Thursday, January 22, 2015
Living on the Road with Special Needs - Part 1 In the Van
I am very grateful that my husband has a great job. He needs to travel a lot though....and when I mean a lot....we are currently on a 7 week trip. He enjoys us coming with him on trips. He is not by himself in the evenings or mornings. But it does present some challenges for me.
As most of our readers know, we are a family that has 4 children all with unique "special" needs. We are dealing with autism, severe ADHD, mood disorders, OCD issues, food allergies, and I will just stop listing now. Each child has various things they are learning to deal with. Yeah...changing locations weekly can be a challenge. Just as they get used to a hotel room, we switch again.
Fortunately we have discovered a great chain of hotels through Hilton. The Homewood Suites has a great set up for our family. Most of their "suites" are two-room with kitchenettes. This comes in so handy, it's like moving in a new apartment each week. Another chain that we use is Residence Inn. Both are a nice option for our family, giving enough room for us to spread out and not be on top of each other.
Traveling with the kids though, means lugging school books, laptops, tablets, xbox video game systems, favorite snacks, favorite cups, favorite pillows....oh yeah, our van is never empty. And we cannot forget medications. The medications must get packed. We also have a great support system in our family. My sister-in-law and also my mom have been wonderful about mailing me medication refills for the kids when we are on the road. Most of the important medications cannot be filled early because of laws.
But I keep their medication pill bottles separated into bags. I also keep a list in the bag of the meds and who gets what when. I remember, but what if something happens to me. I use a 31 Utility tote with a zipper for this. In the bag I also keep a couple spare bottles of water, a couple pouches of applesauce, allergy pills and ibuprofen in case someone has a severe headache. I do not keep essential oils in this bag. I keep those separated in another bag. The ones we use most often, I carry in my purse. I also keep alarms in my phone, so we don't forget.
So once I have all this packed, what happens then? How do we stay on the road for this long? I will use our trip to Dallas/Fort Worth as an example. This was a huge driving distance for us....17 hours with stops.
Joe and I map out the trips to see where we are going. I start watching the weather for a few weeks in advance to watch for trends, and to determine how to pack clothing. This was really important this trip considering it was below zero wind chills at our house, but we were heading to a warmer area. And then heading back to cold conditions. We also do our best to pad the travel time. We know the kids are going to need to get out and walk. We are going to also.
I try to scout for activities that can get them out of the van between point A and Point B. Example....When we went to New York, we stopped at Punxatawny Pennsylvania to see Phil. That was a nice rest point for them. This trip, we did not stop except at a few rest areas/truck stops. The place we wanted to stop at was a little too cold for outside activity, at least for our kids.
But speaking of truck stops, we also have favorite chains to stop at. We have seen the trend that they are cleaner and maybe offer extra options to customers like free internet. These are the ones that we choose to stop at. It depends on the section of the country we are in for which ones we are stopping at. Then we can take a short break. The kids might watch some Netflix or play a few games. Joe has even helped troubleshoot friends computer troubles.
The ride to our location is usually full of listening to audiobooks (as a whole family through the van stereo) and also the radio or favorite cds. The kids have Minecraft on their laptops, and they play on that for hours in the car. We also have some strategy games we bought at Staples that we have loaded on their laptops. This keeps them busy. They are also loaded with Nintendo DS games and their tablets. Lydia and Joey keep some books in their laptop bags. Lydia also packs a journal just in case she wants to doodle/draw.
Caty has a bag that she packs and I also keep Look N Find books in the seat pockets for her. I try to cycle them around so that the same ones are not in there every trip. I also pick up new ones along the route and include them. Another way that she cannot be "bored". Here are some favorites right now:
Each child also has a blanket packed and the girls have pillows they carry. They usually sit on their blankets and the pillows are packed next to them.
There are squabbles in the van along the way. "SHE TOUCHED ME!!" or "Hey .... how did he get my game...that's my game." "My battery is almost dead....I need plugged in!!!"
Speaking of plugged in...we travel with two of these in our van. One for the back bench and one for the middle/front seat:
Joe and I work while traveling too. I create classes and he keeps up on documents he needs to create. We keep mobile hot spot on our cell contract for the two of us to use. Some might consider us too connected, but tell me that to my face instead of hiding behind your own smart phone. Both of us work in computer jobs that require internet. Can't do our jobs without it. The kids though, are not allowed to use our mobile hotspot while on the road. We will occasionally allow the boys to use the search feature on our phones to look up a game code, but we limit that.
Traveling with all this technology is a pain, but WOW...does it help with some of their anxiety issues. Joey can submerse himself in his Star Wars game or in Minecraft when he feels overwhelmed. They have headphones, so they can play their games without bothering others. This helps them with the mobile life a lot.
I also pack a favorite snack of each child, along with water. We allow them soda in the van, so that helps a bit also. Soda is not something we freely allow them to have. So they are pretty happy when they get that 20 ounce bottle of "goodness". But they also know that if they drink it all, then water is sitting there next. Believe it or not, but soda does not seem to bother our kids and make them extra hyper. I try to buy real sugar sodas and that also helps by avoiding corn syrup.
I do offer them frequent snacks when we travel. Some may not agree with my thinking. But it helps our kids. They are not "bored" as often either.
After driving for so long though, we definitely need to stop and have a break. On our super long trip to Texas, I used the Hotels.com mobile site to scout out hotels when we decide where to stop. We have to make sure they have internet so that the kids can veg a bit when we check in for the night with their tablets watching a favorite show. Hotel cable is not the best when you are used to watching Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
Caty and Joey are the only ones who likes to play road games, but some favorites are:
(we only use the cards)
(again we only use the cards...leave the board at home)
We pull them out to play together, often shouting back and forth in the van as the debates get heated. But it's still fun.
The drive is full of ups and downs. But we survive and we get very excited when we start seeing signs of our new location where we are heading!!!
Next up .... Living in a Hotel.