Travel with kids to Bali always needs planning but when traveling with special needs family members this becomes even more important. Our son Mason has Autism, ADHD, language delay and intellectual disability. Even though we don’t let it stop us from traveling overseas, we often need to consider how we travel more than when traveling with just Charlotte.
ASD kids can vary widely in how they react to different situations, something that would trigger a meltdown in Mason may not effect other ASD kids and vice versa. This post is to give tips and tricks from parents of both ASD and other special needs kids. These families have traveled to Bali multiple times and understand how to get the most out of their holidays even if at times things need to be adjusted. I hope they inspire you to travel with your special needs kids and if you have anything you would like to add please email me or message me through Facebook or Instagram. Happy reading :-)
Kate Comer – Rolling Along With Kids
Mason our son has autism and is a sensory seeker which pretty much means he loves movement, spinning, touch and running away. This can mean plane travel is a real headache as he doesn’t sit still for long! We also need to consider what we do and how we do it so we don’t get a dreaded meltdown. Here are my tips for plane travel and holidays in Bali:
- When I book flights I aim for day flights. It can be very tempting to think overnight flights are best, that they will just sleep but this rarely turns out to be the case and we have an over exhausted child. When I book the flight I select seats at the front of the plane and often will pay extra for the more expensive seats. Waiting has become very difficult with Mason so being first off the plane is very helpful. This also allows us to be in the front of the immigration line.
- I set up a social stories book before our trip in 2019. I was travelling solo with the kids so was hoping to make it as smooth as possible. If you have NDIS funding you could also get your OT to do this for you.
- Pack LOTS of snacks. Any favourite ones are a must and don’t rely on the fact that if you order a meal your child will want to eat it.
- Even when Mason was 18mths and had not really used headphones before we still packed them. He will actually watch a movie on the iPad with the headphones plugged into the jack and not wearing them! He constantly wants to have the touch volume control on high but this way it doesn’t disturb other passengers.
- Make sure the iPad is fully charged and take a power lead too. Often planes will now have a USB port for charging but be wary of this, we have had flights where the USB will not charge the iPad only the phone.
- When Mason was in nappies we wouldn’t let him out of his seat except to change his nappy. We found it best to get him watching a movie because if he started to run up and down the aisle we wouldn’t be able to get him back in his seat. He also has extra long reach so we have to be wary near the toilets/exits that he doesn’t press buttons or levers that are not to be touched.
- We always travelled with our Mountain Buggy Nano when Mason was younger. It folded up as hand luggage for the plane and helped contain Mason when doing important things like passport control. Lucky we had it when we flew to Bali in 2016, there was a 1 hour in the line up at immigration!!
- Since Mason has grown up and can no longer fit in the Mountain Buggy Nano, we request disability access with the airline we are flying with. Jetstar have previously given us a wheelchair to use through immigration so we can easily access the disability lines. This also allows us to board the plane first to get Mason settled in his seat.
- Nannies to help you are a must to enjoy your holiday and take a must needed break. We have become great friends with Berta, Monica, Kadek S, Kadek W and Komang with their amazing ways with Mason. You can find our nanny post here.
- We always choose villas that have an enclosed living area that we can lock and a pool fence. Mason is quite the escape artist with no sense of danger so this extra important. Also hotels that have proper locks that Mason can’t open are such an ease on our mind.
- Sleeps during the day and down time are a must. I usually have a list a mile long that I would love to do but at times we just have to adjust depending on how he is going that day. This is where nannies can come in really handy.
- When Mason was younger we would always carry a Lightning Mcqueen back pack with lead to use with Mason if the situation needs it. He couldn’t always be in a stroller and he does love to run! I remember before we had kids I’m like why would you use one of those leashes to contain your child and now I completely understand! Safety is always more important to us than what people make think so can be a great thing to take.
- When he was 5 years old his sensory needs started to shift so we started to carry a pair of ear muffs and sunglasses for him to wear. He doesn’t always need them but if I start seeing that he is struggling I will put them on.
- We always ensure we have more than enough Melatonin for the trip! Without it sleep can be very hard to come by with Mason and can be great to help encourage sleep on the plane.
Cathy Macguire – Bella Bali Believer
Our daughter Bella nearly 11 has Autism and an Intellectual disability. She was born with complex medical needs. We have been traveling throughout South East Asia since she was 12 months old. We are planning our 16th Bali trip for the September school holidays. I hope what I write here can help other families.
- Number one trip of a successful Bali holiday is to plan ahead. Look carefully at the different schedules that airlines offer from your closest capital. Cheapest is not always the best choice. Does your airline offer children’s meals? Do they offer in flight entertainment and is there a cost? Will your chosen airline accept your wheelchair? Some aircrafts have restrictions on the dimensions. Is there a facility to charge your device on board, such as a USB Outlet? Do you want to stay in a villa or hotel? Have you chosen your location? Kuta might be great for your neurotypical kids but a nightmare for a child with sensory issues.
