Traveling with Kids Series: Complex and Special Needs

Traveling with Kids Series: Complex and Special Needs

By: Teri Sinnott

If you are a parent with a child who has food allergies, a complex diet, health issues, seizures, or a disability, traveling can seem so overwhelming that it feels impossible at times. But, with planning, it doesn’t have to be. You can still see the world and enjoy making memories with your children.

Preparation for Travel

Many of the same travel preparation tips that children with autism benefit from, all children benefit from. Social stories that relate specifically to your trip are most helpful. Will they be flying? Driving in a car? What new experiences will they have? Reviewing these questions in advance can make the trip go smoother. Stress is decreased when children know what to expect.

Make sure you have their comfort object and don’t wash it before traveling. Its normal smell is soothing.

If you are flying, ensure you select your seats so that you are not separated during the flight. You may want to try short flight destinations at first so that your child gets used to flying.

Many airports will allow you to skip long lines if you contact them ahead of time. They can move you through a special family area and also allow you to board early or late based on your needs.

Each airport and airline is different. So, to ensure the best travel experience, contact them weeks before your vacation.

A family getting ready to travel

Anxiety and Sensory Needs

Airports can be overstimulating, and you want to provide a sense of calm. This is where your knowledge of your child comes in.

Be sure to have their comfort object and noise canceling headphones for our sound sensitive kids. This can help to limit stimulation and help to calm your child. A sound machine with white noise, like the one from the Althea collection can not only help with calming but also help your child to sleep in a new environment. Popit bracelets and fidget toys are helpful for those kids who might need a little stress relief during travel.

Portable DVD player/Tablet

You can’t go wrong with having one or both of these. I am not one to allow my kids to have an abundance of screen time, but when traveling, sometimes it is simply necessary for kids. This can be especially true for kids with ADHD or on the Autism Spectrum.

The TV shows or games that they love most can be comforting. It helps them to get through the car ride or flight. It also can provide a feeling of normalcy in a hotel. We want the trip to be fun for everyone.

Meal Preparation & Snacks

I have Celiac Disease and two of my three daughters are intolerant. My sensitivity is so bad that eating off a gluten friendly menu is still not enough to keep me safe. With allergies, a bite of food could be life threatening. I made a firm decision that I was not going to live in a bubble even though a crumb could make us sick. The key is planning.


For flights, snacks are vital. Do not count on the airline, train, etc. to have the right snacks for your kids. Just bring them. You won’t run into any issues this way. You can easily fit some snacks in your Alex & Thea Diaper bag.

Airlines are more flexible and understanding when it comes to babies and kids. If your baby is formula fed, bring powdered formula with you and plan to buy sealed water bottles in the airport. I ran into issues with the premade formula at one airport. You don’t have to worry about the water being cold since the bottle warmer from the Althea collection can easily warm the bottle when you need it.

Hotel & Resort

Whenever we travel, we try to stay in hotels that have a full size fridge, microwave and a stove top. I plan to do most of my own cooking when we travel. I would rather cook on vacation, than avoid traveling. You can grocery shop before you go or once you get there if you prefer. I usually pack some easy to travel food: chicken nuggets, cheese sticks, yogurt, and veggies for when we first arrive. They keep well in a cooler.

Mom holding baby on beach

Luckily, many resorts have grocery services that will do the shopping for you and your food will be ready when you arrive. This is perfect if you are flying. You can even order your own groceries ahead of time and they will deliver them, put them away in your room. Disney resorts are great at this.

You can choose to go through your resort or a local grocery store. Everyone has an app now to make this easy from your smartphone. Simply pick your groceries and your delivery date and time.

Many large resorts such as Sandals Resorts now have dietitians on staff that you can schedule with. These individuals will sit with you and plan your meals at each restaurant to ensure that your food is allergy safe! Even if you are traveling with your family out of the US, you can still ensure safe food for your family.

Wheelchair Accessibility

When booking your hotel or resort, make sure that you check for wheelchair accessibility. There are many rooms that are available so that individuals in wheelchairs can get around easily.

Some resorts even have vacation planners you can talk to who can help navigate the resort for you and help plan your stay. You don’t have to figure this all out alone. Take advantage of the resources available. Resorts often have special beach and pool access for their guests who need assistance with mobility.

Again, contact the airline ahead of time. There is a designated area for families with wheelchairs in most airports or procedures in place to allow for a smooth transition. They can make it easy for you to check in, get to your flight and board.

Traveling doesn’t have to feel impossible. Decide on the type of trip you want for your family and then begin planning. Once you have the location and the resort, all the other pieces will come together. The experience will be worth the preparation. Remember that you are a paying customer and asking for services or assistance with airlines and hotels is not an inconvenience. It is part of their job, and many are extremely happy to help you. They want your business. It is important to them that your experience is the best it can be.

For more tips and tricks to planning your trip, check out the other articles in this series: Creating an Easy and Fun Car Trip Experience, Stress free Air Travel, and Vacationing with Babies and Toddlers.

Teri Sinnott is a busy wife, mother of 3 girls, teacher, blogger,  and certified Life Coach.  She utilizes her professional experience and passionate heart to encourage others.  Teri provides parenting and life hacks to simplify life and allow parents to focus on what really matters.  No stranger to using her voice to create positive change, Teri hosts social media platforms that are centered on inspiration and providing a community of fellowship for women. Visit her at  

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