Our family has just returned from a short trip away to the Blue Mountains in NSW. We love to travel and try to get away a few times each year as a family. Even though the kids always complain about leaving the comforts of home (AKA the internet!) they do end up enjoying themselves and, we do too.
But, that wasn’t always the case.
For a long time, we didn’t think we could travel. We thought autism, anxiety and sensory processing disorder posed too many obstacles for our two eldest kids. How could we take our kids away from the constants of home? What good would it do, taking them out of routine and messing with their order? How would we survive being away, when we were barely coping at home?
Travel can seem like a daunting ask for special needs families. There are so many risks and no guarantee things will work out. With so many other obligations and responsibilities on our plates, it’s no surprise that travel is not always a top priority. I get it, it was the same for us for many years too.
However, travel has been a blessing for our family and has brought us together in a way nothing else has. The benefits of sharing the world with our kids far outweigh the challenges we’ve faced to just get out of the house. It hasn’t been easy – I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But, the effort has been worth it – every single time.
I believe that travel should be an option for every family. I’ve heard so many stories of families never going away on holidays or only experiencing time away from home on respite camps. The common theme in these stories is the belief that it wasn’t possible to travel for their family. The challenges were too great and the risk of failure too high.
It is possible to travel as a special needs family. If you have the determination to follow your dream, a willingness to make the effort and the courage to take a chance, it’s definitely possible. Here’s what special needs parents should know about family travel.
5 things special needs parents should know about family travel
It’s all about your mindset
Mindset plays the biggest role in considering travel as a special needs family. You need to be open to the possibility that you can do this. You need to believe in yourself and in your family. You need to face up to your fears and find ways around them. It’s important to be aware of your own thought processes and work on being more positive, flexible, rational and resilient. You can do all the preparation in the world but it won’t matter if you don’t believe you can do it. That can only happen if you put the work in and grow your mindset. It’s not easy but it’s a vital step in making travel a reality for your family.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Travelling as a special needs familiy will never be a spontaneous “let’s go here, today!” decision. To make it a success, you need to put in a lot more planning and preparation than you normally would have, pre-kids. That’s okay. As long as you’re willing to put in some extra effort in the beginning, it will be worth it in the end. Think about the main questions your kids will have and anticipate them (why, what, where, when, how, etc). It also helps to include your kids in the planning process by getting their input and incorporating their special interests, so your holiday plans have the greatest chance of success.
It’s okay if your holiday doesn’t look “typical”
The special needs of your family will dictate how far you travel, how long you go and where you go. There is no right or wrong way to holiday. If your family’s needs are best served by a quick overnight trip to the same holiday park, 30 minutes away from home, that’s great. You’re getting away and travelling to a safe place for your family. If you can only tolerate a few hours out and about each day, that’s cool – you know how to best balance the needs of your family. Don’t compare yourself to others – do what’s right for the needs of your family so you all have a chance to enjoy yourselves.
Be realistic in your expectations
It’s best to start small and work your way up to the trip of your dreams. Taking smaller, less risky holidays will help you identify the main issues that face your family when travelling and work out ways to deal with them. Consider starting out with overnight visits with friends and family or staying overnight in a local hotel. If these low risk forays are successful, stretch yourself next time around with a short stay further afield. If they don’t work out, try to identify what went wrong and how you could avoid the same issue next time around. Don’t give up on your big dreams, but understand it may take time to get there and adjust your expectations accordingly.
You don’t have to do this alone
If travelling with your family seems too overwhelming, consider travelling in a bigger group with close friends and family. This will give you the benefit of more help and support when tackling the challenge of travel. Travelling with others can build your confidence, give you some much needed respite and provide the reassurance you need to actually give travel a go. Don’t think you have to do it all on your own. If you’d like to travel but you’re not comfortable in the idea of going it alone, enlist friends and family to share the adventure with you.
If you are looking for more information on how to travel as a special needs family, check out these valuable resources:
If you’re an autism family needing more specific strategies, tools and advice for travel, check out Autism Family Travel. This ebook is the ultimate guide to travelling as an autism family. Featuring many more tips, templates and hints for successful travel, this is a comprehensive resource for any autism family looking to travel!
This post is part of our new series “5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know”. If you’d like to submit a guest post, or if you have a topic you’d like covered as part of this weekly series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org