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To the Special Needs Family debating about taking a family vacation- Just Do It

August 8, 2019
by Becky Ferrigno

Whether it is summer, winter break or spring break, you see everyone posting incredible pictures from their vacations. Their families are lined up smiling on a beach, at a theme park or a museum. They look put together, relaxed and having fun. You scroll through those pictures and feel a stab in your chest. If you are honest, you know it’s jealousy. You want that trip but you don’t think you can do it. 

I beg to differ. If you want that trip, DO IT. Just do it your way. 

If you wait until life is easier or the trip could potentially go exactly the way you dreamt it, it will probably never happen. Let’s face it, life will never reach that level of ease. But with some planning, strategy and the help of strangers, you can have a Facebook worthy vacation full of memories that will last a lifetime.

Start Small

When traveling with a special needs family, it is important to start small and build on previous successes. Start with an overnight stay in a hotel near you. Try out the pool, figure out the necessary sleeping arrangements that are required when everyone is well-rested and hasn’t been trapped in a car for an extended length of time. 

Then build on your successes. Maybe try a weekend away or take a car trip an hour or two further away than the last. Visit friends who understand your situation and can be flexible to meet your needs. Then go for the big trip. It is possible as long as you pre-plan and come prepared. For us, that means making the place we are staying seem as much like home as possible. We travel with pillows, blankets and key food items.

Keep a notebook of things that went well and not so well. It will help you avoid repeating disastrous outcomes. 

Enlist Extra Support

Bring extra help. Find a friend or a family member that your children connect with. Someone who is supportive and understands your family’s unique needs. An extra set of hands is key, especially when you are trying to prepare for the next stage of the journey or something goes wrong. It can lower your stress level when routines need to shift or situations need to be handled. Plus kids love the attention of a “bonus” adult. The novelty can ease even the most difficult situations. 

Ask for Help

Facebook may be our nemesis sometimes but it can be a lifesaver too. Join support groups and ask the families questions. Find out if anyone has attempted what you are working up to doing. The bank of knowledge in those groups is staggering. Keep a list of tips and tricks to take with you on your vacation. It is becoming increasingly common for amusement parks, museums and travel organizations to have special accommodations for special needs families. All you need to do is ask. 

On a recent trip, our only option was a buffet. There was nothing our daughter could eat. After learning that there wasn’t a children’s menu, we politely explained our situation. The staff willing cooked pasta for our daughter that met her dietary needs. She was thrilled and we were extremely grateful. That simple act of kindness meant we could stay and eat with the rest of our group. But you will never know until you ask. 

Build-in Recovery Time

Build-in downtime before, during and after the trip. No family can really function on no sleep and a packed schedule. Special needs families must schedule rest time for the trip to be successful. 

Post Pictures

Then when you get home, proudly post pictures. Your vacations may not look exactly like everyone else’s but they are Facebook worthy. Celebrate your successes and start planning the next trip! Every trip has the potential to be better than the last!

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