The Trials and Travails of Travel

In this week?s episode the Mental Health Mamas are reliving some of their travels from the past and all the challenges that come with traveling with kids who struggle with their emotional health. Join us as we share some of our travel stories, tips to make travel a bit smoother and most importantly of all, finding the humor in all of it.

Notes and Mentions

Child Mind Institute, Tips for Traveling with Challenging Children Traveling with a Child with Mental Illness by Christina Halli

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: Tis the season for travel, yes, Serena?

Serena: Oh, it is for sure. So I googled travel and mental health, and if you do that, you'll find all these resources touting the benefits of travel for our mental health, and we actually had a guest on recently talking about that, and that's all true. And I would like to talk about some of the challenges of travel, especially when it comes to traveling with our kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: We always promise to be real, and this is real, right? It is a real struggle. So let's do this. There is a lot of stress that comes with traveling with your family, and as Serena knows, I do a lot of traveling now, and my kids are older, and I mean older, like they're not with me when I travel, and it's a thing, traveling's a thing, and it can be very stressful.

Serena: Right, and anytime stress increases, there is potential there for our mental health to be challenged and might increase the risk of some mental health challenges. Although, I feel like that's something that is not talked about very much.

Tina: No, because it's always about the wonderful parts, right?

Serena: Right.

Tina: So we will be real, as I'm saying, we are here for you to talk about all the real stuff. So today we want to share some of our personal experiences around traveling with our kids, and now traveling just with my husband, and the things we've learned along the way that can make the whole experience just a little bit smoother.

Serena: So I want to start out by saying that I love to travel, even though I think it's not going to sound like that over the course of this episode. So, Tina, you travel a lot, as you mentioned, at this point in your life. So what are your feelings about travel?

Tina: Yeah, I too love travel, and I think part of what I love about travel is going to new places, and exploring new things, you know, really try to, especially my kids were younger, and still now think of it as an adventure, right? And, you know, my husband often reminds me that when we hit bumps in the, you know, proverbial travel road, right? It isn't always the glamorous adventure that one might imagine. And it certainly wasn't that way when our kids were younger.

Serena: So there was a time in my family when travel was not really a possibility. It was just too hard. And when we finally got to a point that travel was more of a possibility, I would say we had a good routine going at home, and we'd kind of learned to manage the day-to-day challenges as long as nothing big came up. And then we would hit the road, right? And suddenly we would remember all the things that were so hard before. They kind of like crop up again when we're traveling.

Tina: Yeah, so say a little bit more about that.

Serena: So clearly I can't speak to other families experiences with travel around mental health concerns, and there's not a lot to be found about it, but for my kids, I can share our experience. Travel really seemed to bring out all of the anxieties and those fun behavioral challenges. So just one example of this, this may sound kind of funny, but it was a really big deal and it still can be. So the challenge of public restrooms, right? So if you think about the automatic flushing toilets, the strangers, because you're in a public restroom, those hand dryers that are so incredibly loud, smells, I would forget how hard these things were for my kids until we're on the road and surprise, here we are, and now suddenly my kids are dysregulated.

Tina: Yeah, and so when you use the term dysregulation, you essentially mean emotional dysregulation, kind of the instability to manage emotions and that your emotional response to that stimuli is that what you mean?

Serena: Yeah, so it's a term that I use a lot, and when I looked it up, I thought, okay, this isn't quite what I think of when I say it, so I hope I'm using this word correctly, but it means that my kids are just off, right? When I say they're dysregulated, they're not their normal happy selves, and what that ends up looking like is that automatic flushing toilet or that loud hand dryer sends them into a full blown meltdown, which clearly not ideal if you need to use the public restrooms, and really it could be anything that sets them off, but it tends to be the things that are unexpected or not part of our everyday experience.

Tina: And I think part of what you're talking about here is that super sensitivity, right? So that overstimulation of whatever the environment is, because we get used to what's in our environment. So that's everything about travel, from the crackly airport announcing to the bing bongs, to the, I think of the those little carts in an airport that carry people from gate to gate, and they're like, woo, woo, woo, right? Yeah, everything, right? Everything about that, like, get out of the way, Honk honk, what, we're in an airport, run on a road. So, and it really has to do with that, where is their brain, right? So when we're in our, you have very smart children, Serena, and when they're in those thinking brains, it's all good. And when they're in their dino brain, any of us just get dysregulated, right? We all were in that dino brain, flight, flight, freeze, meltdowns, I mean, we can expect that. That should be normal, right?

Serena: Right, right. Yeah, and I would say, you know, I think all parents have experienced this to some degree, and especially when your kids are tired or hungry or we?re tired or hungry, and this brings us to our first suggestion.

Tina: And that suggestion is when traveling do your best to stick to a routine that as closely resembles normal as possible, it can be really tempting to try to fit in all the things. And I'm gonna tell you that even my kids were just here for a little bit of time, hangry is a real thing. Don't ignore it.

