Introduction to travel allows the young adult to explore, decide what is right for them and make decisions based on knowledge, thereby providing the direction needed to navigate one’s world.

Learning how to travel using public transportation is an important step to independence. Knowing how to get to a store, a sporting event, and the theater or to a friend’s house requires skills. Young adults (18 years of age and older) with special needs often depend on someone to drive them, limiting one’s ability to be independent and get to destinations on their own. Independence is an important part of development and, for many, desired. Others, however, may experience trepidation and anxiety in stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Introducing young adults to the travel experience – and increasing awareness of new experiences (through planning), increasing confidence (through supervised travel experiences), and identifying concerns and fears (through dialogue) – helps them to begin taking steps toward independence and the exhilarating feeling of success that can be achieved when trying something new.

Travel can provide many opportunities and growth on so many levels for young adults – increasing interests, improving communication skills, social skills, research skills and many more. Travel can instill a sense of confidence and personal satisfaction when the young person is successfully accomplishing a goal. However, travel can also increase anxiety, stress and fear of exploring something new. Trying something new can be seen as an obstacle that appears insurmountable and the individual may choose to not try the new experience at all, limiting the potential growth that can be gained in learning how to travel independently. Many people find comfort in routine, predictability and familiarity. Meg Selig wrote in “Routines: Comforting or Constricting?” (on🙂 “So, whether a good routine is comforting or constricting may depend on what you need in your life right now – a firm scaffolding to hold you up and nourish your creativity or a renewed sense of self from opening up to new experiences.” When introduced to new experiences, one can quickly avoid the opportunities that can provide growth, a feeling of independence and motivation. The desire to try something new may be present; however, fear of the unknown can be so overwhelming, leading to avoidance of the success that new opportunities can offer.

Planning Stage

Introducing young adults to the travel experience begins with previewing a destination point. Helping young adults orient themselves on where they are going, how they are going to get to a destination, where the destination point is in relation to the departure point all need to be covered in the planning process. Advance planning is essential as it describes what to expect on a trip, provides opportunities to talk about the anticipated trip and fears associated with it, ask questions (which is an important travel skill) and increase confidence before embarking on a trip.

Involving young adults in the planning process and focusing on details is a must. Individuals learn how to research travel information and obtain needed information such as addresses and locations. Learning what town and county the destination is located will help determine what public transportation system(s) to take. Once basic information is obtained, locating the destination point on a map will help to visually see the location, streets and cross streets, and surrounding areas. If using a train, subway or bus map, it will show specific detail on what station to depart from and what station to get off that is closest to the destination point. Identifying specific transportation systems, departure and arrival times and the route to take will provide the detail needed to put together an itinerary of the day’s outing. Learning how to read a train and bus schedule, research transportation information on the Internet, and how to use travel apps are helpful tools in achieving success in the travel experience.

Awareness of Safety

Overcoming fears and trepidations in the travel experience begins with an introduction to using public transportation. Through the use of videos and research, it helps young adults to see what the train or bus looks like before actually taking the transportation system. Safety videos are a very important part of the learning process and need to be reviewed and discussed before any trip. Safety is the #1 rule when using public transportation and must be reinforced, not only before a trip, but also during supervised travel trips during the learning process. Experiential learning when using public transportation is required and young adults should not attempt to travel independently until it is determined that they are capable of independent travel and can be assessed on different skill levels by parents and professionals. Young adults need to increase awareness of their surroundings, learn who to speak to if assistance is needed during a trip, and focus on what is going on in the moment—and not text, use cellular phones or listen to music when moving about, as distractions can be dangerous. Pedestrian safety also must be discussed and safety emphasized. Awareness of turning lanes, possible bicycle lanes and watching signals require full attention when traveling. Awareness of surroundings must be taken seriously. Supervised practice is an essential component of the travel experience and must be combined with clear instruction on the do’s and don’ts of travel safety.


