Why adventures are so important
You’ve probably gathered by now that Zak & I like an adventure and I warn you there’s a few more to come this year yet!
I’ve loved travel ever since I was a young kid, my parents quite literally showed me the world and it made me who I am today. Travel taught me to broaden my horizons and embrace everybody. Don’t worry this isn’t going to be another preachy post about how important travel is, but more of a post about why adventures with my son are so important.
Zak isn’t your average 3 year Old, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have the same experiences and opportunities as everybody else. My child more than most, needs to see that people can be kind, he needs to see that he can be accepted for who he is and quite frankly he needs to spread all of his joy with the world too; I’ve yet to meet anyone he hasn’t charmed yet…
Life is going to be a little bit tougher for Zak so I’m determined to fill his childhood with all those memories we cherish as adults. Travel isn’t about money, it never has been. Travel is about time, quality time together. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. It’s about making memories, cherishing every second, every giggle, every jump in the pool, every sandcastle and every salty kiss. It’s not just that memories you’re making it’s yours too!
Yes sometimes it’s hard. Yes sometimes it’s overwhelming and yes sometimes I get it wrong (like the boat trip in Tenerife!) but we learn from it, we laugh about it and we try again. Quite frankly all the trips I’ve had with Zak this year have been less stressful than when I used to travel with his dad! Zak thrives off adventure, he loves the outdoors, he loves to feel free and there’s no doubt he’s his happiest when he’s in water. Although travel does bring new challenges, it also encourages Zak to push the boundaries he sets himself at home.
2022 admittedly is a year of excessive adventures for us but I feel like I’m making up for the last two years Covid robbed us off. It was also about trying lots of different adventures to see what worked and what didn’t so I could learn from each one. I’m never going to get it 100% right and the thing I’ve learned the most is it’s how you approach the situation, if you’re stressed they’re stressed. So I don’t stress. I accept what is out of my control and I break it down to one challenge at a time. COVID and Zak have taught me not to plan too far ahead, So although I’m prepared I’m only thinking about and dealing with what’s right in front of me at the time. For example; first part of a holiday is getting to the airport. That’s all I think about until I’m at the airport. I expect tantrums and meltdowns in the car, I expect traffic, I expect a hungry frustrated child and I plan for that. I take snacks, we play games, I explain everything to him but most importantly I keep him excited about the adventure. When we are at the airport the next part is getting to the plane, it’s getting through security, it’s waiting, it’s burning off his energy, it’s getting us both fed and watered; listening to his needs. Next comes the plane ride. Then comes getting to our accommodation. Then comes getting settled in the room and giving Zak whatever he needs at that time. I apply the same process all holiday and then I never get overwhelmed. I’m simply listening to Zak and dealing with what we need at that moment in time. It sounds so simple when you break it down like that but it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and the stress yourself that we forget our children and then when they start demanding our attention it just escalated the stress. It always has been and it always will be about Zak.
I won’t lie to you there are extra challenges when travelling with Zak and when booking Tenerife it was the first time I booked special assistance. Sometimes I’m so stubbornly independent I don’t like to ask for help but as my dad pointed out this is Zaks right, not mine. He has the right to the assistance, he has the right to travel. It’s so often the little things people don’t realise; Zak Can walk but not that far and travel is exhausting for any of us let alone when you have CP. As you probably know Zak also struggles with noise, that means boarding an aeroplane makes him very anxious. If we are boarding the plane through an airbridge and don’t need to go outside then he’s generally fine but if it means walking across the tarmac to the plane on the noisy airfield he won’t walk. When Zak gets scared or overwhelmed he needs full body contact e.g a cuddle. Now picture me trying to get across the tarmac carrying a toddler who weighs a tonne, with a buggy, two backpacks, teddy and whatever else we picked up along the way. It’s a lot. That wipes me out. That makes me stressed. It’s the same when we land and throw in the extra challenge that you don’t get the buggy back until baggage claim so you have to carry him all through the airport and passport control, potentially in the heat. It’s a recipe for disaster! On a good day when he’s not overwhelmed or overdone it, Zak can walk about 10 to 15 metres before needing a break – usually the buggy. So special assistance is necessary; I simply cannot carry him the distance that we would be expected to walk. Now I have to say the Europeans generally are more helpful and better set-up for disabilities. The UK continues to frustrate and disappoint me. Though we had no major problems, I still have to speak up in the UK to make sure Zak’s needs are met. My son may not be in a wheelchair but that does not mean he is any less disabled.
There are also other challenges with Zak that people aren’t even aware of and I’ve become so adapted to them they’re just part of our life. Things like seats in a restaurant, this is one of our biggest challenges at the moment. Zak is too big for a high chair but OT have told me the booster seat is not good for him either. Zak cannot sit in a normal chair like you or I can and balance because his core is wobbly. He especially can’t do that and then concentrate on eating. The coordination that eating involves is hard enough for Zak. He also only likes certain chairs because he needs to feel safe. For example he won’t sit in a chair without arms and it needs to have a straight back but not be solid wood so it’s slippy. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it but it’s a daily challenge for us at the moment.
When Zak does an intense exercise like swimming he often over does it which means he loses all control when the activity ends, so he can’t even walk a short distance. This is why it was essential to take the buggy to the poolside.
