Showing posts with label planning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label planning. Show all posts

Holiday Travel Planning and Wellness

A Children and Special Needs Friendly Parenting Tool Kit

ARE you contemplating a short family getaway soon? Do you know that there is a positive correlation between holidays and wellness, even if you have special needs kids? 

     Beautiful deer spotted at Wayne, New Jersey in Fall 2023 during a road trip 

The upcoming public holiday in the U.S. this year is Memorial Day which falls on Monday, May 27th. In about a month’s time, many public schools will be closing after the final exams and the summer holidays will be here again. Yeayyy!

If you’re a parent blessed with kids especially those with special needs, you’ll probably be questioning: how can I travel with my special needs kid(s) and still enjoy peace of mind?

Give It A Second Chance and Beyond

Perhaps you might dread the idea of traveling with your kid(s) with special needs after several not-so-pleasant experiences in the past? 

As much as you might want to lament those bad travel memories, you cannot undo the past. Don’t beat yourself up! As parents, you are also human and certainly NOT perfect and we all know that all good-hearted parents like you want the best for your kids, right? Remember that we can plan as much as we want but Almighty God is the master planner and the outcome of our planning and parenting is not up to us. So don’t give up!

Personally, one of the best ways for Muslim parents like me to strive to stay calm and be more patient when encountering difficulties or hardship is to remember Allah’s countless blessings and to read the Holy Quran. After all, the Quran will be our faithful companion who will intercede for us on Judgement Day, inshaa Allah.

“Indeed with every hardship comes ease”

               [The Holy Quran, As-Sharh 94:6]

Quranic tafsir quote spotted on a wall display at Darul Tafsir AlKhair Mosque, Singapore (2023)

Look for new travel opportunities. Give it a second chance and beyond. Why? Because it’s going to be worth it, inshaa Allah (God willing). Take it from someone with over 18 years of parenting experience in raising a special needs daughter who was first diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay (GDD) in Singapore and later Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) in New York. She now has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and takes the New York State Alternate Assessment instead of the mainstream Regents Examination.

Here are practical tips that you can add to your special parenting tool kit!

Prepare by Doing Your Homework

Nothings beats doing your research and thorough preparation before your family holiday travel. According to the article, Holiday Travel Tips for Children Who Have Special Needs (2023) by Greta Cunningham of Gillette Children’s ( with clinics at eleven locations in the United States:

Preparation and knowledge are keys to decreasing stress…”

Indeed, this advice is so on point that you must NOT miss it for the moon! 

Travel by Land

When traveling by car or on foot, always taken into consideration the weather conditions. In late spring or summer where the weather is warmer and if you’re traveling to countries in the tropical regions where the weather is likely to be hot, humid or rainy (due to the monsoon seasons), be prepared to bring along items to protect yourselves from the hot weather conditions and develop a check list.

Check List

Thinking of what items to include in your check list? The check list will depend on what your family needs and wants. Below is a sample check list (not in order of importance) to be used as a guide only:

✅ Documents: Photo IDs or Passports (for international travel), Disability and Guardianship papers, flight tickets

✅ Travel itinerary 

✅ First-aid boxes 

✅ Medications, vitamins & supplements

✅ Essential oils & ointments

✅ Bottled water & freezer/cooler boxes

✅ Healthy snacks & meals on-the-go 

✅ Lunch bags

✅ Sunblocks/Sunscreen lotions 

✅ Face/body moisturizers

✅ Lip balms

✅ Caps or wide-rim hats

✅ Umbrellas & rain coats/ponchos

✅ Hardcopy of local maps & mobile/cell phones with local data for navigation via Google Map*

✅ Mobile/Cell phones chargers, cables, adapters/converters, headphones & accessories

✅ Cash & credit/debit cards

✅ Insect repellent

✅ Tick remover

✅ Sets of clothes

✅ Feminine pads/panty liners for kids

✅ Baby diapers, wet wipes, tissues & accessories

✅ Car tool kit (spare tires, nuts & bolts etc)

✅ Window shades for vehicle

✅ Travel sewing kit (needles, threads, safety pins, scissors etc)

✅ Books & Holy Scripture (The Quran etc)

✅ Toys & travel-size puzzles/games

*When navigating to your desired destinations by car or on foot, use the local maps and/or Google Map feature on multiple iPhones (instead of relying on only one!) to double check that we were taking the correct routes at all times.

During one of my family trips to Tokyo, Japan in 2019, we wanted to go to a local mosque on foot from the train station for the salatul Jummah also known as Friday congregation prayers. Somehow, we chose a much longer route! We ended up walking and perspiring profusely because it took us twice as long to arrive there under the hot sun at about 113 F (45 C)! No wonder my special needs daughter (and me, too, actually!) were so grumpy! 

