Taking a Vacation with Children

So the big day has finally come! After weeks or even months of planning and preparing, your family is finally hitting the road for the vacation you’ve all been dreaming of.

(If you are still in the planning stages, be sure to check out Part One in this series, Planning a Vacation with Children.)

But even with all the details you’ve mapped out and run through in your head, you know as well as anyone that life is unpredictable even in the best of times—let alone when trying to navigate a completely new set of unfamiliar circumstances with a child who has special needs or distinct sensitivities.

So what can you do to keep things smooth sailing?  Here are some professional tips you may want to make use of so you can focus on what matters most—enjoying your bonding time with your family.

During your family vacation

Once you leave your home, you want to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and that the plans you made beforehand are paying off.

One of the first things to keep in mind is that the biggest hurdle your child will potentially face is the discomfort of the trip’s unfamiliarity. Here are some ways to keep your child comfortable:

  1. Maintain a routine. Have a daily structured routine throughout the trip such as wake, meal, and bedtimes.
  2. Be flexible with activities. Always observe how your child reacts to the experience. Don’t be afraid to switch plans if they seem uncomfortable or disheartened.
  3. Give your child a heads-up. If there is a change in activities, tell your child in advance so they won’t get caught off guard.
  4. Find quiet places. Scout for places where your child can take a break from the activities.
  5. Use visual schedules. You can prepare one beforehand to guide your child on how the day will go.

When in transit

Long journeys can be stressful for children, especially those with special needs. Here are strategies to make travel time less taxing and more enjoyable for everyone:

  1. Make frequent stops, and take walks (even when flying). This will not only prevent everyone from feeling “cooped up” for too long but will also reduce the likelihood of your child demanding unexpected bathroom stops along the way.
  2. Pack age-appropriate audiobooks, games, or quiet activities. Keep your child preoccupied with an activity that will hold their attention for extended periods. 
  3. Sit with your child. In a car, have a parent sit beside the child so that their needs can be tended to without distracting the driver from the road.

Other Useful Tips

Here are some additional considerations for a smooth and stress-free vacation trip.

  1. Give your child any form of identification. If your child cannot relay personal information in the event they get lost, have them wear some kind of non-removable identification at all times during the trip like a sticker on their back.
  2. Take a picture of your child every day, or when they change outfits, so you’ll have an updated photo in case they do get lost. It might also be helpful to have a few cards detailing your child’s needs that might be relevant in a search scenario.
  3. Cater to your child’s food preferences. Cater to picky eaters during the trip. Unfamiliar environments might not be ideal for introducing new foods.
  4. Reinforce expected (“good”) behaviors. Acknowledge and reward these behaviors, especially during challenging moments.

Taking a family vacation with your child who has special needs or distinct sensitivities can still be a lot of fun. Proactively facing and tackling challenges can go a long way—and can help you create those lifelong memories you’ve been dreaming about.

We hope the tips in this article can help make this a reality for your family!

For more information, or for guidance in planning a trip with a special needs child, please feel free to reach out to the Empirian team. We are always happy to help!

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