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Stress-Free Travel with Kids and Pets Is (Kind of) Possible


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Clinical content reviewed by

Carolina Alay., BCaBA


Any time you take your kids or animals out of their comfort zone, there are going to be snags, particularly if you have a child with ASD. From disrupted routines to chasing after Spot when he runs off to explore, you must be prepared for a bit of upheaval. Fortunately, by planning ahead, you may be able to circumvent many of the most stressful aspects of full family travel.


Blue Minds offers a few things to think about as you get your bags packed.


Talk to Your Family


Before you start to make any arrangements, discuss potential vacation plans with your family. Your child with autism may even need additional information or reassurances about what to expect. By talking this through together, everyone has a chance to weigh in on what they want to do and where they want to go. Sometimes an individual in the autism spectrum may struggle to clearly communicate his or her wants and needs, but it is a good idea to plan trips around their special interests. Whether is planning on going to the city aquarium or to a local dinosaur exhibit, it is important to keep the little ones’ interests in mind. Buy-in can make a big difference on a family vacation, and when you’re all invested, it paves the way for an easier trip.


Book Ahead


Just as you need to leave with plenty of time to spare, you will also want to book your transportation and accommodation arrangements as soon as you know your travel dates.

Survey your options carefully and keep an eye out for discounts and special offers. Some places like amusement parks and airlines make special accommodations for individuals with disabilities and let them skip the long lines or sit alone if needed. If you want to take advantage of this perk, make sure to pack a certificate letter from your ABA provider explaining what difficulties your child experiences and make this a stress-free experience.

Consider too the benefits of a vacation rental. A rental affords you the option of staying in proximity to your favorite attractions, and it also offers a level of privacy you wouldn’t get at a hotel. You may even be able to find a great rental with a pool. Just remember to confirm that your rental is pet-friendly before you book.


Practice Safety Skills at Home


Before you go on vacation doing a little rehearsal for safety is a great idea. Playing Stop and Go games can prepare your child with ASD learn when to stop a potentially dangerous activity and will help him or her practice to listen and follow directions. Another great activity to practice listening responding is “Follow the leader”. For more advanced learners it is important to practice their parent’s names and contact information in case they get lost, as well as who to go in case they find themselves wandering. It is always a good idea to have identification cards or bracelets that have their condition in case they elope on in case of an emergency.


Leave Early


If you’ve ever tried to go to the park with your kids and pets in tow, you already know that getting from point A to point B with your entourage takes a lot longer than it should. Heading out for vacation is no different. Depending on where you’re headed, leave between 15 minutes and two or three hours ahead of your intended arrival. You need to make time for bathroom breaks, lunches, and any unexpected side adventures. Also prepare your child with ASD for the trip, tell them where they will be going and the places they will see, including the hotel or camping site. Changes in the routine sometimes can affect the behavior on an individual in the autism spectrum. A child well prepared is more likely to be relaxed and enjoy the trip.


Don’t Skimp on the Entertainment


Kids tend to get bored even in the most awe-inspiring places. So, pack a bag with plenty of electronics, books, and toys to keep them entertained on the road and in your hotel, cabin, or condo. A portable streaming device that’s compatible with most newer televisions — including hotel room televisions — is a lifesaver when the kids are bored or just need some time to chill out. Of course, you will need a Wi-Fi connection for this. If you’re headed somewhere off the grid, pack board games for your school-age crew and a few simple toys, such as balls and kites, for the younger adventurers in your group. This will also help them practice important social skills like turn-taking and waiting.


Don’t Forget the Snacks


You can almost guarantee that seven minutes into your journey, someone is going to be starved to death. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks for the road. Also, consider bringing along a reusable water bottle (pre-filled, of course, if you’re driving) so your kiddos can always stay hydrated. This also applies to restaurants and other eating places like rest areas. Some individuals in the autism spectrum tend to get overstimulated in crowded places and have sometimes difficulty waiting in line or to eat. By taking with you a few snacks and fidget toys you will be ahead of the game and probably prevent a meltdown from occurring.


Pack Your Pet’s Things Too.


Just like you, your pet has needs while on the road. Bring along his bed, a bag of his regular food, and a couple of gallons of water for the trip. If you don’t already have one, you will also want to add a GPS collar around his neck. Keep in mind that even the most well-behaved family pet is going to get curious when exploring a new area. A GPS collar is one of the best ways to ensure you get your pet back if they run off for their own adventure.


Planning a family vacation doesn’t have to be a headache. With these tips, you can pull off a great getaway everyone will enjoy. Safe travels!




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