Serena: Oh, yes. And sometimes I felt like I was the mean mom, right? Because that sleep piece is so important for my kids and I know that. So I've been known to say no to all the fun things, like fireworks or late night movies, just to protect the sleeping time for my kids. Because here's the deal. The fact remains that it is me who has to deal with the consequences the next day, right? Not the people at whatever fun event we're going to.

Tina: Exactly right.

Serena: And so Tina, I know how much you personally protect your own sleep.

Tina: I totally do and regular listeners know this. So I'm gonna give you an example for a recent trip that I took with just my husband and I. It was, we were on the last night of the trip. So each night it kind of eked out a little bit, okay, my bedtime's at 10 o'clock. Well, we were in the hotel room at 10 o'clock, like just gotten there. And then the next night was 10 30. So this particular night, the last night was 11 o'clock. I was super tired. It was a late event where we really were, you know, talking with people and being on. And my husband has a super demanding job that really doesn't ever stop. We could have a whole episode about how to stop your super demanding, never stop job, but we will leave it alone for now. We're just gonna put that aside. So he really felt like he needed to work when he got back from this dinner. And it was 11 p.m. way past my bedtime. And I really do try to prepare. So I have this sleep routine. I'll turn the lights down and I wash my face and get everything, you know, like get my pajamas on. I have a sleep mask, especially for hotel rooms and a white noise machine, which is just a phone app, honestly. But the lights being on and the typing of the laptop, they are really non conducive to sleep. Maybe I need earplugs. I don't know. Anyway, that's tough. It is tough to protect your sleep when you're traveling. And, you know, you're sleeping in a weird bed with a weird pillow and the whole thing.

Serena: Right, right, good point. And I wonder, was that maybe when you texted me at 10.30 at night.

Tina: Okay, just so you know listeners, I never text Serena after 10 p.m. Except on a very rare occasion. And in fact, I usually get the text back that says like, who is this?

Serena: Like, who is texting me at 10.30? So I mentioned that there was a time when we really didn't go anywhere. And I totally get that if that's where you are as a family and in the same breath, I want to say that there are things that we have learned along the way as a family that I wish I'd known back in the day it might have made it all easier for us.

Tina: Yeah, so one of the things we can do is really manage our expectations around a trip or a vacation. Clearly, if we have a family member who struggles or we struggle ourselves, right, with the change in routine. And I really believe we all struggle with that, right? We like to be in our routine and being away from home, being away from your pillow and your blanket and all the things, right? It will likely not be the trip of our dreams. And that doesn't mean it can't still be fun, but just managing that, right?

Serena: Right, being reasonable about what we can actually do and not setting these really high unreasonable expectations for ourselves. It helps us to avoid that inevitable sense of disappointment. And so I can remember there was a vacation. We were going on as a family and thinking it was gonna be this really magical vacation with all three kids and my youngest was a year and a half old. What I did not anticipate is that my youngest would play the part of the koala on this trip. She was attached to me the entire time. And I felt like I couldn't do anything. And I remember thinking, when is my vacation?

Tina: I remember that little koala, and I'm curious how you managed that particular vacation.

Serena: Yeah, it was exhausting and frustrating. But what I will say is my family always tries to find the humor in the situation. And I'm not sure we were laughing at the time. Looking back, I can laugh about my little koala. And so on that particular trip, so she was a year and a half old, so she's still eating with her hands. So when I say she was attached to, I mean, literally, like she did not leave my body. She sat in my lap to eat all of her meals. And so she would eat. And then in between bites, she would grab my shirt, which meant everything she was eating was all over me. And it's something my kids still talk about today about how many shirts she ruined on that trip.

Tina: I could just see it, I could just see it. And you would say, this is just another Wardventure.

Serena: That's right, Wardventure. And so I've talked about this. I think I talked about this when we started the podcast like two years ago, but it's been a while. So my family refers to all of our outings as Wardventures. My last name is Ward. And we've discovered like you, Tina, that calling what happens an adventure makes it all a little bit easier to handle because let's face it, something always goes wrong. Or is that just us? I don't know.

Tina: No, no, no, no.

Serena: So Wardventures are all about expecting the unexpected and then doing our best to roll with it.

Tina: Mm-hmm. So maintaining routine, managing expectations, including those unexpected things, right? And really maintaining what you've heard us do this whole time is the sense of humor. You've got to laugh, right? So what else, Serena?

Serena: So in my search on this topic, I did find two articles. Like I said, it was really, really hard to find a lot of information, official information. I guess this is information for you.

Tina: Our official information.

Serena: So we want to share just these two articles and some tips from them. And we'll link to them in the notes. So if you want to check them out and read all of their suggestions. So the first one comes from the Child Mind Institute and is called Tips for Traveling with Challenging Children. They suggest that we're in a public space to keep an eye out for exits and have an escape plan for a quick getaway if needed. Which is, I don't know, it's sort of funny to think about. But I would add that you should have at least one backup plan and maybe 10 backup plans.

Tina: I would totally agree with that. And 10, it's a good round number.

