Many of you have reached out with questions about how we travel with our son, David, who has profound special needs. David is 17 years old now {although he’s tiny for his age} and we’ve been to France, Germany, Scotland and England {many times!} We love adventures and every summer we take a big trip–usually to the UK to visit family and along the way we’ve picked up some good strategies for making it work. If you have your own tips or any questions, leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’ve used some affiliate links in this post and if you click through I may get a small commission. Thank you!

1. Bring all medications. I know this sounds obvious but I consider myself a pretty good mom and we ended up in a emergency room in Cambridge, England because I didn’t bring David’s inhalers on our trip. He hadn’t needed them for months and I figured he would be fine. Even if I had brought them we most likely would have ended up in the emergency room BUT STILL we needed them and didn’t have them. Make sure to pack MORE meds than you think you’ll need–your plane might get delayed by a day and you’ll need that extra dose. Don’t forget over the counter medications as well. We always pack hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, miralax, and various things that can be difficult to find in another country.

This is the pill organizer we use to organize David’s daily medication for the entire trip. If we are going to be gone for three weeks, I bring three pill organizers filled and ready to go. It makes things much easier!

2. Bring plug adapters. A quick online search will tell you what kind of adapter you’ll need for outlets in the country where you’re traveling. Most are available through amazon at target. Here’s the plug adapter we use for England and Scotland.

*Important* Appliances with motors may not work in other countries because voltage varies from the US. I brought David’s nebulizer to England and even though I plugged it in WITH A VOLTAGE ADAPTER and the motor burned out within ten seconds. The same thing happened with a blender. David only eats blended foods and I brought a small blender with us a few years ago. The voltage difference caused the blender to burn out and we ended up buying one locally. It was hard to spend the money but it was a necessity. If you rely on motorized equipment for your special needs child, arrange to have equipment native to the country to so you won’t have any issues.

3. Consider Airbnb instead of a hotel. We love Airbnb. David is up a lot at night and when we’ve stayed in a hotel I’ve found myself in a bathroom with him at 3am trying to keep him quiet so the rest of the family can sleep. I worry about the people in rooms around us and under us in hotels, too. It’s stressful and then I’m exhausted the next day! We’ve found if we get a house through Airbnb then David can be up at night and the rest of us can still get sleep. Other things that are awesome about airbnb are the ability to do laundry {pack lighter!} and cook {save money!}. I’ll try to do a whole post on Airbnb but my quick tips are–find an entire place to yourself, make sure you have enough bedrooms {not just beds} and read reviews closely.

4. Bring a friend or sitter along.
Phew! I know this is a big one and it might seem unrealistic, but for us, this makes all the difference. It’s the difference between being busy, exhausted and stressed for most of the trip to actually having downtime and GASP! getting a few dates in here and there. It requires an extra plane ticket and an extra room in the Airbnb but for us, it’s definitely worth the extra cost. We’ve also asked our Airbnb hosts to help us find a sitter who can care for David with his special needs and we’ve had some incredible women help us in other countries. We’ve asked this person to come in from 9am-noon to help feed David breakfast, give him a bath and do some light cleaning. We still keep in touch with many of these incredible women!

5. Pack light.
The lighter you pack the easier it is to move around airports, trains and taxis not to mention lugging stuff up four flights of stairs. I mentioned one of the perks of an Airbnb is the ability to do laundry {make sure your Airbnb has a washer and dryer}. We try to pack as light as possible when we travel. We bring medium sized suitcases with around 5 outfits, lots of underwear and socks, and then do a load of laundry pretty much every day. As far as souvenirs–shopping in another country seems sooo fun until it’s time to pack up and come home. When we were in France I went crazy at a flea market with French shopping baskets, vintage pottery, a painting and linen clothing. It was so stressful trying to fit everything in our bags. Now I remind myself I can always find the same things online. I try to find souvenirs like a print of the area from a local artist, an ornament for our Christmas tree, a vintage creamer and sugar set or a fun dress. Buy smaller items to bring home and save yourself the headache.