Now plane toilets were the thing I was most nervous about on this trip especially now Zak’s toilet training. At home Zak has special toilet seats with handles and steps but they clearly weren’t coming with us. I have a portable foldable toilet seat which is great but it was the size of the toilets that worried me. Zak’s biggest challenge is balance. He can’t pull his pants & leggings down and turn round to get on toilet. Throw in a plane/turbulence and I was sure we were in for a disaster. Let alone how the hell I was going to wee! But we did it, we figured it out; I wedged the door open for him to go so I had more room to help him in and off and the crew stood in front of us to give him some privacy and then when I went I just sat him on my lap. 3 wees on the way out, 2 on the way back, no accidents or disasters!
Travelling as a single parent also brings a few obstacles. I deliberately didn’t book all inclusive in Tenerife because I knew that they would be buffet breakfast lunch and dinner. Buffets are like the worst thing for us because you can’t carry a child/push a buggy and 2 plates of food, so that potentially means leaving them at a table. Breakfast was just about manageable as we went early and sat right next to buffet so I could see him at all times.
Weeing is just generally a challenge as a single parent, whether you’re travelling or not to be honest. Definitely wee when they wee even if you don’t need to, wee in the sea (controversial I know but it’s the easiest solution) and bribe them with snacks; I used to say oh let’s go get some crisps, oh I’ll just wee whilst we are here! Also buy spray suncream/after sun you don’t have to rub in so you can easily apply to your back & not burn!
Adventures, trips, holidays whatever you call them, however long they are whether abroad or not I can promise you they are more than worth it. They take you out of your usual routine of work and they allow you to see the world through our kids eyes. We don’t live to work, we work to live. Time is so precious and kids just want your time. Zak in particular thrives off 1-1 time. We have some of the best conversations and we encourage each other to try new things on our adventures. We ‘break the rules’ of normal life and do things like have ice cream for tea, or go to the beach in our pjs. So simple but so special to our children. We remind them we are fun too and we have fun together. When Zak and I hired the camper-van he thought it was the coolest thing ever, even though it was so far out of my comfort zone. When we went to the beach for dinner in Tenerife Zak said ‘isn’t this just so much fun’ these are the moments I live for. Seeing him happy and thriving. I feel alive.
The adventures don’t have to be huge, long or expensive. I tell Zak things like going on a bike ride to the lakes or a day out at the farm are adventures, because they are. They are things we don’t do everyday and are quality time together. It also means every time I say adventure he doesn’t expect a plan ride!
My honest advice is just do it. Live more. Push your comfort zone more. Your kids will thank you for it. Build yourself up slowly if you have to, think outside the box but you will never regret spending more time with your children, making memories.
So I thought I’d share some of my top tips for when travelling with kids of all abilities;
- Explain everything. We want all the answers and it’s no different for kids. I’m not saying you need to share every detail but give them enough to understand. When I go through security with Zak I always explain that they are looking to see if there’s anything dangerous in our bags and the the scanner makes sure there’s nothing dangerous on us. This keeps us safe.
- Manage their expectations. Be honest they might have to wait a while or that they can’t go swimming everyday, and over egg it so when it turns out better than you said you look like the hero!
- Take a bag of tricks for the plane including a couple of new toys/colouring, kids love a surprise
- If you’re landing around their bedtime put them in pjs on the plane, this helps them just as much as it helps you!
- Get a tablet. Now I was that parent that was adamant my child wouldn’t have a lot of screen time. But I quickly realised there are times where it’s to his benefit and this includes flying. Zak needs to be able to zone out from what’s going on around him and the tablet is the perfect distraction. I download several of his favourite movies, so he can watch them without Wi-Fi and it also saves me at the hotel too!
- Flight times. This is the one time where it’s to everyone’s benefit to not book the cheapest flights. We all know the cheapest flights are the shit times but that does not help my child. By booking better flight times saves all the stress and hassle of upsetting their routine.
- Burn off that energy. At the airport make sure you find a space where they can literally run, jump, crawl and do whatever they need to do to burn that energy off! A lot of airports have play areas.
- Take their cutlery and booster seat. No you don’t need to take the whole kitchen sink, but taking a few key items that make them more comfortable just saves hassle.
- Squirty squash. This is a great tool to encourage them to drink more in the heat!
- Take their favourite snacks in your hold luggage. Kids love to snack it’s no joke and hunger can lead to the biggest meltdowns. By taking a few of their favourite snacks means you’ve always got something on hand and means you don’t need to scramble to find a supermarket
- Take items from the breakfast buffet. Whether it’s a few bread rolls, pieces of fruit or muffins, you’ll thank yourself later when they get out of the pool starving and you need something fast
- Follow their routine. Now I know this is a controversial one as not everyone loves a routine but I honestly think by following their routine you benefit as much as they do. Don’t get me wrong there were times that Zak was later to bed by an hour or so but that’s the most I’ll push it. An over tired child is a grumpy child. Book smart and book a room with a balcony so when there passed out you can sit on the balcony and enjoy your time.
- It’s their holiday too. Sounds obvious but I see so many parents ignoring their children or getting frustrated with them when they ask for attention because they are so focused on the fact that they are on holiday, they forget that their children are too. Make sure you do something everyday the kids want to do, take toys and games out to dinner to play with them don’t expect them to sit there patiently and just generally engage with them, play with them, laugh with them. All children ever want is our time.
Final piece of advice is if I can do it a single parent with a disabled child, then so can you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, however big or small. Accept things will go wrong. Pick your battles and just embrace every second. Remember travel isn’t just about the destination but the journey…