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Summer in our house means vacation time. We love traveling, spending time together as a family, and hiking as much as we can. Our favorite places to visit are the National Parks where we work with the kids on Junior Ranger badges and see the beautiful sights. 

Traveling with kids always presents some interesting situations though, and adding in a special needs child makes it all a little more interesting. Here are a few things we have learned traveling with our kids.

1. Over Prepare

I vaguely remember those days, when it was just me and my husband. We could jump in the car and go for a drive without much planning. Four kids later, it’s a different story. Diapers, car seats, extra changes of clothes, snacks, lunch, water, books, strollers… there’s a lot to remember.

With our special needs child, we have to pack all the medical supplies even if they’re rarely used. There is no question…if we don’t pack it, we will end up needing it. It is just safer to pack rather than trying to find someplace that will let us borrow something like an oxygen tank hundreds of miles from home and then trying to figure out how to get it back to them. Yes, it has happened. Thankfully, the company had a sister office in our home town to take it back to!

2. Travel at Night?

We’ve been told on more than one occasion to travel at night with our kids. Just put them in their pjs and the car ride will lull them to sleep. You could cover a lot of ground in that amount of time. That may be easier for a lot of families, but our special needs son has a machine he wears at night for his obstructive sleep apnea (BIPAP). The machine requires electricity that cannot be achieved in the car. Without the machine he wakes up crying every hour from not being able to breathe well. Needless to say for our family traveling at night doesn’t work. I would love to hear if traveling at night works for your family! Tell me in the comments below!

3. Plan to Stop

When traveling with kids we have learned to make frequent stops. Months before we leave, we study maps and search Google scoping out neat places to stop along the way. We look for clean rest stops, fun places to pull over, and rocks for the kids to climb. We pack lots of snacks and lots of water. All that liquid means we are stopping for a bathroom and helping the kids run around. 

4. Time to Eat.

Traveling definitely builds an appetite. I prefer prepping lunch in a cooler or running through a drive thru to eat in the car, and then stopping at a rest area if possible. The kids don’t want to sit at a table to eat anyway. They want to run around. They want to look at the maps in the rest area. They want to count the trucks that drive by.

Feeding a special needs child can be interesting while traveling. Our son is on a strict diet due to many food allergies, so we do have to prep ahead of time. This is just another reason packing a cooler works out for us!

Our morning hotel routine means either my husband or I are prepping as many feeds as we can for him while the other packs up for the day and gets the kids ready. This is the time during our trips when tension rises. We are learning with each trip not to expect to leave a hotel before 10…it just isn’t going to happen!

5. Keeping Busy in the Car.

Another thing we learned while traveling is that video games and media devices cause fights in our car. We have traveled from the Midwest to the East Coast and all around the West. We took devices on one trip and didn’t on the next. Interestingly, when we took the devices, the kids were more aggravated, fought more, and missed out on tons of sights. They drove through New York City and didn’t take their eyes off their handhelds. We were pointing out buildings and memorials, and they never saw a thing until we took the devices away. They fought over what to play, what to watch, and were moody after playing/watching. Even our special needs son was more aggravated, and he didn’t even have a device!

For the next trip when we didn’t bring the electronics. We stopped more often to run off energy, but we all were happier. Instead we bought the kids cameras. They had so much fun snapping pictures of us in the car, the sights, and just being silly. Best part…less to pack and fun pictures!

6. Just Travel.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that we just travel. Having a special needs child hasn’t limited our ability to take vacations. We travel more now to go to medical conferences than we did before he was born. We would have never gone to the east coast if the conference wasn’t there that year. Our special needs child has taken us places we wouldn’t have had an excuse to go to before.

We plan more time, we take things slower, and our 5 hour drives turn into 8 because of frequent stopping. But we love it. We are spending time together as a family. We are showing our children the country, teaching them, and learning ourselves. It can be done. There is no need to be afraid of traveling with a special needs child.

My recommendation, take the break from the every day stress and enjoy some vacation!

Terra Garst

Terra has lived in Omaha her entire life with her husband and four sons. She enjoys being a stay-at-home mom and driver for all her children's events. She is a nurse and uses creativity to get things done! Terra is Nebraska's state chapter chair for Support Organization for Trisomy 18, 13, and related disorders (SOFT) as well as their prenatal outreach contact. She also volunteers for Hope for Trisomy. ...

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