in Detail
The success of any family trip lies in good planning. A family with special needs child will need to take care of every nitty-gritty but it is definitely worth it. The sense of achievement is immense and the joy of showing your child the world is immeasurable! So plan and plan in detail.
For me, planning for the family vacation is a ritual I love the most. Deciding the destination is a joint undertaking between the family members. Packing clothes and food items are what I love the most. I carry varied food items as we all love to munch along the way and so one goody bag is meant for me, my husband, and my younger son while the other bag is dedicated to food items suitable for my son with special needs.
I have jotted the following aspects that have to be considered in this regard.
Deciding the Destination
The climate of the tourist site is a deciding factor. Is your child used to hot weather or cold temperatures? Otherwise, destinations with pleasant weather are the best choice. What is the type of accommodation and amenities available at the destination site is another factor to be considered.
Duration of the Trip
What should be the ideal duration of your trip? If it is your first venture then it is best to avoid being overly ambitious. Start off by keeping your trip duration short. This will give an idea of how you and your special needs child fare away from the familiar environment of the home. You can learn from your mistakes and plan better for every next occasion.
Road Route to be Taken
You need to plan the best road route that will take you to your destination. The condition of the roads, the refreshment halts on the way are some factors to be considered here. Too bumpy or dirt-filled roads can cause discomfort to your special needs child leading to stress-causing situations. Well-maintained highway routes will make for smooth driving that is less tiring; saving energies that you will need to draw from when you reach your destination.
Hotel reservations have to be done based on the amenities available for your special needs child. Check the amenities provided by the hotel facility before making the reservations. Wheelchair accessibility, grab bars in the shower, extra blankets, pillows, and anything else that would make your child comfortable are some factors to be checked out.
Just don’t hesitate to ask!
Choosing Sightseeing Spots
The factor of wheelchair accessibility all throughout your trip is an important factor as many tourist hotspots have poor wheelchair accessibility. Do not plan to visit historical sites or museums as it may be difficult to move around maneuvering your special needs child. If you want to include visiting theme parks in your trip check out the total area to be covered and the amenities available there with regard to restrooms, snacks, and refreshments, etc. Let fun and enjoyment be the main motive for your family trip.
Good planning will avoid the need for last-minute rushing which can cause stress-filled situations to occur and turn your trip into a nightmare.
Do not Forget the Essentials
You are going to have a larger number of suitcases than for a normal family; so be prepared for that. Do not get overwhelmed as you view the sea of baggage. They are all going to be essentials for your special needs child. The diaper sets, extra set of clothes, sensory kit, special diets, travel toy buddies, and most important of all the medications; all form an important part of the packing. If your special needs child is epileptic then a doctor’s prescription along with his recommendations in case of an emergency is a must include an item. Keep all these essentials in a handy bag by your side rather than digging into packed suitcases in times of need.
I do some smart packing; pack clothes for all for the first couple of days in one suitcase and then use separate suitcases for the other set of days. So, this prevents the unloading of all suitcases at the first half of your trip.
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Give Quality Time to Your Other Kids
Your concern for your special needs child is quite natural. At the same time, pay equal attention to the needs of your other kids as well. Reconnect with them during the journey when your special needs child does not vie for your attention. You can sing songs or play any of your favorite car games.
I have also gathered that family trips should be used to increase the interaction between your normal kids and your kid with special needs; this helps to improve the bonding which may be difficult to be done in the hectic pace of everyday life.
Take it Easy
You are on a vacation with your special needs child. You are giving your child exposure to the world; new surroundings, new people, new experiences. So, take things at your pace; do not cram all the tourist spots in your itinerary. Enjoy the travel and moving around without making it too hectic. There is no point in exhausting your body, your journey has to be refreshing; ensure that it remains as such.
Keep things simple on the first day. Relax in your hotel room, soak in the ambiance or watch your favorite TV shows together. Plan for activities from the next day and keep them short and interesting to your special needs child.
If there is extra space in your car you can invite grandparents or friends to come along. This will serve a dual purpose; they can get a refreshing change and also be a good source of help and entertainment for your child.
One lesson from my experience in this regard is not to try to be a superwoman. You are a normal human being and aiming for everything will drain you out of fun and excitement.
Do not Aim for a Perfect Trip
You are traveling with a special needs child and make allowances for that. Your trip may not turn out to be an absolute dream; there are bound to be challenged and maybe tiffs with your partner regarding sharing of work but do not let that spoil your mood for the rest of the journey. Use them to better your next attempt.
I have learnt to delegate responsibilities during and at the trip destination. This offers some breathing space to me and also ensures that everything essential for my son with special needs is done at the right time.
Tips I Follow During Our Road Trip
Following are some things I keep in mind while traveling on long road trips.
- We always take an overnight halt if the distance to the destination exceeds more than eight hours.
- We take diaper or restroom or medicine breaks after every three hours or so during long-distance road trips. This also helps to stretch about and eliminate the possibility of the stiffness of limbs.
- I normally carry extra cushions or blankets as this offers a cozy setting for my special needs son. I make him lie with his head resting on my lap or against my shoulder; whatever offers better comfort.
- Fortunately, my son loves moving motion and enjoys traveling in the car. The availability of sufficient space at the back is also an added factor that keeps my son going. Changing his posture after a few hours also helps.
- I keep a handy bag next to my feet containing his set of clothes, diapers, snacks, and his lunch. My son has chewing issues and hence I carry food from home wherever possible. I always check for his food availability before making hotel reservations, for example, availability of khichdi, whole wheat soft chapattis, and less spicy food. Snacks include homemade laddoos, whole wheat cakes, biscuits, cornflakes, etc.
- I use a lot of leak-proof containers as that helps to carry milk, daal, or any liquid item during the course of the journey. A lot of feeding takes place in the car to save on time and these containers serve as big boons.
- Since my spouse does the driving I manage to handle most of the work when we reach the destination. It is always better to divide the work between you and the other family members. This helps to avoid tiffs and conflicts.
- I always download a lot of playlists that are my son’s favorites. This takes care of a large part of his entertainment.
- There are times when my son does get stressed out in the car, at such times you need to be cool, talk soothingly and restore calmness. There are times when you may want to blow your top but maintaining restraint has to come easy to you.
- On reaching the destination, we chill out, without getting overly upset for not covering all the tourist hotspots. Enjoyment and relaxing in the new environment remain our main motive!
On a Concluding Note
Last-minute rushing can leave behind crucial items and mess up your family trip. Keep the above pointers in mind, plan for all possibilities and you are bound to have a blast of a vacation like we do!