- Don’t tell your child with Autism to far in advance of the holiday. A few weeks before might be the best. Have ready to show them a prepared visual aid, countdown App on their iPad or a social story. Search You Tube for any videos showing procedures around checking in at airports or a video of where you are staying.
- Make sure your Travel Insurance has the correct cover in the event that you need to make a claim.
- Double check all medications are in the original packaging with the pharmaceutical label attached. Maybe a Blister pack might be better. Carry a prescription with you in the event that medication is lost of you have to stay longer than planned due to sickness or a natural disaster such a a volcano erupting.
- Notify your airline at the time of booking if you are taking a mobility device , child seat, CARS harness or a wheelchair. They will need the dimensions of your wheelchair. Not all aircraft types can take all wheelchairs so PLEASE check this first.
- Pre book your seats at the time of flight reservation. This way there it will be unlikely for a seat change to occur on the day of travel.
- Pre book children meals and make sure you take a ‘snack pack’ of what ever food your child likes. We pack a big variety including Chips, sweet biscuits, pop corn, lollypops, sandwiches and instant noodles.
- Check all electronic devices are fully charged. Do you have a spare charging lead and is your portable charger charged. Delays can happen and do often due the nature of the Low Cost Airlines that operate to and from Bali. Bring your own headphones. The ones supplied by airlines are not that great and often are not in the best working order.
- Now might be the time to have that spare Chewie or comfort toy. Pack a spare one.
- When packing your hand carry. Make sure that continence aids, wipes and spare clothes are in the one bag. We just use the extra large zip lock bags and place them in the seat back. The one time you forget the spares will be the last time you do.
- When you check in, if you are not traveling with a mobility device and feel that your child may not cope ask them if you are able to pre-board. This will give you an extra 10 minutes on board to get your self sorted and hopefully ease any stress.
- Confirm with the cabin manager that assistance has been asked for on arrival. Often this can get lost in translation. Sometimes on arrival your wheelchair can be bought up to the aircraft door on arrival.
- Remember the cabin crew are there to assist you. Just ask if you need help.
- Bali can be very busy and at times you may find yourself stuck in traffic for long periods of time. It is very important to choose wisely where you might like to stay. A hotel in Kuta with loud music all day by the biggest pool in South East Asia might be great for your neurotypical children but not so great for your child with Autism.
- Have you decided on a hotel or villa? Does the hotel have a balcony where your child could climb over or does the villa not have all bedrooms in the same ‘building’?
- If you child has any sensory needs relating to food bring your own. Weetbix at Bintang supermarket is $10 for a small box.
- A trip to Bali should be enjoyed by all the family members. Often siblings and parents will want to do activities which are not possible to be done with your child who has Autism. We use Bali’s Best Babysitting on all our trips. We have two regular Babysitters who know our families needs and routines. They will do whatever your family needs done from day trips, Waterbom, accompany kids to kids club, restaurants, beach walks, days by the pool, shopping etc.
- Try to keep to a strict holiday routine, we use the following:
Breakfast – Swim – Kids Club – Lunch – Swim – Kids club – Quiet time – Dinner
Often our babysitter will arrive after breakfast and some days will stay until after dinner.
- If doing a day trip plan ahead. Organise a driver that speaks excellent English, preferably one that holds a tourism license and has children. Let him know about your SN child and that you declining a visit for the Monkey Forest is in the best interest of everyone.
- Make sure you have packed hand sanitiser and plenty of mosquito repellent. And reapply many times throughout the day. Lots of reminders about not drinking the tap water. It might be a good idea to wrap a face washer and tie it with a hair tie around the tap as a visual reminder. Maybe practice at home by washing his or her teeth with a water bottle.
- The Balinese are beautiful soft and loving people. They will instantly pick up that your child is ‘Special’ and you may find they often comment in that way without you even saying anything. Just smile and say thank you.
Bron Leeks – Smith’s Holiday Road
We explored Bali as a family of 5 in November 2015. Our kids were 10,7,3 and our eldest son uses a manual wheelchair when we travel. We also got an extra wheel attachment for the front called a freewheel to navigate uneven surfaces. Prior to our trip we organised our Travel Insurance through Covermore as they cover Coopers precasting conditions of Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. Never leave home without it!
