Plus my three essential travel tips.
by Gena Mann
I have been “that parent” on an airplane sweating and praying my son with autism would stay in his seat, not be too loud, not throw anything into the rows in front or behind us. It is one of the most stressful situations special needs parents can find themselves in, trapped on an airplane for however many hours with no place to escape if a meltdown ensues. For our family, if the destination doesn't include a beach, it is frankly not worth leaving home. In the winter, this necessitates airplane travel. In the spirit of setting my son up for success, when we board an airplane, we try to make sure the destination we choose will be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible for our whole family (we have 4 kids!), even if the journey doesn’t prove to be so.
Here are a few travel tips we have learned along the way…
1. Whenever possible, fly Jet Blue! Jet Blue teamed up with Autism Speaks to do multiple “Blue Horizons for Autism” training with their staff and children with autism at airports around the country and they go out of their way to help families with children with special needs. They walked my family directly to the front of the mile-long security line the last time we travelled, not to mention they have TVs in back of each seat...I will happily watch 4 hours of Peppa Pig if it means quiet, happy children.
2. Bring a bag of your child’s favorite fidget toys/video games/snacks on the flight. And maybe include some new versions they haven’t seen before for novelty’s sake. And If you think your child will need it, consider sending a box from amazon.com filled with toys/art supplies like wiki sticks, play dough, and markers that are disposable and will keep them entertained while at your destination.
3. Rent a house or apartment. There are so many options on TripAdvisor, Airbnb, VRBO, and kid & coe that help you find child-friendly homes at all price points for your family in beautiful destinations around the world. Luxury Resorts like The Four Seasons, Auberge Resorts and Como Hotels and Resorts have the option to have accommodations like a home but with access to all the amenities, the hotel offers. And Smith & Kids is a site dedicated to family travel that is completely kid-friendly.
We do this because...
You can bring or shop for your own food. This is especially helpful for picky eaters and toddlers and you don’t have to suffer through three expensive meals a day in a restaurant with kids who won’t/can’t sit still.
Make some noise! You don’t have to worry as much about noise control in a house. Who wants to act like a librarian in a hotel with kids, shushing them all day and night for fear the manager will show up at your door? In a rental home, your kids can make as much noise as they want!
Save some money. If you have a bunch of kids, a house or apartment can actually be more cost effective than multiple hotel rooms, ditto if you are traveling with more than one family.
Have fun during downtime! After a day of swimming at a beach or pool, or playing in the snow depending on your holiday destination, there are still hours of the day to fill-that time between dinner and bedtime, etc. Even the smallest house has more space for downtime than a hotel room.
Keep in mind of course, even during what you may feel is a "travel disaster"-meltdowns, kids are making too much noise, stealing french fries from a strangers plate or somehow end up on a moving luggage conveyor belt (this all really happened to me!) etc, your child can be the inspiration for "teachable moments". Other parents and children need to learn tolerance, so keep your cool if people stare and try to be the light to let your child shine as much as possible.
What works for your family? We would love to know...please share in the comment section below: