Traveling with Anxious or Inflexible Kids (or adults) with Dawn Barclay from Traveling Different – Episode 170

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traveling with anxious or inflexible kids

We're headed into the holiday travel season. Whether it's just over the river and through the woods to grandma's house, or further -- let's talk about traveling with inflexible kids.

Today's guest is Dawn Barclay. She is an award-winning author who has spent a career working in different aspects of the travel industry. After spending ten years working in sales and marketing for her parents’ two firms, Barclay Travel Ltd and Barclay International Group Short-Term Apartment Rentals, she branched out into travel trade reporting with senior or contributing editor positions at Travel Agent Magazine, Travel Life, Travel Market Report, and most recently, Insider Travel Report. She is a mother of two and resides in New York’s scenic Hudson Valley. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the Family Travel Association (FTA), she also writes fiction as D.M. Barr and holds leadership roles in several writer organizations. Here book "Traveling Different" is here on Amazon. Find her at

Big thanks to our sponsor Family Routines -- getting into a routine can really help all of you know what to expect, even during travel. Come join us!

In this episode

Ways you can prep your kid for what your trip will look like.

Organizations you can look to for special help

What to do if you have other children

Other things that might interest you

Getting over my fears of flying episode.

Producer: Drew Erickson

before you go on a cruise, take a ferry ride / traveling with anxious or inflexible kids


[00:00:00.160] - Hilary Erickson

Hey, guys, welcome back to the Pulling Curls Podcast. We are talking about travelling with anxious or inflexible kids or adults. Let's untangle it.

[00:00:19.910] - Hilary Erickson

Hi, I'm Hilary Erickson, the curly head behind the Pulling Curls Podcast: pregnancy and parenting untangled. There's no right answer for every family, but on this show, we hope to give you some ideas to make life simpler at your house. Life tangled just like my hair.

[00:00:40.240] - Hilary Erickson

Okay, guys, today's guest is the owner of She has worked in the travel industry all throughout her life and has written for many major travel article magazines. I want to introduce today's guest, Dawn Barclay.

[00:01:00.040] - Hilary Erickson

Are you overwhelmed by all there is to do around your house? As a new mom, I felt overwhelmed at every turn. Fortunately, I turned to systems to make a change, whether it's mornings, dinner time, or even just to climb out of a pile of kids clothes. My course family routines can save you. I hold your hand as we smooth out these rough patches, making every day easier so we can more easily handle when your preschooler tells you they can use their urine like a lifesaber. Parenting is always going to be a wild ride. Routines are just your seatbelt, and they can support you. Use coupon code UNTANGLED to save 15% of checkout link in the show notes.

[00:01:36.190] - Hilary Erickson

Hey, Dawn. Welcome to the pulling curls Podcast.

[00:01:38.560] - Dawn Barclay

Thanks so much. I'm gonna pull my curls now.

[00:01:41.890] - Hilary Erickson

Dawn, your hair looks pretty straight.

[00:01:44.890] - Dawn Barclay

We can dream, can't we?

[00:01:47.060] - Hilary Erickson

Okay. I think this is such a great topic because while your kid might be diagnosed with, like, autism, ADHD, all those types of things, you know, a lot of kids just are anxious when they travel. Right?

[00:01:58.440] - Dawn Barclay

Every child becomes anxious and inflexible when they travel because you're pulling them out of their comfort zone. Children love routine, and they love predictability and travel as anything but.

[00:02:08.290] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, I think some kids love travel.

[00:02:10.690] - Dawn Barclay

I think I think if they're prepared for it and I think everything's a little scary and it never hurts to prepare them correctly because what's the harm?

[00:02:19.650] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, I would guess those kids have traveled since they were born.

[00:02:23.020] - Dawn Barclay

That was me. That was me.

[00:02:25.470] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah. And these tips are probably great for me, too, because my readers know I have a huge fear of flying. I had an uncle who died in a plane crash when I was in college, and ever since then, not a great flyer. Getting so much better. I have a podcast episode on what I've done to get better at it. But what are your tips, though, for kids that are anxious or inflexible? Also by inflexible, what do you mean by inflexible? What kind of things would show they were inflexible?

[00:02:50.590] - Dawn Barclay

Not doing well with transitions. So the best example I can give you is one of my children who remain unnamed when we used to have to, like, we're just doing chores and I might be coming back from the supermarket. And I said, oh, I think I'd like to stop at the dry cleaner. And you would not believe the tantrum could not deal with transitions at all. Okay, so that's what I would call inflexible.

[00:03:17.350] - Hilary Erickson

Okay, so we know anxious, and that's what inflexible is. So give us some tips on what we can do with our kids.

[00:03:22.870] - Dawn Barclay

Oh, wow, there's so many. I mean, number one tip by my book, but of course, I'm going to.

[00:03:28.650] - Hilary Erickson

Say the name of the book.

[00:03:29.740] - Dawn Barclay

It's called traveling different Vacation strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the inflexible and the Neurodiverse. So this is 344 pages of about 85% strategies on how to avoid sensory meltdowns that are interpreted as tantrums when you're traveling and how to get the child excited about traveling and not so anxious. So number one tip, introduce the child to the concept of travel. Way before you're going to travel, you don't just sort of spring on Guess what, tomorrow we're going to Disney. Wherever you choose to go. Ways that you can make the familiar or the unfamiliar familiar include showing your child videos of every aspect of the trip so when you get to the hotel, they know what the outside of the hotel looks like. Check in, which can be pretty chaotic, looks like the room. They have familiarity with what is going to be there. The videos can also be supplied by Travel, the actual travel vendor themselves. You might go to the hotel site or the theme park site so you can preview, say, rides at a theme park to see what you want to rule out in advance. Introducing a young child to the concept of travel might include going and finding picture books that have their favorite characters in different travel situations so that they can have a familiarity and comfort level with that.

[00:04:53.290] - Dawn Barclay

And your local librarian can recommend lots. I've got some in the book, but they're your best resource. Also role play. Also, you might have what I consider mini experiences, which are perfect for people who are nervous about flying as well as children who have not flown before. There's a program by the Arc Arc called Wings for Autism, which closed down during COVID They're starting up again. And this lets you do a dress rehearsal of the entire airport experience from arrival up into boarding. And so when it's not so supercharged because you're getting on the flight here is more relaxed and you can actually see what it's going to be like to get through security. If you have a child on the spectrum, you can also take advantage of a group called TSA Cares, which is offered in many airports where you actually have somebody assigned to you that can sort of shadow you and make sure that you get through security okay in some of the more difficult parts of the airport experience. So aside from airports.

[00:05:54.610] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, back to airports, though. I remember as a kid mr. Rogers went on a plane because we didn't have YouTube back in the day. But he went on a plane and they talked about the food you would eat and how you would need to stay in your seat and how that was so important for safety. So there might be a YouTube of it out there because we all know Mr. Rogers explains everything the very best, right?

[00:06:13.000] - Dawn Barclay

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is a great suggestion and this is all things that you should think about ahead of time. How are you going to handle if you're stuck on tarmac for 5 hours because of the delay, which is happening more and more now. So one way is to have little first of all, you're always going to go everywhere with your goto bag so that's got your noise canceling headphones. It could have an IMAP. It could have electronics loaded with your favorite TV show, your child's favorite TV shows and movies, digit toys, anything they like playing with. But it also can have little surprises that are wrapped, little gifts, don't have to cost very much, can be like Silly Putty or something that's not going to crumble and not make a lot of noise. And you know what, those are the things that you could say if there's a delay, every hour that there's a delay, I'm going to give you one of these special little gifts. And that doesn't have to necessarily go for the plane. It could be anytime during the trip if you've got a long wait at a restaurant.

[00:07:06.160] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, we 100% did that in the car because when my kids were tiny, we drove long distances frequently and we would have 100 miles gifts. So every time the odometer would hit 100 miles, we would have a gift.

[00:07:18.540] - Dawn Barclay

You know, I got a funny story that my parents used to also do that on car rides. Every time we hit 100, we would say hip hippore, hip hip array. So when I met my husband and we were driving and we hit 100 miles and I went hip HIPA, he said, boy, your parents didn't have much confidence in their cars, did they?

[00:07:38.440] - Hilary Erickson

It was the other drivers that they didn't have. I wanted to circle back to the surprise trips thing because I think that's like so cool now. But I remember I was like in fifth grade and my parents surprised us with a trip to Disney World. So I wasn't tiny, but I also wasn't old and I just burst into tears. I was so scared about being on the plane and what the plane was going to be like. You know, I think the surprise trip is fun, I think in our minds. But a lot of times it's super overwhelming for kids and I think we need to take that. Maybe if your kids a great traveler, you're great with a surprise, but if they haven't gone before, maybe you need to like introduce it.

[00:08:17.860] - Dawn Barclay

You absolutely do. And you have to really think through every part of that vacation as well in terms of what your child can handle. So if your child doesn't do well with crowds, you probably don't want to take a bus between the airport and your arrival city and your hotel. Sure, it might be included, and it might be free. But you know what? You might want to rent a car or hire an Uber or whatever you do, because there's just less of a trigger there if you don't have to deal with the crowds. It's just thinking about that all the way along. Because 91% of children on the spectrum have sensory sensibilities, but they predict that maybe one out of every six children do. So be aware that children might react to crowds, loud noises, unfamiliar smells, like cologne, things like that, and be willing to remove them from the situation if you can.

[00:09:09.640] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah. So what do you do when they have that meltdown that, you know, Disney is a great example because it's unpredictable and you may get stuck in a situation you prefer not to be in.

[00:09:20.110] - Dawn Barclay

Yeah. That's why so much of the book is set up, to avoid those situations by thinking ahead. I will tell you a story of somebody I interviewed with a special needs child who found out the hard way that Disney doesn't serve ice cream before 10:00 a.m.. So his child arrives at 09:00 A.m. At Disney and starts screaming because there's no ice cream. And what he ended up doing was calling his certified Autism Travel Professional, which is a group of people who are specially trained to help you with planning these trips. And she guided him to a quieter part of the park where the child could decompress until it was ten and he could get his ice cream. But more and more locations hotels, theme parks, museums, what have you, are becoming certified as Autism Certified Centers or autism friendly. And what that entails is a lot of signage. So you might go to SeaWorld and you'll see a sign that says, this is what it's going to smell like after this point. So you can make an educated decision if you want to feed the seals or if you want to avoid that because your child does not want to smell that smell, but also where the lower sensory areas in the park will be.

[00:10:33.970] - Dawn Barclay

So they have sensory maps, and there are also cards that will identify you. An IAC is put out by a group called IBCCES. I know that's a lot of initials, but this group puts out the IAC card that will identify you as a special needs parent that might need special accommodations when you go to participating parks and venues.

[00:10:54.670] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah. Also, I think as the parent, if you know your kid wants ice cream and you've just paid $500 for them to go have ice cream at a park, you have to be okay in your brain with like, part of the reason that we're going to be here is to give them new experiences.

[00:11:09.640] - Dawn Barclay


[00:11:09.940] - Hilary Erickson

So how do you think the mom who's spending all this money deals with their own emotions during something like that?

[00:11:15.630] - Dawn Barclay

I really try to avoid all that by having it be a child centric vacation. So what I mean by that is that you're going to have your child weigh in on the choices of where you're going. So you're going to maybe look at three vacation places that have been vetted, hopefully by your travel professional and also by you is acceptable, and then say to the child, where do you want to go? And, you know, there can't be any wrong answers. And also do that for every day. What do you think you're going to want to do during the trip? And it might not be what you think they're going to want to do or what you want to do, but you know what? The whole point is a bonding experience and to have the child have a pleasant experience that they're going to remember, and then you're going to hopefully be able to carry out that schedule, but also build it around the child's pacing. So you're not going to cram in five different events in one day because one or two will be plenty and then decompressed by the pool or in front of the TV for the rest of the day.

[00:12:08.760] - Dawn Barclay

And you're also going to build it around their special interests. So all children have special interests. Not just children on the spectrum, but especially children on the spectrum have very specific interests, whether they're insects or dinosaurs or elevators or what have you. Trains are very popular. You're going to maybe build in some trips to special museums that deal with that interest so that there's something special for them, and that makes the more mundane parts of the vacation easier to deal with because they've got this great thing to either look forward to or to remember afterward.

[00:12:41.220] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah. Any trips when you have other kids.

[00:12:44.140] - Dawn Barclay

Though, too yeah, a good point. And a lot of people bring that up because plenty of people have maybe one child on the spectrum and one neurotypical child. And so places like large resorts that are autism certified, like beaches in Turks and Caicos and in Jamaica, have kids clubs that are specially trained to take care of both neurotypical and neurodiverse children. And also there's so much to do that there's a diversity of what you can do, but there's also an opportunity for you and your partner to spend some quiet time together without the kids. Same thing on cruises. All the major cruise lines that have staff that are trained to work with people on the spectrum. And there is a core company called Autism on the Seas that will specifically design cruises either for you to go on your own or as a group but the beauty of having a kids club that is specially trained is, again, gives you some time alone. And there's so much to do that the kid who's not on the spectrum has a lot of choices. But I also recommend sports vacations. So everybody likes well, not everybody, but most people like one of these, whether it's going to be a dude ranch with horseback riding or it will be golf, adaptive skiing, scuba diving.

[00:13:59.700] - Dawn Barclay

All those have a therapeutic component for a child because children on the spectrum really tend to avoid or prefer to avoid team sports where there's a lot of interaction between people. And of course, that's a generalization. There are probably some who do, but in general they don't. And the beauty of something like golf is you're there to perfect your swing and your game and you're not really interacting with others as a team. And there's something for everybody. I was personally surprised that scuba was so therapeutic, but the compression of the wetsuit is very helpful and also the quiet underneath the water is very therapeutic.

[00:14:35.410] - Hilary Erickson

Okay, interesting. What about people that can't afford that? Because everything we've mentioned I'm like.

[00:14:41.770] - Dawn Barclay

Cruising, camping. You can absolutely go camping. And I have a chapter on camping and how to vet a campground. Road trips. I have a chapter on how to travel in your car and how to lay out that itinerary. Vacation rentals tend to be cheaper with larger families than hotel stays where you're getting more than one room. And I also have a chapter on restaurant dining, which is an ongoing issue. At least it was for my family.

[00:15:10.650] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, I think all these tips can help to every parent depending on what their kid is not great at when they're on vacation. I mean, sometimes you don't really know till you get in this situation, unfortunately. Right.

[00:15:22.990] - Dawn Barclay

Well, staycations are also a great way to try that out. So before you spend a lot of money on a hotel for a week, spend a night at a very great relative or friend, very empathetic person who will let you sample what it's like to sleep in a home. The child gets to sleep away from home, a place that they're not familiar with. It's going to show you the triggers so you'll be aware of them for when you do spend the money on a hotel. Before you go on a cruise, maybe take a ferry ride. Before you take a long train ride, maybe take a commuter ride. There's ways to introduce this concept to the child where it's inexpensive and short. And the beauty of cruises also is that they can be very short.

[00:16:06.510] - Hilary Erickson

That's true. Yeah. There's a lot of three day-ers out there where there's a test drive. And I think what's important for the moms out there is you might need your own vacation because a lot of this sounds kind of like stressful and you're catering to your kids rather than to your needs and mommy need her own vacation after a vacation.

[00:16:26.560] - Dawn Barclay

Or get a sitter on location that is trained for working with people on the spectrum. Or if you have an anxious child, you can also I have profiles of various companies that do that or bring along a family member who might enjoy the vacation but knows that they might be on call.

[00:16:46.350] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, that's awesome. Alright, any other last minute tips before we go?

[00:16:50.800] - Dawn Barclay

Yeah, I really advise people to follow my blog at Traveling, which updates the book but also supplements it. So there's a lot of things that keep coming up. Like there's a chapter on how to deal with the post vacation let down. I just did a piece on adaptive surfing around the country or actually around the world. So I'm updating the book constantly with new content on the blog and it'll also tell you where to see me if you're really desperate to see me, where I'll be, and also just basic information about where to buy the book.

[00:17:27.280] - Hilary Erickson

Okay, and what's your website?

[00:17:28.710] - Dawn Barclay And it's traveling with one L. I'd also ask you if you buy the book. Right? Otherwise, please ask your local library to stock it because then people who can't afford it will be able to read it.

[00:17:41.820] - Hilary Erickson

Yeah, thank goodness for libraries. All right, thanks for coming on done. Sure. I appreciate it.

[00:17:45.940] - Dawn Barclay

Thanks so much.

[00:17:46.990] - Hilary Erickson

Okay. I hope you guys enjoyed that episode. I think it's really important to think about every kid's needs before you go on vacation. And I just love I had no idea that there were so many ways for people on the spectrum to get help. But also if your kid isn't diagnosed but they also have an issue with inflexibility or anxiousness while you travel, I think getting her book would be a great idea just so you can talk about those things in advance, because a lot of times talking about them and saying, I feel anxious on the plane too can really help.

[00:18:17.670] - Hilary Erickson

Thanks so much for joining us on today's episode. The Pulling Curls Podcast grows when you share us on social media or leave a review. If you do, please tag us so that we can share and send you a virtual hug, which frankly, is my favorite kind of hugging. Until next time, we hope you have a tangle free day.

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