All right! Trip planning completed (refer to the prior post, Traveling With a Medically Complex Child – Ten Trip Planning Ideas, for full details). Bags are packed. It’s time to hit the road. Here are ten ideas and suggestions from parents who have “been there” with their children. They share keys to their travel success with the goal to help everyone have a smooth, safe, and fun vacation.
Ten “During the Vacation” Ideas and Suggestions:
1. Keep Hydrated – Bring reusable water bottles for everyone. Use carabiner clips to attach bottles to carry-on items such as backpacks. If traveling by airplane, bring empty bottles. Once through security, then fill them up with water.
2. Engage Your Child – Give your child a camera or voice recorder to document their own version of the trip. Cameras are a great way to engage an otherwise disinterested, stressed, or fidgety child.
3. Introduce Yourself and Your Child – Establish who are the key people along your trip and introduce yourselves, and why you are looking for their assistance. These “meet and greets” at airport check-ins, hotels, amusement parks, or other places can make the difference between an okay time and a great time. This is also the time to have that Medical Travel File on hand. Some places to consider introducing yourselves include:
- Airport check-ins and security check points. If they are aware of your situation, they can be a tremendous help in getting you through those long lines and comfortably into your seats.
- Cruise ship check-in. Ask for an early embarkation time. At time of debarkation, again, ask to be moved to the front of the line to clear customs.
- Your place of lodging. Upon arrival and check-in, take a moment to talk with hotel staff (often the concierge) to get the “lay of the land.” Introduce your child, explain your needs. If you need a refrigerator for medications, now is the time to ensure it is there.
- Travel plans include an amusement park or other “long-lines” places? Check in at Guest Services, present your medical letters, and ask if there are special considerations they can provide to enhance your visit. Often times it will be a complimentary “fast pass” that enables you to “jump” the line.
- Visiting a zoo or other place with live shows that require seating? Check in with Guest Services as you enter, and ask if there is special seating upfront.
4. Stop-n-Shop – Plan a quick trip to the local Walmart, Target, Walgreens, or other similar store to purchase items that you didn’t bring with you or items that can simplify the next few days. For example, if you will have medicinal components that need washing, pick up items to clean them. Other items to buy, not pack, include bottled water, snacks, oral supplements, and simple breakfast foods.
5. Have a “De-Stress” Plan – Plan special “let off steam” times. This can help your child feel physically and emotionally ready to take on the next phase of your travel plans. Several ideas include:
- Playgrounds make for great places to unwind after a long day. If your child requires special access, Google accessible playgrounds for your final destination.
- Local state parks are often free or low cost options for running and exploring. They often include playgrounds too!
- Bookstores. Have a child who loves books? Check out the local Barnes & Noble or other large bookstore.
6. Connect With Familiar Places – Purchase postcards with your child and send send them to family and friends. A great way to “connect” with home and ease anxiety. Also a great way to fill an evening of downtime at the hotel.
7. Down Time Is Good – Plan at least one “down-day” preferably in the middle of your trip, to allow your child to re-energize and decompress. Travel can be tough on everyone, and especially so for a child with complex medical issues. Don’t schedule anything, and just let the day take you and the family where it may.
8. Prepare for Plan B – Consider having alternate plans on hand just in case one of your scheduled activities is cancelled or you find your child needs to slow down.
9. Eat “simply” – Fine dining and kids don’t always mix.
10. Be Consistent, Or Not – Anything required to keep your child healthy on the trip, such as medication routine, should remain consistent. However, consider “letting loose” on other things – this is a vacation after all! Allow a special treat, less healthy snacks, silly TV shows, or a late bedtime. Just clarify that these are “vacation only” special rules! Such things can help ease stress and make for a fun evening of “down-time” back at your room.
Most of all, be flexible. Even the best thought-out plans can go awry. Try to roll with it, as it will help reduce your child’s stress. If you have a big day planned, and you see your child melting before you have completed everything, end it and call it a day.
Images from Disney.com