Summer Travels with a Special Needs Child

Summer Travels with a Special Needs Child

Finally (already?) summer is here, let the games begin! We can go on road trips! We can go on hikes! We can go on airplanes! But wait… as if planning and packing for your family wasn’t overwhelming enough, the special needs parent has a bit more to consider when planning a trip than the parents of typical children. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around all of the things that you will have to do, but… you deserve a vacation too!

You’ve decided to go. You have been thinking about it for months, scouring the TSA website and your airline’s website for information about traveling with a disability and getting medication easily through security. You know to carry your emergency kit and medical information with you (including a letter with your child’s diagnosis) but what are the little things you might not have thought of? We have compiled a helpful list of practical travel tips to help you on your way.

[title size=”2″]Practical tips for traveling with a special needs child[/title]

  1. Mail diapers and tubie food ahead.
    These are the heaviest and bulkiest things you plan to bring, but consider sending them to your hotel ahead of time. Hotels will hold on to any packages they receive for you if it’s within a certain time period of your stay. This means you can send a package ahead, make sure it’s arrived and then step on the plane!
  2. Use 3M command hooks.
    When staying away from home, you can use a 3M command hooks to hang your child’s food bag instead of an IV pole. The hooks can go anywhere and they easily come down when it’s time to go, leaving no trace.
  3. Use plastic links.
    If a road trip is part of your adventure, you can use the plastic links from children’s toys to hang the food bag from the handle or clothing hanger in your vehicle. Tiny bungee cords can also be handy for hanging and improvising.
  4. Battery powered CPAP machines.
    Never been able to camp because you are tied to an outlet at night? Call your medical supplier, they can give you information about obtaining a battery powered CPAP machine for temporary use during your trip.
  5. Pass out treats AND education.
    If you are worried about disrupting others on the airplane, consider planning in advance and giving the people around you a goody bag with a note. We have seen this done for babies and toddlers, but it’s a great idea to spread awareness about your child’s disability. You can include things like, earplugs, a stick of gum, mints, a few sweets and maybe even a brief paragraph about your child’s disability.
  6. Put your number on your child.
    If your child wanders, consider putting your number somewhere on them. Simply writing your number on them with a Sharpee works nicely, but there are also bracelets, necklaces, temporary tattoos and clothes made just for this purpose.
  7. Noise canceling headphones.
    If your child is sensitive to extra stimulation, bring noise canceling headphones to reduce some of the stress of crowded places and airports with bright blinking lights.
  8. Be flexible!
    Oh sure, you already know this right? And you likely already are (special needs parents have to be!), but a little reminder never hurts. Your road trip might require a few (several?) extra stops, your flight might tap your patience and you might need to move to a table more suitable for your family when you eat out, but it’s okay. You will be pleasantly surprised at how accommodating people can be when they meet your unique family!

We hope some of these tips will help you on your way. Do you know of any clever tips and tricks that we haven’t thought of? Parents know best, share your tips of the traveling trade in the comments! Happy vacationing!


  1. Great post! Very timely info. What a great idea to mail necessities ahead of time. That certainly saves a lot of packing room.

    • Shannon Anderson

      Thanks Bonnie! In my ‘previous life’ we used to mail our shoes ahead because they took up so much space. Ahhh how times have changed!

  2. I love the informative goody bag idea! I’ve found people to be more understanding when they have knowledge of the situation.

    • Shannon Anderson

      Thanks! I think people are really understanding with a little information and special needs parents love to share info about their kids, it’s a good match!

  3. Very good tips, some of these are really inventive!

  4. Great tips! I used to travel with a child that needed a lot of medication. Boarding with my big ice chest always got some looks. Mailing anything ahead is a brilliant idea!

  5. Such great advice and those 3M hooks are the best! Travel these days is hard enough, but you offered some great practical tips!

    • Shannon Anderson

      Thank you! I am glad you liked them. I am a huge fan of command products. This particular tip wasn’t mine but I recognize genius when I hear it!


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