Arizona has been all over the world by plane, trains, boats and automobiles since she was 2 months old. It was important for me and her dad to introduce her to travel at an early age, as it was both a passion of ours.
But as we discovered Arizona’s food allergies, sensory dysfunction and attention + anxiety issues, we realized traveling would be challenging. Nevertheless, we kept going, even as she screamed throughout entire flights, ran away from us in too many airports to count, broke out into hives from food allergy contamination and loudly declared inappropriate and offensive commentary to those around her. Oh, and she is deathly afraid of public restrooms: automatic toilets & hand dryers in airport bathrooms can dysregulate her for days. Airplane bathrooms are worse; Arizona is so anxious about anticipating the sound of the flusher that she has convinced herself that she won’t be able to use plane bathrooms at all. I still take her, sometimes kicking and screaming, explaining to her the importance of bladder health. This requires me cramming into that claustrophobic bathroom with her and physically holding her down while she protests. We do breathing exercises and I give her calming techniques throughout. Eventually she goes and immediately plugs her ears tightly while I press the flush button for her. It was difficult when she was younger / littler but now as an almost pre-teen, it’s becoming almost impossible to assist her in such a small space.
But as I write this, we are 35,000 feet in the air on our way to Taiwan (only 13 more hours to go). Arizona is contentedly watching “The Secret Life of Pets” and laughing at the screen. YES, we have come a long way and and YES, so much preparation still needs to happen before every single trip we take.
Let me share a few of my important To Do’s before we travel:
- Visualize it: as with anything new on our schedule, Arizona and I create a visual schedule together to talk about what’s upcoming. In addition to drawing out a visual schedule of our travel plans to Taiwan, I also took her on a tour of the airline website so she could understand what type of plane we were traveling on, where are seats were and what the interior of the plane looked like (most websites have this info).
- Bring a doctor’s note: Due to issues with food contamination and available options to fit Arizona’s dietary needs, I always have to travel with food (both for on the plane and packed away for our destination). It is extremely helpful to have a doctor’s note explaining this necessity, especially when traveling internationally.
- Long Distance Travel / Bag of Treats: This is a fun one, because it keeps Arizona looking forward to something new that occupies her on a long flight. I pick up a few items at the dollar section in Target and wrap each one in tissue paper. On the flight, Arizona can open up one new treat per hour (usually an activity book or something “to do”) and that keeps her focused. At least for a little bit!
(Thank you, Target!)
It’s impossible to guarantee a perfectly smooth travel experience, but planning ahead definitely helps. And since we’re not going to stop exploring the world anytime soon, we continue to figure out new ways to make travel as joyful and stress- free as possible. I would love to hear any hints and tips you have as well!