Upon reflection, we realized our mistake of not using the Google Map feature on multiple iPhones to double check that we were taking the correct routes at all times. Plus, we did not bring along any umbrellas or sunblocks to re-apply on our faces and hands. We did not put on any caps or wide-rim hats too so we had sunburns on our faces and hands. Oops!

Travel by Air

If you’re planning on traveling by air, there are several plane travel tips that could help you enjoy your plane ride with your special needs kid(s). Other than the common essential items to bring along as outlined in the earlier check list, there are specific things that you need to pay attention to if you’re traveling by plane than if you’re traveling by car or on foot.

Letter from the special education teacher

Some things that require advance preparation include having the right documentation at hand for fast and smooth immigration clearance at the various airport checkpoints.

✅ Prepare a written letter signed by your kid’s special education teacher stating your child’s disability or special needs condition. 

✅ When you’re at the airport security check and clearance, show it to the airport staff and mention your child’s condition to him/her. 

✅ Make a special request that you do not wish to be separated from your kid and that the staff exercise speak slowly when giving instructions or asking your child any questions.

✅ If your child has an ID indicating that your kid is a special needs kid with developmental disability, bring a copy to show it to him/her.

During one of my return home trips from Singapore to New York, I was unfortunately separated from my daughter because I was “chosen” for the random thorough check on passengers at the security check and clearance. I was held back for at least 20-30 minutes and my anxiety level went up the roof because it took longer than others to be cleared before I could proceed to the boarding area to be with my daughter. Oh no!

Extra food for long plane rides

If you have special needs kid(s) who loves to snack while traveling (who doesn’t, right?), remember to pack extra food for him/her so that your kid doesn’t get too hungry while waiting for the meals on board the plane to be served. This is especially important for long flights of more than four hours. 

For instance, a trip from New York or Boston to Singapore typically takes a total about 22 to 24 hours and could be even longer with transits. My family has been fortunate to have family members and friends who would happily pack us a variety of food in our large lunch bag from pizza, burgers, crispy chicken to muffins and traditional Malay kuih or desserts.

Use restrooms before entering boarding area 

During one of my trips from New York to Singapore in June 2023, had to walk for about 20-30 minutes to the boarding gate at the airport for our second leg before the flight departure. In our excitement and anxiousness, we checked-in at the boarding gate without first using the restrooms outside because we forgot that many boarding gates are WITHOUT restrooms! As a result, one of my extended family members had to bear with the discomfort of not being able to use the restroom until we finally boarded the plane! Oops!

Request for early/priority boarding 

If you have a special needs kid on the autism spectrum or other conditions where the child is easily overwhelmed by long waits, too much noise or crowd, an unfamiliar environment or others, do NOT hesitate to request for assistance and support.

Early or priority boarding at the airport. 

Plan to arrive early and request for early or priority boarding when you checked in at the airport. Requesting for early or priority boarding will help to calm your kid and hopefully minimize any unexpected melt down at the airport due to the overwhelming factors mentioned earlier, inshaa Allah (God willing).

Use the DPNA Code when booking the airline tickets 

If you want extra peace of mind, you might also want to consider using the DPNA code when booking your airline tickets. The DPNA code stands for Disabled Passenger with Intellectual/Developmental Disability Needing Assistance”. According to an anecdotal evidence shared in a local support group for Muslim parents with special needs children in New York, using the DPNA code will automatically get you priority boarding and skip security lines in most instances. It will likely even get you front seats in the cabin (usually one parent with child). 

After you have purchased your tickets, take an additional step by calling the airline and giving them this code. It brings up the protocols (at their end) they need to follow to support your family. 

For example, a happy father with a child on the autism spectrum has had great success using the DPNA code when traveling to Dubai from the Boston International Airport by Emirates Airline. It has changed the entire travel experience for his family and dropped the stress and anxiety levels considerably, alhamdulillah (praise and thanks to Allah S.W.T.)!

Wishing you all the best and happy holidays ahead!

Syazana B. M. Sani (M.S.)
for Team ASKtrioWello

If you have additional tried and tested tips to share with our global readers, please email hello@asktriowello or drop your tips in the comments below this blog post.


Our heartfelt appreciation and special thanks to the following individuals for their contribution to this article:

(1) Umm Omar from Vermont, U.S.A. for her valuable inputs as a mother of a youth boy on the autism spectrum.

(2) Shahrukh Sultan from New York, U.S.A. for his valuable inputs as a father of a child on the autism spectrum.


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