Traveling can be hard any time of year. Traveling around the holidays just compounds that stress – the traffic, the over-sugared/under-rested children, the frayed nerves of anticipating years of familial tension.
It’s not just the time in the car or train or plane. For some of us and our children, being in an unfamiliar place can be a huge source of anxiety. Even having visitors over is an invasion of our personal peace.
Most travel tips you see online will encourage you to pack light. We laughed out loud at that too, since it is the opposite for most of us. We must be prepared for everything. I surveyed Center for Family Involvement staff members on how they eased their travel woes so we can help ease yours.
The best piece of advice: It is OK to say NO! It is OK to ask family to come to you.
We recognize that is not always possible, so here are our strategies on navigating roads, rails, airways, and guest rooms.
PLAN PLAN PLAN
What is the fastest route? Is there somewhere to stop on the way? Will restaurants and gas stations be open when you’re on the road? Not all gas stations are open all hours. Be sure to fill up when you have the chance!
See if there is a favorite restaurant on your route. If there is one with an indoor playground, bonus. One staffer recommends feeding your little ones in the so they can run around when they stop; even if it’s walking through a grocery store to grab a to-go lunch. “I can’t expect my kids to sit and behave at a restaurant if they’ve been sitting in a car for hours already.”
Be sure to have some favorite snacks on board so you can hand them out when kids get fidgety or hangry. And always keep water in the car to refill travel cups.
If your child uses a g-tube, consider having supplies shipped to where you are going. Make a checklist of everything you need to bring with you. Have extra supplies in case your travel is delayed.
If you are flying, pack snacks that can make it through security. Bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up after you check in so you don’t have to pay a fortune airport beverages.
PACK WHAT YOU NEED
If you don’t have access to laundry, bring plenty of extra clothes. Think of everything you might need and make a list. If you can buy something upon arrival or have it shipped, like diapers, wipes, or special food, do it.
Consider limiting drinks to cut down on bathroom stops. Bring a blanket and disposal changing pads for those awkward places we are forced to change our loved ones.
Several CFI staff members recommended a travel potty. They range from foldable and compact to one that an adult can sit on. They are a great alternative to filthy public bathrooms with children who might flop on the floor, play in the water, or refuse to use all the foreign toilets. Some of the potties have disposable bags with absorbent padding for easy clean up.
If your child has incontinence issues, consider putting him or her in a pull up during travel days to take the pressure off potty time.
Pack everything you currently need or might need on your trip. If your child is prone to illness, see if your doctor can send you a prescription just in case the condition flares while you are away. Bring insurance cards. Know where the local hospital or urgent care is and check which facility takes your insurance.
If you are flying, pack all medication in your carry on. Be sure to include the prescription with each item so TSA can clear it.
Keep spare clothes where you can easily access them. Don’t forget to include something for yourself, you know you’ll need it if you don’t pack it. If you are flying or taking the train, make room in your carry on. If you are driving, pack a duffle bag with anything you might need while on the road.
If you are staying at a hotel en route to your final destination, put what you need for that one night in one bag so you don’t have to unload the entire car. Just keep that bag where you can reach it.
Bring pillows and blankets. Dress in layers. Don’t forget sunglasses, that glare from the snow can be unbearable. Ear plugs are wonderful, especially if you have children who want to hear the same song over and over.
Bring activity books and books to read. Bring favorite toys and/or novel toys. Think of some of your favorite road trip games you played as a child: I Spy, Alphabet Game (go through the alphabet looking at license plates and signs), sing 100 bottles of juice on the wall.
Screens can be a lifesaver on long trips. Just remember the headphones, especially if you’re on a plane or train.
If you don’t mind driving at night, traveling while your kids sleep can be peaceful. Otherwise, consider leaving early so you can arrive before witching hour. Avoid peak travel times. Download an app on your phone like Waze so you can see if there is an accident or jam ahead and take an alternate route.
TSA offers support to people with special needs. If you are flying, make sure you call TSA Cares (1-855-787-2227) at least 72 hours before boarding to ensure everything is in order. A TSA Passenger support specialist can be requested for on-the-spot assistance.
BUILD IN BUFFERS
We mean buffers in every sense of the word.
- Build in extra time for your travels. If you’re going by plane or train, get there even earlier than recommended to accommodate any difficulty transitioning or issues with security.
- If you’re driving, expect it to take at least an hour longer than you anticipate for any added stops or difficult transitions.
- Consider staying in a hotel or renting a house. Being in close proximity with even the most loving extended family can feel overwhelming at times. You might want to look up that information ahead of time in case you need some space during your visit.
- Rent a car if needed. While it’s a huge money saver to travel with family while visiting, having the freedom of being able to come and go as you pleased is priceless.
- Have a safe word/phrase/signal with your partner. Lets face it, even your favorite Aunt can say something offensive or hurtful, especially when they feel the need to discuss your or your child’s disability. Work on some strategies to avoid any heated moments.
HAVE A BACK UP PLAN
When you have a loved one with medical issues, purchasing travel insurance is worth every penny. Let family know that there is always a chance you’ll have to change plans because that’s just your life. Be ready to go with the flow and have fun wherever you end up, whether on the road, at home, or in the hospital. We are the masters of modification and adaption after all.