5 Tips For Traveling With A Person With Special Needs

Recently I heard about someone who was traveling with their adult child who has special needs and got lost. They ended up being separated for almost 24 hours. He was a grown man but didn’t speak the language of the country they were visiting so unfortunately he wasn’t able to get anyone to help him.

He had to sleep in a doorway.

This saddened me so much because I know what it’s like to be lost in a foreign country but I can speak up and help myself so imagine the terror of being in a foreign country, not being able to speak the language nor having any resources to help you. And the fear the mother must have felt for that 24 hours! I’m writing this in hopes that these tips can help someone else if they find themselves in the same situation. There are many levels of special needs so each tip on this list won’t work for everyone but they will work for many. 

1. Make sure to register with STEP

  • STEP is Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and one of the benefits of this free service is (per their website) “…Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.” It’s always a good idea to register with STEP for any trip but especially in a situation like this. 

2. Make sure your loved one has a business card with lodging information.

  • The business card or piece of paper should have the name and address of the hotel or apartment you are staying in. 
  • If they get separated they can hand that card or piece of paper to a taxi driver, a policeman, or whoever is available to help and be led back to safety. 
  • If you are in a foreign country it wouldn’t hurt to have a card written in the local language of the country you are visiting that says,”My name is XYZ and I don’t speak (insert language here). Can you take me to this location please?” 

3.  Make sure they have their own cell phone

  • when you are traveling to a different city or country it is important that your loved one has a way to communicate and a way to be reached.
  • If they have their own cell phone, please make sure they know how to send text messages and make calls while in another country.
  •  If they do not have a cell phone and you feel comfortable with them having one, It is very simple to buy a local phone when you FIRST arrive in a foreign country. Most cities have retail stores that sell local cell phones. You can buy minutes in different increments so in case you get separated you can call your loved one and be able to know where they are. 

4 make sure you download and fill out a Medical History Sheet

  • If something were to happen to your loved one and you are not around, you need the people that will be treating them to know exactly what your child’s needs are.
  • If they are in trouble and can’t speak for themselves or can’t speak the language of the land that they are in, the information on this sheet (which was created by a Nurse Anesthetist with over 40 years experience and is my mom) will allow them to be able to be treated effectively. 

5.  A sharpie is your friend

What if your loved one can’t talk on the phone? Then write on their arm in black Sharpie the following information:

  • the telephone number where you can be reached
  • and the name and address of where you are staying.  This way, if they cannot dial a phone or talk on the telephone they can simply show their arm and be taken to safety. 

Is there anything you would add to this list? 


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