Serena: I think it's a good round number.

Tina: So yeah. So the same article also suggests considering an apartment or a vacation home to rent to kind of minimize the need for eating out. And it's interesting because my now young adults, they often do the B&B thing. They don't necessarily stay in a hotel. So it's interesting.

Serena: That is interesting. And I would say some of our most successful trips have included that access to a kitchen, either in a home or in a kind of suite style place. And that home type environment. So yeah, I think that's a great idea whenever possible. The other article I found was by a mom named Christina Holly. And the article is called Traveling with a Child with Mental Illness. And so I just want to say how much we appreciate this was written by a mom like us. And Christina, I don't know if you're listening, but if you are, we would love to have you on our podcast.

Tina: Yes, we would. So in this article, Christina talks about the challenges of traveling with her son who lives with bipolar disorder and social anxiety. One of Christina's suggestions is to communicate the plan early and often, such a good point. And I think pre-planning what the trip will look like and then discussing with your kids or if they're old enough, even planning it with them can be super helpful. 

Serena: Yeah, we do a lot of pre-planning. So Christina also recommends going to familiar places and gives the example of sticking to the same hotel chain. And I like this idea. I think particular hotel chain can be familiar. And my kids are all about what do they serve for breakfast?

Tina: Yeah, you know, the other thing I will observe that you do that probably you don't even stop and realize you do is you often find parks and playgrounds wherever you are, which is kind of cool. That's like a thing that you're going to do with your family. So yeah. Yeah, and I think going back to our own expectations of the trip, it can be helpful to acknowledge our own feelings about everything. It really is okay if you're feeling disappointed or frustrated by an experience or any other feeling you're having, right?

Serena: Right, right. All feelings are valid. And I would say that trip I mentioned before with my koala. I'm not sure I did acknowledge my feelings. It was like I was waiting for it to be okay. I mean, just it wasn't and never was, but anyway. So since we're having this discussion during the holiday season, I also want to make sure we talk about those family gatherings that might bring up some challenges as well.

Tina: Yes, so good point there. It's definitely a different level of stress when we're thinking about family and friends and even seeing people, Serena who we don't normally see, right? They might just be, yeah, people who are hanging around the family, right?

Serena: Right, and I think this is where the pre-planning also comes in handy.

Tina: Okay, so having a conversation with other adults involved and I would say especially with our children with mental health struggles, right? Like, we don't expect everyone to understand. So they may have certain expectations that are just not possible. Like the family photo session where everyone is supposed to be happy and smiling, right?

Serena: The perfect Facebook family with the matching clothes and yeah, it's perfect, yeah.

Tina: Yeah, no, 

Serena: Or what about the expectation that we're gonna all gather for this like formal meal and that your kids are gonna eat everything, but in front of them, politely, I'm with gratitude.

Tina: No, no, no. So definitely worth having a conversation in advance about what reasonable expectations might be and then really making space for your kids to be able to take a break and you are allowed one too.

Serena: Yeah, so I think it's right there as a big part of supporting our kids, sort of helping them speak up for themselves and when they can't, you know, speaking up for them, right? So knowing when they need a break and helping them take that break when they need it and go with them and take the break with them.

Tina: That's right.

Serena: So speaking of time and space, to mention this briefly before, so something else that I found really helpful for my family when traveling is to make sure we schedule in time for nothing. So that, you know, time to be outside at a park on a, you know, playground, time to relax, time to go for a walk, just being outside, even when it's really cold seems to regulate everyone.

Tina: Exactly. And while we as parents manage everyone, I will say that again, we manage everyone. Remember that, especially as our kids get older that modeling good self-care is important, very important, right? Self-care, important. So if the scenario is that you're taking a flight to see your family for the holidays and the flight gets delayed, which may or may not have happened in my life, a lot of times. Well, we're gonna acknowledge that all feelings are valid. I'm also gonna acknowledge that spinning out of control yourself in front of your family, at least my family tends to encourage spinning of others. That's right. So making kind of checking in with yourself for a minute, gathering yourself so that you can continue that wonderful adventure and attitude, right? So we know that the holiday season may send you on an adventure. We hope it sends you on an adventure, right? Because adventures are fun, right?

Serena: It's right.

Tina: Relisten to this episode as often as you need to. We've presented some tips and tricks and we're happy for you to use them. But the most important thing we want you to know is just know that whatever is normal is normal and we're just gonna normalize that and we want you to laugh because that will, that has saved us on more than one occasion.

Serena: That's right.

Tina: More than 100, 

Serena: more than 100.

Tina: I don't know. I don't know. A lot of times, a lot of times we'll say, okay, so it's good.

Serena: And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. Help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review while you're there. Subscribe so you have all the episodes ready to go and share with others. You will find more content on our website, You can connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and you can call us. We have a voicemail. Leave us a voice message. Share a bit of your story. Tell us about your travel adventures, what you think about the podcast or just call to say hi.

Tina: Yes, we would love to hear your travel adventures. And this is your gentle reminder to take a care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.