Lisa Thornbury: Party Mummy


Travelling with a Child Who Has Special Needs? Here's What You Need to Know

Plan ahead and Be Prepared So You Can Relax and Enjoy your time away

Travelling with a Child Who Has Special Needs? Here's What You Need to Know

Our daughter has developmental delays, Epilepsy and other medical issues, so the thought of flying her to a tropical island rife with germs, and food borne illnesses freaks me out. But worrying about what “could” happen is no longer an option because life is happening right now. Worry has been given its walking papers, and in its place are plane tickets!

I’ve come to believe that it IS possible to have a safe and relaxing family holiday if we do the research and prepare properly.

Our Elf on the Shelf arrived last week for his yearly visit. He had a letter tucked under one arm and my son read the news aloud that Santa was sending our family away to Cuba for the holidays. My son shouted, “We’re going to Cuba??!! Avery, we’re going to Cuba!!!”

My daughter shrieked, “What?? Cuba!! We’re going to Cuba!! Oh my gosh, CUBAHHHHH!” 

“Do you know what Cuba is?” her dad asked her.

“No...” she answered smiling, excited as anyone could possibly be about something they had never heard of. The girl is 100% all in, all the time. 

We showed the kids YouTube videos from the resort and talked about palm trees and white sandy beaches and snorkeling in the ocean. I was so happy; I could barely catch my breath. 

As exciting as it is, the worry is still there just below the surface, threatening to bust out and grab me by the throat, choking away the joy. So to keep the travel anxiety from ruining the fun, I’m in full planning mode. This means research, doctor appointments to update our vaccinations, shopping, packing, and checking my lists (taking Santa’s lead, I’m checking them twice).  

If you have family travel plans, you might benefit from my slightly neurotic but highly efficient travel checklist. Sharing is caring, so “Lisa’s List for Travel” is below. Feel free to peruse at your leisure. Also, if you have any additional travel tips I’ve missed, please leave them in the comments. I have room at the bottom of my list to add more because… amply prepared = maximum joy

1. Is There A Doctor In The House?

Find out what medical facilities are available ahead of time. Choose a destination and specific resort with appropriate medical facilities, access, and amenities. Is there a hospital nearby? A 24/7 doctor at the resort? Bring phone numbers for all physicians/specialists at home.

2. Not Up-to-Date? Then Vaccinate!

Find out what vaccine preventable diseases exist at your destination and vaccinate accordingly. Vaccines help protect against illness and outbreaks at home and away, so we stick to the vaccination schedule. If too many people delay or refuse vaccines, more cases of serious diseases can be spread. I contacted a travel clinic and was advised that hepatitis A, and hepatitis B are risks in Cuba.  My daughter, husband, and I needed one more dose of hepatitis A and B to be travel-ready. Since our son completed the hepatitis B series as part of the school vaccination program, his was a simple, one shot deal. 

“A family that vaccinates together, travels together.” Or something like that... :)

3. Pack a First Aid Kit 

Holiday travel can include activities and gatherings with lots of people (who can easily spread germs by coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing drinks), so it's wise to be prepared for anything — from a cold to a nasty bought of traveler’s tummy. Drugstore goods abroad can be pricey and hard to find, so bringing along supplies is a must.

The Thornbury First Aid Kit Includes:

  • Aspirin
  • Tylenol and Advil
  • Tums
  • Imodium
  • Electrolyte Packets
  • Band-Aids
  • Polysporin
  • Multivitamins
  • Throat Lozenges
  • Thermometer
  • Reactin
  • Benadryl
  • After Sun Lotion and After Bite
  • Visine
  • Ear plugs & Ear Drops (in case of Swimmer’s Ear)
  • Daily medications (the ones my daughter takes) plus EXTRA packed separately in case they get lost. I pack important daily meds in my purse and keep them with me on the plane.

*You won’t need to buy all of these since you probably have lots of these supplies already. Also, you don’t need a full supply—just enough for your stay. 

4. Ensure To Insure

Call your insurance company to double check that your policy is sufficient and up-to-date. Remember to bring your policy number and contact numbers with you so they are nearby if needed.

5. Pack Snacks!

A friend told me the food in Cuba is awful. Her exact words were, “Good luck with the no-eating.” Great. Others have said the food is just kind of bland. So we’re bringing a few food items to ensure the kids stay well fed. 

Our Snack Pack Includes:

  • Ketchup packets (apparently the ketchup there is weird, so…)
  • Jello & apple sauce cups
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Packets of nuts/nut clusters
  • Granola and Protein Bars
  • Healthy water enhancer (we like Stur) to add to bottled water. Of course water is best, but my daughter doesn’t drink much. If a fruity flavour makes her drink more, great. I’d like this to be a "no dehydration vacation," if possible. 
  • Pediasure—when every calorie counts, it's a “milkshake” before bed!

6. What's The Hubbub On The Kids Club?

Be sure to look into the Kids Club since your kid may be spending a lot of time there. Is it suitable? Is it safe? Are the caretakers well trained and able to handle a child with special needs? The kids club at the resort we will be staying at looks great online, however I'll investigate in person when we get there. 

7. This Is Only A Drill

After checking into the hotel, do a run-through of emergency procedures. Locate exits, talk about what it might happen if there's a fire-drill (some kids with special needs are terrified of loud alarms), talk about safety (e.g. no leaving the room or going near the pool without a parent).  

*If your child is a wanderer, bring a portable travel door alarm so you'll be alerted if they open the door while you're sleeping. 

Happy travels friends! May all roads lead to fun and sun and happy, healthy, good times. 

This post was developed in association with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The opinions of the author are their own.