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Holiday Tips for Traveling in the Air or On the Ground

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Do you have travel plans for the upcoming holiday season?

Thanks to new technological advances such as computers and Skype, staying in touch with loved ones is so much easier than it use to be. Despite the magic of screens that bring families together from distant parts of the globe, there’s nothing better than being there in person to get a real hug from those you love.

The holiday season is that time of year when everyone makes an extra effort to be with family and close friends. When extended family is scattered here and there around the world, holiday traveling is a requirement if you want to give and receive those special hugs. That could mean a journey either by plane or car to get to grandma’s house for the weekend, that special dinner at Uncle Jane’s, or the traditional family get-together that relatives take turn hosting.

Traveling by air is stressful. It often requires intensive security checks, long waits and the possibility of flight cancellations. Traveling by car is another option but traffic jams, bad weather and tired kids can make the journey just as stressful. Getting to the family Hanukkah festivities, the Christmas Day celebrations or other holiday functions can test everyone’s stamina.

There are many ways to minimize the stress involved when traveling with your special crew. Being prepared is the best way to face the challenges and ease the tension. Smart travel planning is essential. Here are some traveling tips to consider before your holiday journey whether by air or ground.

travelingTraveling by air:

  • As soon as you have determined your destination and the airline carrier you will use, call them! Sharing that your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will open doors to services that can make air travel less stressful for all. Airports and airlines have become much more accommodating to individuals on the autism spectrum. Some are offering mock flights to help familiarize autistic children and their families with air travel before the real event.
  • If you are flying you will need to be prepared for security rules. Time can be wasted if you have not prepared your children ahead of time for what you can and cannot do, or take onboard the flight. It’s important to check the rules and share them with your child before you leave the house.
  • Contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA Cares, is a toll-free helpline that provides information and assistance to passengers with disabilities and medical conditions and their families before they fly. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST, excluding federal holidays. After hours, travelers can find information about traveling with disabilities and medical needs on TSA’s website at: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support. TSA recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary.
  • Knowing what to expect during a security check with your child can make it more predictable and less likely to overwhelm her. Take the time to practice the airport security check with a dress rehearsal before you leave for your trip. Taking a few hours to play, “Let’s go to the Airport” not only prepares your child for what is to come but can be a fun activity for the entire family.
  • Paying attention to the sensory sensitivities your child has and thinking ahead to what might trigger resistance or a meltdown is important. If your child does not like walking in stocking feet then you need to prepare him for what is to come or find another solution. Stating it as a fact and writing a social story about it may be all that is needed.
  • Holiday traveling with gifts requires some special precautions as well when it comes to the security gates. Do not spend the time or money wrapping your gifts in brightly colored wrap because you may have to unwrap them in front of the security guards. Any young child, regardless of ability, may not understand why the security guard is making mommy or daddy unwrap the gift they so carefully wrapped for their grandma. This alone may be enough to make them become unglued.
  • If your child with autism has dietary restrictions you obviously need to pack snack items that they can eat. It is difficult to find gluten free, casein-free food in the airport eateries. Bring see through plastic containers or baggies filled with your child’s favorite treats and meals such as fruits, veggie sticks, toddler finger foods, cheerios and such that will appeal to their young taste buds and keep them happily munching. Remember to bring along wipes to clean sticky fingers.
  • Unlike a car ride, where you can pull off at rest stops, a flight is a long endless ride for any youngster. To help pass the time, pack your child’s favorite activities and simple toys in their carryon baggage to amuse them. Pack crayons and coloring books, stuffed animals, dolls and action figures. You can also bring along music CDs with headphones, which is a great way to reduce or control the noise level for a child with noise sensitivity.
  • Give yourself plenty of extra time so that you arrive at the gate before you need to. This way if there are extra security checks you won’t be late for your flight. Checking in always takes longer than you expect, especially when you have children. A good rule of thumb is to be at the airport an hour before domestic flight times and two hours before international flight departure time. You may want to consider doubling that if you have a child that thrives on routine and predictability, something that most airports do not provide. Having to rush with a child on the autism spectrum in a busy airport can easily send them into overload.
  • Google your airport’s website for a map. A good map comes in handy when you want to know where the nearest place to eat is and how close it is to your departure gate. Sometimes if you have a lengthy delay you might even find that your airport has a quiet place for families with children to have some quiet down time.
  • If all else fails, you may want to consider creating a card or some sort of written communication that will alert airport staff to the special needs of your child. This will keep you from having to verbally explain your situation to a security guard in front of way too many people.

travelingTraveling by car:

Did you know that car travel is the most popular way to travel during the holidays? 83% of traveling during the holiday season is done by car. Short automotive journeys can be challenging enough but long car rides take extra stamina. Being on the road at anytime of year can be stressful. Add a couple of excited youngsters in the back seat and the possibility of bad weather and you may need some extra patience. Any traveling with children in tow is a test to the effectiveness of your organizational skills.

Here are a few tips for making your holiday car travels run smooth.

  • Involve the little ones in the planning stage so that they will look forward to seeing something they helped plan. This will also give them a heads up of what the journey will entail.
  • Include some kid-friendly stops along the way so that everyone will have a chance to stretch their legs and have fun at the same time.
  • Allow for extra travel time just in case there are traffic jams, or weather related road conditions that slow you down.
  • Limit your road time to just 6 to 8 hours of driving time per day and have two drivers in the vehicle so that you can switch every two hours. Switching will make long drives easier and safer.
  • Do not disturb! Never make a rest stop when children are sleeping. If your bladders are all in sync, keep going. Driving during sleep times allows for you to make the most headway because it minimizes extra stops.
  • Pack a cooler with snacks and wipes for cleaning up before and after eating. Place the cooler between kids in the back seat so that they feel like they have their own space. The top of the cooler makes a cool place to play with cars and trucks too.
  • Traveling with children requires that you become an expert storyteller, comedian, actor, or magician in order to keep peace and make the time pass quicker. Think about and plan the type of entertainment you can offer when needed. Having a trick you can pull out of your sleeve at just the right moment can make all the difference.
  • It’s important to pack an assortment of play items for each child. Hand puppets, board books, favorite toys (that won’t irritate you), and even music CD’s with headphones, as well as books on tape that everyone can listen to. Audio books can be not only entertaining but learning experience as well especially if you are traveling far and can find an audio book about your destination.
  • Older kids can use travel-size board games or hand-held electronic games. Always pay attention to the amount of time your child is glued to a screen. Try to balance it with games that engage your child’s brain in 3-D reality. Car games like finding certain state license plates, counting red cars, or store signs are always fun. Trigger your child’s imagination by playing games like “I-Spy” – spotting something along the landscape that is a certain color or shape.

Overall it is most important that you don’t forget to pack your sense of humor. Looking on the light side of every challenge will help everyone move forward in a positive manner. Being in an enclosed space for long periods doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Reframe it into a positive – think of it as a unique time to bring your family closer together. Sharing jokes, telling stories, and talking about what is happening in your lives will make all of you feel more connected.

And of course, remember to keep those cameras at the ready in order to document those wonderful smiles that will create lasting memories for years to come.

Happy traveling!

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