5 Tips for International Traveling with Special Needs Children


photo by Tom Magliery

Earlier this week I posted about traveling with kids alone. I had just traveled with my two girls alone from Asia to the US. My oldest daughter has special needs, so I wanted to add a few other tips regarding travel with special needs children.

1. Ask for help. This may sound obvious, but sometimes I get into an independent mode and forget to ask for help. I have found that most people are willing to help when asked. During this last trip I asked for help with getting my carry-on down from the overhead compartment. I also asked the flight attendants for extra water. I have to mention that the flight attendants on my flights were extremely helpful and nice. Anyone that travels often will know how oddly pleasant this was.

2. Accept help. Another obvious, but for the flaw I have about independence, I have to remind myself to accept the help that is offered. I know I’m pathetic at times. This trip a man helped me get my luggage from the hotel van into the airport. Although, one needs to be careful and watchful about strangers when traveling alone, I have found that most people just want to be helpful.

3. Wheelchair/stroller use. If you don’t have a wheelchair to bring or you don’t want to deal with yours after you arrive at your destination, then use the airline’s wheelchairs. In the past, we have let the airlines know that we needed it and they have had them ready with someone to push them for us. One instance, we even got to ride in the golf cart from one gate to the next. For this trip, I chose to bring our own wheelchair. Jie Jie is walking okay, but she tires easily and with jet-lag and such I was afraid of meltdowns. I checked her wheelchair in at the gate and she walked onto the plane on her own. When we arrived we had to wait a bit, but they brought her wheelchair to us. Although, I do remember a few years ago they forgot to load the stroller, but the airline was great about providing a wheelchair at each layover. A few days later our stroller arrived at our door from the airline. So, if you do take your stroller/wheelchair make sure you have the correct address on the check-in tag.

4. Make it known. Let the people at check-in, security, and at the gate know that you have a child with special needs. This may sound so ridiculous, but I found that not everyone “saw” Jie Jie’s situation. I guess they thought she was just a child in a stroller? Anyway, letting the people know made all the difference. We were able to board earlier, and the security went really smooth. They were understood that we were going to be slower. Some officers helped me put my carry-ons on the x-ray belt. Most of them smiled and were friendly with the kids. I know this ALL depends on the individual, but I really had a good experience with security checks. 

5. Be grateful. I think as a parent of special needs children we sometimes have the expectation that we should get special treatment. Don’t get me wrong here, I agree that the disabled have rights and we need to stand in and fight for those rights. That is not what I’m getting at here. What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t forget to say “Thank you” to those who help, even if it is part of their job. Smiling at the people who are helping and being pleasant is another way of showing gratitude and it brightens their day, too. Demonstrating gratitude for our children, whether they are disabled or not, is a great way to begin teaching them to be grateful and polite to others early on. *Note that with international traveling, other cultures may not treat children with special needs with the same “rights” as the country you come from.

Your Turn: Have you traveled  with your special needs child? What are some tips that you have? Please share in the comments below.

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Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Kids ALONE

Creative Commons – flickr

World travel with kids is doable and can be possibly fun if you do some planning and preparing beforehand. Usually, I travel with my husband, so we have split responsibilities to help each other out. This trip though, I traveled alone with the two girls. We traveled to Beijing for a few days and then on to the US from there. I can’t say that the entire trip was enjoyable, or that everything went just according to plan, but we made it to the final destination with only loosing one small backpack. Below are my top 5 tips that I was able to either do on the trip OR wish I had done.

1. Movies/TV shows. Since we can’t control the movies the airlines show –unless you are super lucky and get the individual screens – I try to upload their iPod with a new movie and some TV shows that the kids haven’t seen yet. I’ve also seen others bring the portable DVD players for their kids. The TV shows were also great for them to watch while we were waiting in line for check-in, immigration, etc. I only got a few TV shows downloaded, but will have more ready for that trip back.

2. Small “gifts”. I usually buy a few inexpensive items that are new to the kids. This trip I got each of the girls a new small notebook and pen. I gave it to them when they got bored with everything else that they had brought. I have always wanted to try wrapping small gifts and give them out every couple of hours during the trip, but just haven’t planned that well in advanced. Maybe I’ll get to the Dollar Store before I leave to return home and try that idea.

3. Snacks. I always take extra snacks to munch on for the kids and for myself because you know that airport food is expensive and kids may get hungry before the snacks and meals arrive on the flight. Also, I had the girls eating during take-off and landing to help with the ear pressure. For this trip, I should have added some chocolate for me, something that I could indulge in after moments of tension.

4. Tylenol. I take some sort of medication for headaches for myself. Also, I take some children’s Tylenol for those “just in case” moments. This last trip one of the girls had leg pains from growing and couldn’t get to sleep. I was so thankful that I had some children’s medicine to help her – and me.

5. Flexible. This is probably the number one thing…kids are kids. They have to use the bathroom more often, they need water and snacks, they have LOTS of questions, and they get tired and cranky. Also, plans don’t always turn out as smooth as you had hoped, so being flexible helps defuse problems from erupting into major meltdowns.

Your Turn: So, what are your top tips when traveling with kids alone? Please share in the comments below.

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