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Ways to Ease Travel Difficulties for a Special Needs Family



Amy Vickrey, MSE

At first glance, we might seem like a typical American family. My husband is a veteran and we have 2 busy, active boys. However, we have challenges that range from food allergies to special needs and even health issues. Traveling can be tricky. Flying? No thanks, the suitcases aren’t big enough! Here are some ways we have found to make traveling and vacationing a little easier.



Packing Snacks
The first thing we plan for is snacks for the trip and any food products that might not be available where we are headed (I have one child who can only eat 1 brand of waffles and they are from a local grocery chain so we always stock up before a trip). While we might buy some snacks or drinks on the road at places we stop, this ensures that there is safe food for those of us with food allergies on the road.



Having a Space of Our Own
This past October, we traveled to beautiful New Mexico to see family and enjoy the sights. We opted to rent a house for those 4 nights we would be in Las Cruces through Airbnb. This gave us several advantages:

  • We paid a lot less for the large space we had
  • We had a full kitchen and could cook meals to save money and ensure food safety
  • We could keep a regular routine for my son who has Autism
Overall, the ability to have a space of our own and keep our own schedule was wonderful!



Visiting Tourist Spots During the Offseason

While we were there, we took advantage of the fact that most of the other children were in school and visited some cool museums and zoos. There were few crowds which meant my oldest didn’t get so overwhelmed. It was also nice weather so while we had to watch out for too much sun, it wasn’t so hot that we couldn’t enjoy ourselves.The animals at the zoo were active and playing in the cooler weather too.




Using Internet Resources
There are many internet resources for finding allergy-friendly places to eat these days. With cell phones, it is easy to check for allergy-friendly restaurants on apps such as Find Me Gluten Free and to check for reviews. There are also chains that are working hard to train their employees nationwide in allergy-safe practices that we follow. However, before I go to a restaurant I am not familiar with, we call and ask questions about what kinds of things are on the menu, the handling practices, etc. 


One way I know a place is training their employees well is when the person who answers the phone (usually a hostess or cashier) can answer my questions confidently or be willing to ask questions when they are not sure. 

I also try to pack a quick snack just in case we have to make a last-minute decision not to eat someplace as I have gotten to a restaurant that passed the phone call only to discover I was misled on the phone. 


Calling Ahead
One really cool thing we did was to attend the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. It was my oldest son’s sixth birthday, so we went all out and bought tickets for one of their breakfast service areas. This was great because it included a shuttle from the parking lot and to the shopping areas (my husband has issues with walking distances). 


When we first started planning, I called and talked to the head caterer to let them know we were coming and to see what accommodations could be made for food. They were great and we were even able to take our own allergy-free brownies in with us to celebrate the event! Also, the quieter, calmer atmosphere that was offered to us allowed my son to enjoy the balloon fiesta without getting overwhelmed.



While a lot of planning went into this trip and parts of it were a lot of work, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build family memories. My boys still talk about the balloons and the time with Grandma and their uncle. 


While we hope to do it again, I know the memories we built will last them a lifetime and since NO ONE GOT SICK it was even better!!


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