On the Road, Again

It wouldn’t be the holidays without visiting family. And for some of us, the visits can be lengthy. From a half-hour ride and an all-day visit, to a six-hour car ride staying several days, to plane travel with a week in-between, travel is inevitable.

Most children love the idea of travel, but in reality, the patience and flexibility required can be extremely challenging, particularly at the holidays when emotions are heightened, and resources like sleep and healthy eating can be low. And if your child is a Complex Learner who already struggles with changes in plans, long waits, and managing new environments, taking a trip to visit family can present a multitude of problems.

But don’t despair! Here’s a few ideas for making holiday travel less about the stress and more about the enjoyable memories you hope to create:

  • Break down the trip into increments that will make sense to your child to provide him/her with structure. These steps can be written out or drawn. You can also use a Social Story™ that provides expectations, social skills and behavioral standards about any part of the trip. Here’s a link to a Social Story™ about taking a road trip.
  • Power up before you leave. Go to a park or engage in physical play inside before you get in the car. If it’s been a long trip, Google playgrounds in the area as you get close and schedule in some exercise before you descend on Grandma’s.
  • Put a special travel bag or box together before you go. Do this with your child so they’ll get excited and be sure to include favorite comfort items (a blanket or stuffed animal), fidgets and other sensory supports, toys and games that can be played in the car, and healthy snacks for the trip.
  • Dress comfortably in soft clothes and bring ear plugs, headphones, sunglasses and anything else that will prevent problems related to sensory issues.

Any seasoned travelers out there? What are your tips for traveling with Complex Learners during the holidays?


Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.


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