11. Plan ahead for the plane ride.
A ten hour plane ride is going to be rough. There are no easy answers but we try to pack some fun toys {iPad with Dr. Seuss read along stories and a keyboard app, lots of snacks and food {for both David and us} and a vibrating toy like a buzzy bee or a vibrating toothbrush to help calm David when he gets agitated. Keep reminding yourself that once the plane ride is over you get to be in a new, fun place. Also, don’t underestimate the power of peanut MnM’s to lift your spirits in a crisis.

6. Order diapers or other bulky items and have them shipped directly to your Airbnb. We bring enough diapers for the first week of our trip and have more delivered to the house where we are staying. These are the diapers I order for David since he no longer fits in baby sizes. I check in with the host before I order any deliveries to make sure it’s okay with them and confirm the address. You can order on amazon.co.uk from the US. It’s awesome!

7. Use Uber
Renting a car in another country is pricey and driving in another country can be stressful. We use Uber a ton and it’s worked great. We haven’t had trouble finding vans that can accommodate our luggage and David’s wheelchair.

8. Plan to have food delivered/check out local restaurants
One of the most stressful parts of travel is when we are jet lagged and hungry. We have found that food delivery the first night we’re in a new country can make things much easier than walking all over town to try to find a pub or restaurant that is serving food and willing to serve children. We’ve use Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

Many restaurants in the UK only serve food until around 7pm and won’t serve children. If we find a pub or restaurant that looks fun, one of us will run inside and check to see if they are serving food and if they allow children. Also, if you have a wheelchair you might mention you’ll need spot to tuck it away while you eat. Also, ask your Airbnb host for recommendations for local pubs and restaurants that are kid friendly. Trip adviser is great for checking out reviews of pubs and restaurants.

9. Plan one adventure a day.
This is a big one for us. When we’re in a new place it’s tempting to want to do allll the things and see everything. But we’re learning we can only do so much before we end up exhausted and burnout. We try to have slow mornings to sip coffee, read a book and relax. We plan one big adventure a day and we try to plan which restaurant we’ll eat at before we go out. Then we pack a bag with all of David’s food, medications, diapers, wipes. We load him into his wheelchair and off we go for 6-8 hours. We might leave around noon and get home at 8pm. We watch a movie and relax on the sofa. For us, this rhythm seems to work well.

10. Manage expectations.
Travel is still real life. Looking at pictures on instagram, it’s tempting to think somehow we can plan everything, including darling outfits and take perfect pictures on a perfect day with perfect children when everyone is in a good mood. On our trip to Scotland this summer we had amazing moments–David on the top of Calton Hill while the sun is setting and the wildflowers are blooming. Magical!! We also had really hard moments like the meltdown he had in a pub where he screamed for twenty minutes while trying to knock everything off the table. A few years ago I dropped a box of sweet potatoes on the plane. The container burst open and sweet potatoes flew everywhere–including all over the woman’s face across the aisle from us. She freaked out screaming, “WHAT WAS THAT?!” I felt awful! My face turned bright red. It sucked. But you know what, we got through it. She eventually calmed down. Life moved on. It’s real life even on vacation. Keep your expectations in check and you won’t be surprised when things go awry. It’s worth it for those magical moments!

12. There are a few products that have made travel easier for us. We love the buzzy bee and we bring it everywhere. Also bring extra batteries. We use this door stopper to keep David in his room at night. This little gadget has been a life changer for us! We don’t want him roaming around the Airbnb. It helps me sleep easier! We use these pajamas to keep him cozy and warm and they are a lifesaver if we have a diaper failure {everything stays inside instead of getting everywhere.} We brought this poncho with us to Scotland so we could cover up David in his wheelchair if we were out and about in the rain. This is the best $15 I’ve spent in a long time. He was the driest of all of us.

Are you ready to book a trip? Plan your next adventure? I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, comments. Have you traveled with a special needs kiddo? What works for you?

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