Five Tips For Traveling As A Special Needs Family by Kate Anderson

Our family just went on vacation to Garden City Beach in South Carolina at the end of May. It was the first time we traveled out of state and on a plane in seven years. My husband Steve and I have three children, ages 9, 7, and 6; so two of our kids were toddlers the last time we went on a big vacation, and I was pregnant with our daughter. All three of our children have disabilities and require a substantial amount of medical equipment. There were a number of things we did to make our trip easier and better for our family. Here are five tips for traveling as a special needs family that helped make our first big family trip in a long time a success.

Traveling as a special needs family beach photo.

Take Advantage of the TSACares and PreFlight Check-In Programs

The best thing we did to make our trip easier for us was sign up for help at the airport in advance. We had two big suitcases for diapers, one bag for toileting and feeding supplies that included formula, and then our regular suitcases for clothes and other necessities. We had 11 bags total and made sure to check the ones we didn’t absolutely need during the flight, which was about half. TSACares will help you through the airport with your bags and take you through security. With PreFlight Check-in, they don’t make you take off your shoes, coats, or take out laptops, etc., which was so much easier for our kids. They have to test the formula and liquid medications, but their process is efficient and gets you through the line quickly. These programs are designed to make traveling as a special needs family easier, so be sure to take advantage of them!

Bring Along Comfort Items

We brought all our kids’ stuffies, blankets, toys, and tablets that they play with and use every day for comfort. It helped a great deal at the beach house we stayed at to have all their security items, however, having them for the plane ride didn’t make a difference for us. I was most worried about the plane, because it had been so long since we had been on one, so I really wanted their special things on the plane with us. We actually left one of our son’s blankets in our checked bags. Luckily, we still had them on the trip with us, but not having them on the plane was a problem for him. And then their tablets weren’t working as well as we’d thought they would. Even though we downloaded movies they like onto their tablets beforehand, we didn’t really have a back-up plan if they didn’t work, which they didn’t. In the future, I’ll be sure to check all electronics in airplane mode before our flight to make sure our kids have access to their favorite apps.

Stick to Your Usual Routine

We incorporated our usual daily routine into our trip as much as possible. We enforced Quiet Time in the middle of the day like we normally do, we kept our same bath days and did the same enema days for our son. We planned feeding times around our kids’ normal schedule. Even though we were at the beach, we still did activities that we would usually do at home, like going to the mall or the store, two places our kids love to visit. We were there with my husband’s family, which meant there were other kids present. We tried our best to not let that affect our decisions to do what we felt like was best for our kids. There were a few times where some of the outings weren’t appealing to one of our kids, so we let them stay behind with family. 

Create Social Stories to Help With New Places and Experiences

I made a few social stories for our kids to help them understand and ease their nerves about what was happening on our trip. Our kids get anxious when they don’t know what’s going to happen next during the day, not just on a trip, but anytime. Pictures really help our kids grasp what to expect on any given day, especially if it’s something we’ve never done before like traveling as a special needs family. I did a story about what happens while going through the airport, what to expect on the airplane, what goes on after we get off the plane. I did one for the beach house and what to expect every day. I made sure to reiterate there’s a lot of waiting and loud noises and big crowds everywhere we go. I went over the airport, airplane, and post-airplane expectations so much that I forgot about the beach house expectations, which one of our son’s said he wished I had talked about that more. 

Give Each Other Breaks

I anticipated this trip would be difficult since traveling as a special needs family has historically been challenging for our family. In fact we don’t travel out of state at all. We are used to small 1–2-hour car rides to the mountains or to a different town nearby. I knew it would be hard and there would be some anxiety with our kids. Our oldest had the hardest time and finally had a meltdown one of the last days we were there. We were there for a long time and did a lot of different things, which was really hard for him. My husband and I did a really good job with taking turns parenting and taking breaks for ourselves. There are different things our son likes to do with us both to help calm him down and relax him. He was clingier and more attached to us toward the end of the trip, but we worked together, and I was very proud of our son. 

    Our first trip out of state and on a plane in seven years was good. It was hard but I’m glad we went; it was good for us. I believe we did a number of good things that helped us get through it smoothly including bringing comfort items, sticking to our routine, and getting help through the airport. Despite the challenges, our vacation beach trip was a success and I’m proud of our family for taking on something completely new.

    Kate lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. You can read her writing at her blog This Special Journey.

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *