Creating memories with my husband, Ramon and our three boys, Jeremiah (13 years), Jonathan (9 years) and Jaxon (3 years) has been the best part about traveling to new places. But sometimes the journey getting to and from the destination can be overwhelming and stressful. And in our case, we are traveling with a three-year-old with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However Autism don’t stop the travel!
The Payne family recently embarked on two trips. Although they were amazing and fun filled. The preparation for each trip and the travel days left me second guessing the decision to travel with kids. However, thankfully through some trial and error, I’ve learned some lessons along the way. Lessons I’d like to share with other Mommies planning to travel with kids and specifically with kids with special care needs.
Jeremiah and Jonathan are travel veterans at this point. They are able for the most part, to go through TSA without assistance and can carry their own luggage. Now Jaxon is a completely different story. He’s your typical toddler who needs assistance of course but he’s also very unique in that he has ASD-Autism Spectrum Disorder. With this, he has a cognitive disability, is non-verbal and has sensory difficulties. Ensuring that we have everything he’ll need to board and endure an airplane ride and hotel stay is a skill I’m still mastering. As I continue to learn I wanted to share a few tips and lessons that I’ve taken note of from our past few family vacations.
Making a list and checking it twice is not just for Santa’s Naughty or Nice Christmas list. I’m old school and like to still write out my list with paper and pen first. Once I write it out, I then make a list in my Notes on my iPhone. My lists consist of all the things we’ll need packed; clothes, toiletries, devices, medications/supplements, documentation, travel gear, etc. After making my list I start pulling the items out and setting them aside for the upcoming trip. This helps me to visibly see the items and know what we do or don’t have. I try to give myself at least two weeks of prep so I’m not scrambling last minute to get the essentials. MESSAGE…don’t wait until the last minute to pack! Especially with kids because you’re sure to forget something or not give yourself enough time to get what you actually need. Y’all our family vacation in December 2022 was a cruise to the beautiful Caribbean, so Amazon packages were coming to the house literally everyday with the things we needed, like our matching family swimsuits, motion sickness aids, a new compact travel stroller, stroller travel bag, sensory toys for Jaxon, medications and supplements for the whole family.
Usually on our shorter trips we each have a carry-on luggage in lieu of checking in our bags. But for our five-day cruise with two full travel days for a total of seven days, we opted to check in our larger suitcases. We each had a backpack on board the flight. In the backpacks I packed some essential items. A pair of tennis shoes, a change of clothes, which included socks and underwear, toiletry bag, electronic devices/chargers, medications/supplements, snacks. The backpacks also contained refillable water bottles and important documents. This ensured we had at least the essentials in the unfortunate case our suitcases were lost or delayed. Each one of my boys had exactly what they needed and that eased some of the stress of the travel days. I swear by packing cubes! Packing cubes have this unique way of compressing the clothes and keeping everything organized in the suitcase. Each one of us had our separate cubes. This made it easier when looking for items for a particular family member. I inserted Apple AirTags in each suitcase to be able to track them as a precaution. This was actually very useful in giving us some security and peace of mind.
Obtaining the boy’s passports was not as bad as I thought it would be. I made an appointment for them all at my local office, which included the picture service. It took about a month for us to receive their passports. I took pictures and I made three copies of all our travel documents. Things like each of our passports, Driver’s Licenses, birth certificates and COVID-19 vaccination cards. I left a set of copies at home in our files. Gave a set of copies to my husband to carry in his backpack. I carried the originals in my backpack, and then once on board the ship, I put the last set of copies in the safe in our room. Prior to our travel, I was given some really good information regarding a TSA printable card that was useful for notifying TSA that our toddler has a special need without having to announce it.
Overall, no matter how stressful the preparation is, traveling is one of the best ways to create memories for years to come. Our family has been determined to not let Jaxon’s ASD diagnosis stop us from seeing the world with one another. We may have to put forth a little more effort and make certain accommodations when we travel. However in the end its worth it to see the beautiful smiles of my family in those amazing pictures. My encouragement to other Mommies looking to travel with their little ones specifically ones with special care needs is to pray, plan, pray some more, then execute! And remember to enjoy the moment and take lots of pictures and video!
~Mommi Shamika Payne~