Our family and I recently took our 2 and 4 year old little girls on holiday to Namibia for a week. My 2 year old was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder at 9 months with her auditory and tactile senses affected most. She also tends to get over stimulated very quickly, so careful consideration had to go into every step of planning our holiday to make it an enjoyable experience for everybody.
Being one of those helicopter moms you are warned about in children’s magazines, I had every second of the trip planned down to the finest detail. It may sound a little extreme, but this allowed me to prepare my girls for every new experience upfront: We played aeroplanes in the lounge, we practised sharing a bed, we tried out our walking shoes, we looked at Facebook pictures of the family members we were going to visit, we even watched YouTube videos of how aeroplanes take-off and land. Our bookshelves were stacked with “how to behave in public” books from the library and the pantry stocked with non-messy, non-sugary, noiseless treats. We were set.
Then the day finally came. We opted to travel to the airport with Uber so we could take our own car seats with us on the trip. The main reason being for safety, but also so the children could nap comfortably during extended road trips. We did not know what the condition of the rented seats available in Namibia would be. I also thought it was best to leave very early for the flight so nobody feels rushed and there is ample time for toilet breaks. With Inge being noise sensitive, it also meant less crowds. This worked very well as we stopped at every single thing that looked remotely interesting. The girls could run up and down the passages without bothering any of the other passengers and ask all one million questions they wanted to. On the plane trip, we put Inge’s weighted blanket on her lap to calm her. Jog the Frog also went along for the ride. During the take-off and landing, I gave the girls Squish sachets to suck on as some children’s ears get quite sore. Luckily, we did not experience any issues in this regard. The rest of the flight went very well without any issues at all. We rented a car in Namibia and drove to our accommodation in Windhoek where we would spend the first half of our holiday. All activities were planned around the girls’ normal routine. I also tried to stick to food and snacks that were familiar to them. The last thing we needed away from home was upset tummies. All meals were cooked in our self-catering unit. The one night we went out for supper, we went early and made sure that we got a table in a far corner where the children could move around without disturbing any of the other guests. They loved Joe’s Beer House!
The second part of our holiday was spent in Swakopmund, a 7 hour car trip away from Windhoek. Once again, we planned the whole car trip around the girls’ normal routine and allowed loads of time to explore during pit stops. The portable dvd players made the whole trip so much easier. (It was “Clamber Club Time” for the whole trip. Note to self: Buy the second dvd a.s.a.p.) The self-catering unit was a little more child-friendly than the one we rented in Windhoek as it had a little garden to play in and the lounge was very spacious. We were very busy in Swakopmund and tried to include as many activities as we could. Again, I tried to include activities that take place in large open spaces and does not limit movement or get too crowded. We also tried to get out of the house as soon as possible in the mornings so the girls were still fresh. Activities were usually limited to two hours at a time. The girls loved exploring in all the little shops and avenues. Furthermore, we paid a visit to the aquarium, climbed the stairs to the top of a tower and ate at a traditional German Brauhaus where we tried all sorts of new food. My biggest fail was attempting to visit Dune 7 on a very windy day. Only Jog the Frog was allowed out of the car… and only for a quick photo. He was absolutely traumatised.
Our flight back was a little more testing as we planned it during their nap time, thinking they would sleep during the flight. Only Jog the Frog took a nap. So, they were very hyper at times and Inge had a major melt-down as well at some point. Lesson learnt.
All in all, we had a fantastic time and the trip was more successful than we anticipated.
My tips for travelling with a sensory sensitive child (or any child) would include:
- Try to avoid sugary, messy treats as a distraction during trips. I opted for almonds, mini rice cakes, biltong, trail mix and coconut chips.
- Have realistic expectations for your children. It is normal for a 2 year old to get squirmy on a 2-hour flight. Don’t get upset about it.
- Plan all activities, flights and car trips around naps/ normal schedules.
- Limit the amount of new food you introduce during the trip to avoid upset tummies.
- Know the signs of an over stimulated child and have an exit strategy in place before it escalates out of control.
- Make sure you allow enough time for children to process new experiences. Public toilets with automatic dryers, booking suitcases on a plane and riding the escalator is all new to them. Respect that.
- Ensure the activities you choose are child friendly and allow enough time and space for children to move around. Hint, museums or historic buildings usually have very little people, are cheap to visit, have wide open spaces, things to climb on, loads of new things to see and most have big glass windows to protect the displays.
- Always phone restaurants and find out what their menus look like to see if you need to take food along for your children. My children had lunch before we went to the Brauhaus so it was fine that they ended up only sampling the food on offer.
- A slightly heavy backpack, weighted blanket or beanbag helps to calm children during new experiences.
- Invest in portable DVD players and headphones for the longer car trips. They were such a life-saver!
- Don’t forget to pack Jog the Frog! (And a spare in case Jog the Frog decides to make the airport his permanent residence.)
Contributed by Janet Vermeulen from Clamber Club Toddlers – Durbanville
Tel: 082 372 7703