Spring break is just around the corner, and we have the pollen to prove it! We’ve asked Marjan Holbrook to share her tips for traveling with children with special needs. As a mother of a child with a mitochondrial disease, she knows that preparation is key to a fun, relaxing and family-friendly vacation!

Prepare your child – Use social stories to talk to your child about where you are going and what you are doing. Show them pictures of the places you will be visiting. Consider downloading a GPS app onto a tablet or phone for them, so they know what to expect and possibly save yourself from having to answer the dreaded question(s): are we there yet?

Prepare yourself – research the place you will be visiting and call ahead to see if they can make accommodations for you. My daughter eats pureed foods, so I like to call the hotels and see if they can puree her food in the kitchen. I also call the airport and the airline to let them know I am traveling with a child in a wheelchair. If you have a medically fragile child, get the address to the nearest children’s hospital. If you are driving to your destination, make sure your car is in good shape, and clean. Yes, I know the kids are going to trash the car, but it’s good to start the trip in a clean car. For my family, it is easier to stay in a place with a kitchen, so I call ahead to see what basic items I need to stock the kitchen. This saves me from having to run to the grocery store in the first hours of vacation.

Prepare the stuff – This is a process I start weeks before we travel. There are items my daughter needs that cannot be bought in a regular store. I pack her list of medications and phone numbers for doctors. I go to the grocery store and make sure I have all the items I need for one meal. Something easy like pasta with sauce…and a bottle of red wine for parents. It’s so wonderful to get to your destination and have an easy meal ready to go. At home, I am all about recycling and reusing. When we travel, I am all about disposable items. Plastic utensils, paper plates, and disposable changing pads and bibs are a must have for our trips.

While you are on the road:

Peace begins with you – No matter how much you prepare there will be bumps in the road. The airline will damage the wheelchair, one of the kids will throw up, and your husband’s “shortcut” will get you stuck in traffic. You have a choice to make the best of it or lose your mind. When I start getting stressed, I remind myself my kids are watching me. They can feel my stress too, so I do the best I can to stay positive.

Keep the kids entertained – When we go on a road trip, we rent one movie and when that movie is over we stop at the next red box. This breaks up the trip and gives us a chance to stretch our legs and argue about which movie will be good for the kids and least annoying for the parents. We let the kids watch movies but only on major highways. When we are taking back roads, it’s important for us to have the kids look around and see the world.

When you get there:

I have heard people say when you go away with children it’s a family trip, not a vacation. I disagree. A family trip can be a fun vacation. If your child needs to be on a routine, try to keep them on the same routine while you are out of town. For example, if your child is used to eating lunch at 11:30 every day then make sure they can eat at 11:30 every day.

Marjan Holbrook lives in Atlanta, GA with her family and wild dog. Marjan is a former teacher and currently using all of her experience to ensure her daughters are getting the best education possible. Her nine-year-old is an accomplished wheelchair-assisted athlete. Marjan serves on the Board of Directors of the Kyle Pease Foundation. This experience has given her deep appreciation for how nonprofits seek to improve the quality of life for people with special needs.


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