Travel is often the furthest thing from the minds of parents of a child with special needs. Anneke Marchese, co-owner of AM/FM Leisure Travel & Adventure and mother of two special needs children, wants other parents raising children with special needs to know family vacations are a real possibility. With the help of a specialized travel agent, these vacations can provide a much needed, and well deserved family respite.
A Marchese family vacation involves extensive planning. Specific steps must be taken before the family seeks sun. The list of necessary items goes beyond swimsuits and sunblock: They may need to bring mobile oxygen, feeding tubes, special equipment and medication—nothing can be left to chance. Like Marchese, any agents planning special needs-related trips must be well-informed, understanding and helpful.
Planning a family vacation involving a special needs child is a unique endeavor. Marchese realizes agents operating within this travel niche must strive to understand the implications of the medical condition at hand. In all client-agent relationships rapport is important; in this particular niche, it’s imperative. Agents cannot properly arrange a safe trip unless their clients are comfortable enough to be honest with them. Open dialogue is critical.
While many travelers have dietary restrictions, these could become an even bigger concern for a child with special needs. Improper or negligent food preparation could turn an otherwise relaxing vacation into a nightmare. To prevent such problems, travel agents should contact airlines and resorts to ensure awareness of all relevant food allergies and sensitivities.
Many parents of special needs children work with a home medical supplier or home health care provider. Marchese suggests agents talk to that company during the travel planning process and become informed about the child’s equipment needs. It’s also important to give your clients a list denoting all urgent care facilities, emergency rooms and pharmacies near their hotel. If your clients are taking a cruise, alert them to the presence of an onboard doctor.
Airport and Flight Considerations
Traveling is complicated enough without adding unnecessary stress. Many of your families will be carrying medical equipment. Rather than also bringing luggage on the plane, advise them to check all nonessential items. Tell your clients which airlines will allow them to check bags free of charge.
Airport security rules are nuanced: Families traveling with medication must understand the applicable TSA guidelines and regulations. Special regulatory modifications allow for carrying items such as liquid medications and feeding tube bags. Marchese suggests all medications remain in their original bottles, clearly marked with the child’s name and dosage. A doctor’s note explaining the medication and its use could also be helpful.
Preboarding is important and must arranged prior to your client’s travel date. Early boarding allows parents to situate their children and any required equipment. When flying with a child who has a compromised immune system, early boarding provides extra time for in-flight area sanitization.
The travel process could overwhelm children who are on the autism spectrum or those with other sensory processing disorders. Online videos are available to help these children become comfortable with their surroundings and with inflight noises. Some airports even offer airport rehearsals, during which children go through the security and boarding processes, explore the airplane and interact with its crew, hear the engine sounds, and feel the movement of the plane. Videos and airport rehearsals help children work through their fear of the unknown in a calm, pressure-free environment.
Marchese sees no limit to the vacation fun families with special needs children could have. Ski and beach adaptive equipment have opened up a whole new world of travel options. All-inclusive resorts are also very accommodating. These options allow the entire family to enjoy their special time together.
It’s Not Always a Vacation
In addition to arranging vacation travel, agents working within this niche help families arrange medically necessary travel. Families may need your help when seeking a second opinion or when their child is undergoing surgery at a non-local hospital. Working with the treating hospital, you could often arrange no-charge travel and housing accommodations.
Parents of special needs children deal with difficult circumstances on a daily basis. With the help of a specialized travel agent, these families can safely and happily explore the world together!
By Lisa Stickler