We split our time between the hills of Ubud and the beach of Sanur with both times staying in private villas for the first time. With both of our accommodations we had a driver and a car organised so that travel was a little easier. Our driver had a big van so we could pop the wheelchair in the back and Cooper would travel in a booster seat. Access around Ubud is really tricky as its hilly and footpaths are often in disrepair so we seemed to walk safely on the side of the road most days. Sanur was mush more flat with easier access from our villa to the shops and beach. There is a really beautiful boardwalk along the beach front.
Even though wheelchair access is hard in many spots the amazing people were always willing to support Coopers inclusion in all activities we experienced.
Daniel Carroll – Rollin Adventures in Bali
Morgan’s Special Needs
Despite the fact Morgan has Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, Epilepsy, Vision Impairment, Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, we still enjoy holidaying in Bali whenever we can. Holidaying in Bali and the nearby Islands has brought us all so much joy. We have made many special friends, and the beautiful Balinese people open their arms and their hearts, especially to Morgan. Morgan’s personal development has considerably improved since we started taking her to Bali. Venturing outside her comfort zone and daily routine has challenged and broadened her mind. Depending on your child’s individual circumstances, we highly recommend you consider Bali for your next holiday destination.
Countdown to Holiday
As with many Autistic people, patience is not a strength. For this reason, as our departure date gets closer, we keep a countdown on our kitchen blackboard. Morgan will often refer to this to help with her anxieties.
In December of 2018, we hired an Hippocampe All-Terrain and Beach Wheelchair from Bali Beach Wheels, a company located in Bali. Since then, we purchased our own and have never looked back. The Hippocampe is a game-changer for us all. The terrain around Bali is difficult and frustrating at times. Vehicles and scooters are often parked on pavements forcing wheelchair users to use the road instead. The sidewalks can also be broken, or have building materials or rubble on them. A standard manual wheelchair in Bali doesn’t cut the mustard!
Consider taking a support worker with you to Bali, but be very cautious who you choose. We’ve taken a support worker for two years running, one bad experience, and one fantastic experience. We found that having a more mature person was hugely beneficial, someone who just knows what needs to be done and when. Separate accommodation is better. Otherwise, you are all under the same roof twenty-four-seven, and that can get a little testy. Make sure you set the ground rules before you leave so everyone is on the same page. If your child is an NDIS participant, you may be able to use the core funding to hire a support worker.
Organise your travel insurance as soon as you book flights and accommodation to avoid disappointment. Anything can happen, and the last thing you want is to lose your hard-earned money. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, declare everything as insurance companies will try their hardest to avoid a payout. Shop around, we saved hundreds of dollars on our last policy. If Morgan has any hospitalisations for epilepsy twelve months before the holiday, it’s tough to get any insurance, and we have to find a specialist insurance company that can charge more than $1000.00 just for Morgan.
When we are booking flights, we ensure we ask for specific assistance. Specific assistance means help with extra luggage, and help to navigate the airports in the wheelchair. In Morgan’s case, we wheel her around the airport in her chair right up to boarding the aircraft. From there, her chair goes underneath the plane. As Morgan can walk short distances with both hands held, we can walk her down the aisle to her seat. We take both the Hippocampe and standard wheelchair for Morgan at no extra cost.
Contacting the Airline – Confirm Special Assistance the Day Before Departure
After one bad experience with a particular airline, we now contact the airline we are flying with the day before departure to ensure they have flagged the booking for special assistance. Better to be safe than sorry. When things don’t go to plan for some Autistic individuals, things can go haywire!
We keep all Morgan’s medications in their original boxes, including the pharmacy labels. We take extra prescriptions just in case we have to stay in Bali longer than expected for reasons outside of our control. Natural disasters such as volcano eruptions/ash cloud, tsunami’s and such things could force this upon anyone, anytime. We also obtain a letter from Morgan’s GP, so there are no issues when going through customs. The last thing we want is to be questioned about medicines in our possession, it just holds everything up! Always place medications in your carry on luggage. If your checked-in baggage gets lost, you have no (in Morgan’s case) life-saving medicines.
On Board the Aeroplane
Morgan is generally happy flying. She loves motion, whether it be in an aeroplane, boat, car, and so on. Jodi sits by the window, Morgan in the middle, and I sit in the aisle seat. This works for us, Morgan can then lie down stretching out over us. This takes the pressure off her body. Having Cerebral Palsy, it’s painful for her to sit upright in the same position for too long. Morgan won’t eat the airline food during the flight. Thankfully, it’s not too long, and she makes up for it when we arrive in Bali. Just recently, Morgan started requesting her noise-cancelling headphones during the flight. She has an aversion to many spoken words in the English language, especially when the cabin manager says her bit at the start of the trip.
Immigration at Denpasar Airport
Unfortunately, at Denpasar airport, we are last off for safety reasons. We are met at the door of the plane by an assistant and taken to immigration via a series of lifts. We use the disability/aged/children under five years line at immigration, which ensures a faster experience. However, everyone has to wait for their luggage at the baggage carousel.
