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  • Writer's pictureStacey Smiler

Traveling with kids...crazy or courageous?!

Traveling to Japan

We are busy settling back into life in Tokyo, currently doing 2 weeks quarantine at home and although the flight was long (10.5 hours), we were able to lay down and sleep which prepared us for the long Covid testing/customs control procedures at the other end. The airport process in Japan is very, very strict..we had Covid tests both in NZ 72 hours before departure and on arrival here. While we were waiting in the airport on Friday I was just amazed by the level of planning and procedures that must have gone into creating this new reality. Hence, travel is the inspiration behind today’s post..enjoy reading...

Our Journeys

For the first 5 years of Keanu’s life we did multiple flights a year just him and I. This was due to us living in various countries (Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand). In particular when we lived in Australia I would travel back to Hong Kong frequently to visit my family & friends, Jordan was away a lot with work, sometimes weeks at a time which honestly was quite challenging when Keanu was sick but we got through and are thankful for the amazing medical care in Australia we experienced, and in particular, our paediatrician who we could really rely on for support.

I have never really found challenge in traveling with Keanu but as he is becoming older and physically stronger we definitely take a team approach to managing nowadays and always journey together as a family. The key to us having numerous smooth journeys to different destinations has without a doubt been in the art of preparation!

July 2020 Traveling from Queenstown back to Auckland

If Keanu could write his preferred travel list/items I imagine it would go something like this:

  1. Bluetooth Headphones for tunes (favourite playlist: The Wiggles)

  2. iPad for movies/shows (specifically; SING, Trolls, Moana, The Wiggles, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse)

  3. Chocolate Freddos (x2 or 3 please)

  4. A book to stim with (helps regulate himself)

  5. Blanket & milk bottle.

Plan Ahead

As you can imagine, traveling is not familiar territory for most children, they can feel anxious just like we as adults can when, for example, we can’t find our boarding imagine on top of this a child who may have sensory issues and not like loud noises (think announcements in airports etc), a child who may dislike particular smells (think that yucky smell on some aeroplanes), a person who has mobility issues (airports can be busy, chaotic and overwhelming) navigation can be tricky and accessibility could be better. Knowing these issues can be daunting for parents and children.

March 2020 Tokyo-NZ

Keanu does not have sensory issues but he does experience frustration when he can’t communicate what he wants or needs, or if his wants aren’t allowed at a particular time. This usually presents in the form of pinching or scratching. Therefore, us knowing his particular triggers and being aware of these before traveling is important.

For example, he loves his iPad but we try to hold off giving it to him until we are at least at the gate, the reason for this is he will be very frustrated if he has to hand it over to to through the x-ray machines, the same goes with his headphones, if he is really enjoying a song and we have to take them off him he will cry and whinge and have a hard time comprehending what is happening. This may seem like a small ask from him but an adjustment like this can help assist making the traveling process a lot easier/stress-free!!

Travel in March returning to NZ from Japan

When traveling from New Zealand to Tokyo last Friday night Keanu was so happy that Air NZ were playing Moana on board and watched the movie at least 2 times through. However he was not impressed when the announcements were made and the onboard entertainment was paused, he was grabbing our hands directing them towards the screen wanting it to stop already! Luckily the announcements were pretty short and he found a book to keep him entertained in the meanwhile!

Keanu & Koel happy @ home in Tokyo

"Start Small"

For parents that want to travel with special needs children I would say start small, try a road trip, a trip on a ferry and work your way up. Familiarise children with what they may experience, expose them to the modes of travel they may take e.g. watch videos, read books, look at photos etc. Then, if you do decide to travel internationally be as prepared as can be, make lists prior to your trip, pack spare clothes (at least 3-4 outfits if traveling 10+ hours), nappies, wipes, sanitiser, snacks, medicines, drink bottles. Basically everything you would normally pack, but this has to be a day bag on steroids! If your child takes medicine, take spare, you never know you might get delayed or your bags may get lost. Another thing my husband does is spread Keanu’s medicine out amongst our check-in bags..because if Keanu’s bag goes missing and all his meds are in there we are in big trouble!

But!! Do not pack the unnecessary, the last thing you want to be doing is struggling with a child AND baggage. This happened to me once because I was taking a cheapo airline with no food/drinks from Hong Kong to Japan, also I may have purchased a few books (sorry Jordan, haha my husband loves my book obsession!) anyway along with trying to juggle Keanu, a backpack, a bag of food/water (+book) and a stroller..lets just say I may have put my back out! An idea I tried out recently on our trip to Queenstown was using a children's equipment hire company, instead of packing 2 strollers we only packed one (Keanu's) and also we were able to hire a board to attach to Koel's stroller for Keanu, we also hired some toy boxes..prices were reasonable and it was a lot easier to travel light! (light for us is still 3 suitcases!!)

Dec 2019 NZ-Tokyo

Seek Support

If your child needs extra supports you can request a letter from your doctor or paediatrician who can specifically outline what your child needs to be comfortable when flying. When I used to fly with Keanu from Aus-HK our paed outlined a few points which were helpful; 1. A quiet place to wait, 2. Seat with no one in front of him, 3. Must carry his medicines on him at all times and be allowed to pass them through security, 4. Priority boarding

These points were not only for the benefit of Keanu but also for us as his parents, I try to keep very relaxed when traveling because if I am anxious Keanu will definitely be able to sense it, I find a place within where I can just be calm and then when we sit on the place finally sigh a sense of relief! Main lesson here: find yourself a good paediatrician who will fight for what your child AND family need & find your place of peace! Be Confident. Be Calm. Be Courageous for your child & yourself!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and hopefully learned something interesting, if you see a family traveling with kids always offer help, yes kids can be annoying on flights but even more annoying is people who fail to emphasise/show compassion to the struggles of others!

If you have any useful tips for traveling with special needs children or children in general let me know in the comments below!

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