Contributed by: Melissa A. Rowan – Certified Autism Travel Professional, Travel Consultant | Make Incredible Memories Travel
Children giggling and whispering contentedly in the backseat of the car with nary an argument. Cherubic children sleeping peacefully in their beds – where they went without a fuss – after a full day of sightseeing. A day in the amusement park without a single tear, cross word, or disagreement amongst family members. Precious …and extended moments with Big Bird or Elmo. Every family member eating everything on their plate and not a bite of wasted food. All family members equally interested in every event and activity planned on the vacation.
When we are planning a family vacation, perfect peace and harmony and blissful vacation memories are what we envision for ourselves. After all, once we get away from the stress and demands of our everyday life, we are “on vacation” and expect things to run smoothly for us during our break from the real world. And while most do not experience complete perfection and no glitches or conflict during their family vacations, the positive experiences and memories far overshadow those glitches such that the glitches fade away over time, or even more likely, become a part of the family vacation legend.
Getting away from the daily routine and challenges of caring for loved ones with special needs is both necessary…and daunting. Realistic expectations and proper travel planning are a vital part of a successful family vacation. Having realistic expectations of what can be accomplished can make or break the trip. Prioritizing, allowing for periods of rest, and being flexible are crucial for minimizing the glitches that threaten to interfere with our vacations.
Prioritizing: Think of vacation plans like a cupcake. What is the “cake” portion of your trip? What must you see? That is the foundation of your plans. While icing, is not mandatory for a good cupcake (just ask my daughter who scrapes it off EVERY time) it does make it a whole lot sweeter. What would you like to do that would make the trip even sweeter? And finally, as sprinkles add a little fun and magic to your cupcake, what extras would be nice to hope for if all is going well? As you have those things in mind when travel planning, you’ll be sure to get in your vacation essentials and chances are, many of the extras as well.
Allowing for periods of rest: We all know an Energizer bunny. Sometimes they are even in our family and they can be relentless in their efforts for us to see and do it all. While their heart is in the right place, in actuality, the results are often detrimental and can even be catastrophic in the case of special needs travel as family members are pushed beyond their limits. Plan for periods of rest and quiet so that all family members are at the top of their game and able to enjoy themselves and savor the moments. Yes, you will miss some opportunities and seeing some things, but the experiences you are able to take in will be all the sweeter for it as you avoid personal limits being maxed and possible meltdowns.
Be flexible: Even the best laid plans, can experience unexpected obstacles. Unforeseen circumstances such as weather, noisy hotel neighbors, or personal health issues can pop up. While they can be aggravating and disappointing, keeping a level head and just moving on to the next best thing will help get you back on track quickly to enjoy the rest of your vacation.
While travelling with special needs family members may feel overwhelming and impossible, it can (and should!!) be done! With realistic expectations and careful planning, wonderful vacation memories are a definite possibility.