FamilyTravelWheelchairTraveling with children is tricky even in ideal circumstances – there’s extra gear, extra planning, and always the chance that things could go sideways. Traveling with an ill child is all that and more. Here are tips to makes your summer travels with health-challenged children as smooth as possible!

1.  Practice Makes Perfect

Sometimes the newness of the airport and the mechanics of getting from the bus, train or car to the plane can be the crux of the entire travel experience. Depending on your child, this airport pre-practice can be as simple as rolling a suitcase around the house or as involved as driving to the airport with luggage and traveling as far through the system as you can without tickets. The more you can normalize the airport, the easier it will be when it counts – and also the more you can work to plan around the SNAFU’s that trip you up the first time.

2.  Plan for TSA

If your child has special equipment for his or her illness, clearing TSA at the airport can feel like taking apart the Mars Rover and reassembling it on the other side. Still, this may be preferable to the costs and risks of checking in machinery with wires, tubes, liquids, electronics, etc. Of course, even with the majority of heavy machinery checked, you’ll still need to carry on essentials for your child’s care (and enough extra to get you to a hospital or medical supply store at your destination should your checked baggage be delayed!) First of all, call the airport ahead of time about specific requirements, what’s allowed and what isn’t. Next, and probably most importantly, allow extra time! If you arrive at the airport 40 minutes before your flight, spending an extra 30 minutes clearing TSA because of your special needs is risky and a stressful way to start your vacation. But if you arrive 90 minutes early, you can relax during security while others are sweating bullets. Finally, be sure to streamline your outfit and carry-ons so that the challenge is only with the extra medical gear and not your own, personal gear. This means easy-off shoes, no belts, watches, metal jewelry or sharp objects, and packing your own small liquids in a clear, zip-lock bag.

DisneyWheelchair3.  A Special Note on Disney

There are vacations more suited to special needs and chronically ill families than others. Trekking to Everest Base Camp might be a stretch. But Disney makes it easy – both “Land” and “World”. First and foremost, if your situation warrants it, make sure you visit Guest Relations on your way into the park to get a Disability Access Service Card (DAS Card). The DAS Card lets anyone in your party tag a ride to get a return time that allows your challenged child along with the rest of the party to come back later for immediate access (no waiting in line!) Guests with cognitive disabilities can get more information HERE. Here are some other great travel tips for Disney.

MomChildWheelchair4.  If Disney isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other wonderful places that can accommodate you. Here is a  website with 32 vacation ideas for families with special needs.

5.  Whatever you choose to do, your first goal should be to contact the resort, theme park or national park you are considering and ask how they can accommodate your own child’s specific needs and likes. They may go well out of their way to make your family’s vacation a dream come true. You deserve this trip, and they know that!

6.  “8 Unexpected Things Kids Learn from Traveling” isn’t specifically directed to families with chronic illness or disability, but its  suggestions are wonderful for all kids, healthy and health-challenged alike.

The bottom line–don’t let your child’s illness or disability keep you from planning that dream vacation. Life is too short to miss out on travel, and with the proper planning, you could end up creating the best memories of your lives.

Sheri Brisson

Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.


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