Tips for traveling with a child special needs

What do I need to know about traveling with a special needs child? I've got you covered! Come see what we consider crucial as a traveling military family! Special needs travel | homeschool travelers | on the go

How can I make it easier traveling with a special needs child?

I see this question all the time!  My kids are quite the little travelers at this point and should probably have their own child travel blog.  😂 They’ve made multiple trips from New Jersey to Houston and San Francisco by plane moved back and forth between Hawai’i and California (now to Nevada), and countless road trips around the mainland.  I suppose that’s one of the benefits to military life and having family all over.
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Before you Leave

“Fail to plan, plan to fail.”  I know it’s annoying, but it’s so true in this case.  I don’t go overboard, because what special needs mom has that kind of time?  But seriously, if you forget the #1 must have, you know your day of travel is doomed.
  • Start a list on the refrigerator a week or more prior to packing.  Anytime you think of something you need, write it on the list.  Having a list of items to buy upon arrival will also help prevent extra “Oops! I forgot…” trips.
  • When it comes time to pack, use your list and check each item off.
  • Once packed, move your bags out of reach of any kids.  I keep mine in the garage, and it works out beautifully.
  • Consider how you can make things perform double duty, or what you can borrow at your destination.  Traveling light is a huge help.  I used to have a second set of car seats at my mom’s house for this reason.
  • Pack a backpack with any an all things you could possibly need.  Keep like items in the same pocket or in a Ziploc inside the big part.
  • Pack plenty of your kid’s favorite snacks, if you can’t find food they’ll eat, it’s better to at least have snacks to avoid the “hanger” phase.


Traveling by Air

I find that the hardest part of air travel these days isn’t the actual flying in the air (at least not for us), but the airport time before and after.  So here are the specific tips I recommend:
    • For the ride, bring an iPad/movie player and headphones.  Even if your kid won’t wear them, you will appease the flight attendants pre-takeoff.  Honestly, we rarely used the headphones when they were little because they didn’t like them, and you couldn’t hear over the engines anyway if the volume was low.
    • Keep all carry-on liquids in the same Ziploc and pack it on the very top of the bag so it’s easy to remove for security.
    • If you are bringing a stroller and a car seat, bring a bungee cord to strap the car seat inside the stroller.  Then use the car seat to buckle up your little one.  Do a test run of this to make sure you’ve got it figured out!
      • Ask the gate attendant about gate check for your stroller as soon as you check-in.
      • Whatever room you can spare in your carry-on(s), add any books and toys that will keep them distracted and happy.
      • Don’t offer a plethora of toys all at ones, hold back and save your heavy hitters for “emergencies”.
      • Bring a blanket to help block out light if needed or to create a makes shift pillow.  Your plane may have a changing table, but this can also act as a diaper pad if you need one unexpectedly.
      • Bring a pain reliever– you never know when you might need one- I’ve been there, trapped for hours with no relief for a suddenly feverish child.
Traveling with special needs children this summer? Check out my best tips and tricks here!

Traveling by car

Many of the above items are still applicable, but there are a few more things to note.
  • Try packing snacks similar to this, but use larger containers of a few favorite snacks.  Hand back just a bit at a time in a smaller container so your ASDer doesn’t get overwhelmed.
  • We download plenty of movies to an iPad, and we play the sound through our car speakers.  We save this for when then joy is reallllly starting to fizzle fast.
  • Before we resort to the iPad, we bring a box of books (bringing a box keeps it cleaner).  We also pack new notebooks and crayons and some favorite toys in these Thirty One pockets.  They attach perfectly to the headrests.  You may be able to find something similar at a local store.
  • Have a plan for restroom and food breaks, but be flexible!  Chances are you will have emergency stops, and getting flustered won’t help anyone.  If you have a young child potty training, bring a potty chair in the trunk with plenty of bags to line it!  Don’t use one at home already? Make sure to familiarize them with it beforehand!
What do I need to know about traveling with a special needs child? I've got you covered! Come see what we consider crucial as a traveling military family! Special needs travel | homeschool travelers | on the go
  • If your child willingly wears headphones, this may save your sanity, so bring them in this case too!
  • When you are planning for stops, see if you can find one near a playground or with a play place (like McDonald’s).  Your kids may be in desperate need of some movement and sensory input.
  • If you have weighted blankets or lap pads, go for it!  They work in the car too!
  • Our biggest sanity saver, and splurge, was our Yakima shell. Not having to sift through stuff or feel the fullness if luggage has been a game changer.  I was against the purchase at first… but when my husband accidentally drove into the garage with it on (oops!!!), we ended up buying another before our next trip.  I don’t think there is any going back for us.
Your Turn: Alright, what tips would you fellow seasoned travelers add?!

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Finding Godly Contentment

Author: Jill C

Jill is a Christian, homeschooler, "boy mom", and special needs parent. Jill has ADHD and has learned firsthand how adapting environments can be key to finding success! Her current mission is to empower parents whose desire is to homeschool their special needs children and helping them squash their self-doubt!

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