Transport in Bali
We have a great friend in Bali who also doubles as our driver for our entire holiday. Nyoman is in tune with Morgan’s unique needs and just gets her (and us). We don’t require a wheelchair accessible van, Morgan can transfer from wheelchair to vehicle with help. The wheelchair folds and fits comfortably in the back of Nyoman’s seven-seater van. We have traversed the entire island of Bali with Nyoman.
It would be advantageous to book wheelchair accessible accommodation. However, we rarely do. We find accommodation we like but look for specific features such as a hand shower in the bathroom and a ground floor bedroom for Morgan. There’s not a lot of true wheelchair accessible accommodation in Bali. We definitely prefer a private villa over a resort.
Accessible attractions in Bali are few and far between. Most will have rugged terrain and/or stairs. We do what we can, and the Hippocampe has certainly made sightseeing more accessible for Morgan. If we have to, we lift and carry Morgan to ensure we all don’t miss out on the beautiful sights of Bali. Luckily, she is reasonably small and light.
Morgan loves the beach as we all do. Once again, the Hippocampe wheelchair with the addition of the balloon wheels makes life so much easier for us all. Some beaches in Bali are totally inaccessible, especially around the rugged cliffs with many steep stairs down to the sand.
Morgan has difficulties dealing with specific sounds in Bali. The most overwhelming for her is the Hindu Kidung (chanting/singing) during some ceremonies. The other sounds that trouble her are the roosters, pigs and cows! The sound of cars, scooters, the beeping horns don’t seem to bother her as much. Since she started wearing noise-cancelling headphones during these times, she has coped much better.
Food in Bali
Morgan tends to get stuck on a few different foods that can last for weeks before she moves onto something else. We encourage her to eat Indonesian food, and she does have a go. She is quite partial to chicken satay, plain white rice, and battered local fish. To cook some of her favourites from home, we head to one of the western-style supermarkets to stock up on ingredients.
We have taken Morgan to Nusa Lembongan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno. They are all beautiful, but they all have their accessibility issues. While the Gili Islands aren’t quite Bali (they belong to the island of Lombok), they are our favourite. The main problems with all the islands are boarding and disembarking the ferries or fast boats. However, the Balinese are so helpful, we have never felt unsafe.
Thank you so much to the team from Rolling Adventures for sharing their tips! They have a fantastic Facebook Group all about travel to Bali with special needs. You can find the link here.
Tips from members of Facebook page Autism Parents Australia
- The one thing I have improved on this trip is I made up a countdown calendar for when we go back to Australia. He keeps wondering how long we are staying. Our son is non verbal.
- My son religiously referred to his calendar (and clock for flight time) last time we travelled.
- We have travelled with our ASD twins since they were 8 months as my inlaws live in Italy. We travel every 1.5-2 years and honestly every year it’s been a different experience, different strategy. Plane rides are long, sleeping is stressful I think most of the points are for us parents. Throw your rule book out the window, bring snacks, favour games toys and movies and don’t stress too much. Honestly I’ve always found travel in the long run always seems to open up the kids minds. Most important try and have fun.
- I use a Yumbox lunch box on the plane for snacks. It doesn’t leak and the bento style takes them longer to eat. We use toddler Tula carriers for the kids on our backs while in transit through airports and shopping centers etc. Check out where the local park/beach/ etc. We try and plan the first day for the kids to wind down and adjust. Some medications taken by kids with autism, ADHD and anxiety are restricted in other countries. Take only what you need for the length of your stay plus a couple of extra in case of delays, keep in the original package. And a letter from the GP stating who it’s for is always a good idea. Bali specific, most pools a private villas don’t have fences, but these can be hired
- We do a count down where our daughter can mark the days off until we go. I let her help start packing her suitcase 2 weeks before we go (found she’s less anxious this way). We make a book for her the month before telling her about the things we’ll be doing, people we’ll be seeing again etc with pics in it. For the plane ride we make a pack for her & her younger sibling. They don’t get the pack I keep it. I give them one thing at a time every time I see they are getting bored. This time I’ve packed a spinner, fidget cube, colouring in stuff, iPad, iPod (with relaxation music), a couple of new toys, (Shopkins etc. are small & easy to carry) We pack a tackle container with all different foods to keep them chewing, as they have problems equalising. Lap sized weighted blanket. Noise reduction ear muffs (for when you get off the plane). Sounds like alot but it all fits in one little bag to take on the plane.
Thanks so much for everyone that contributed to this post. All of your advice is fantastic and I really do hope it inspires others to consider Bali as a destination even with special needs kids :-)