Learning how to budget for expenses takes place during the planning process and is necessary to get to and from the destination point. First, research event costs, train, bus and/or subway fares (round trip), food, beverages, and  emergency money needed then incidental expenses should be factored in such as souvenirs. Learning to distinguish between needs and wants is important in learning how to budget. Planning a budget for each trip is needed and learning to plan an alternate travel route if Plan A does not work, may require additional money. Learning to plan to budget and be responsible to manage one’s own money when traveling is needed to successfully complete a trip.

Preparation and Communication

Preparation before a trip is essential in achieving success on a trip. Do I have everything I need? Is my cell phone charged? Do I have enough money and the correct denominations for automated ticket machines? Do I have an alternate travel route in the event a train is delayed or suspended? Preparing a list of what is needed before a trip can prevent problems on a trip. When young adults take an active role in the preparation process they can talk about the anticipated trip, ask questions, listen to how others are feeling and discuss concerns. One concern is getting lost.  Through discussion and instruction prior to a trip helps young adults learn what to do if they get lost or separated from the group they are traveling with, the importance of staying calm and how to problem solve situations  effectively when faced with what could be a scary situation. Anticipation of traveling on public transportation and exploring new situations is not without anxieties during the learning process. As young adults become more familiar with what to expect and are prepared in advance of the trip, excitement increases and anxieties diminish. As confidence builds the desire to try something new becomes greater than the initial fear of participating in a new experience.

How to Tell that a Young Adult is Ready for Independent Travel

Developing proficiency in using public transportation involves many skills and takes time, practice and supervision. Young adults need to be able to tell you where they are going, what transportation they will be taking, departure and arrival times, safety rules, who to go to if assistance is needed during a trip (conductor, security, customer service, police), and how they are going to get home in the event they encounter transportation problems. Each travel experience needs to be evaluated by the person traveling, the parent and professional. Collaboration on all aspects of the trip will help everyone to focus on skill development, performance and ascertain what improvements are needed to achieve success for independent travel. Continued practice and increasing awareness are keys to improving skills.

Learning fundamental skills in travel, for example, listening, problem solving, decision making, planning,  communication, and safety must be combined with practical experience when using public transportation. Travel should begin with learning how to use one transportation system first. Understanding the safety of using the transportation system, and familiarity when using the system, help them to develop confidence in using it.

During the initial phase of travel, the individual needs to demonstrate the ability to transfer skills learned into actual practice when using public transportation. This phase is based on instruction, observation, assessment and feedback by a parent and/or professional, and is needed to determine ability level.

The intermediate phase provides opportunities to build on single transportation trips to transferring to multiple transportation systems, for example, train to bus to subway. Travel on public transportation becomes more complex with multiple transitions. This phase should be supervised and gradual, based on the performance of the individual.

In the advanced phase, the individual can demonstrate the ability to successfully complete single rides  independently and confidently traveling from point A to point B.

In the independent phase, individuals can plan trips in detail, demonstrate knowledge of safety rules and can use problem solving skills to address unexpected situations that can arise when using public transportation. Individuals can transition from one transportation system to another, confidently and independently; and can communicate to others the route of travel, specific details of the trip and how to travel safely when using public transportation.

Repetition is necessary to develop independent travel skills and can only be determined on an individual basis. The more experience using public transportation reinforces travel skills and builds confidence. The individual learning to travel, the parent, and professional all need to be in agreement to determine the progress and readiness for  independent travel. This is a gradual process that takes supervision, time and months of practice using different transportation systems.

Travel skills can be learned and the travel experience can be empowering. Feeling confident to take a bus to the mall, a train to the city, a taxi to visit a friend, or transportation to a job site opens one’s world through travel. When one returns from a successful trip, the travel experience can bring a sense of accomplishment and success. For young adults with special needs, it can be the realization that they can do it; they can be successful and independent. “Tips for Teaching Essential Independence Skills,” written by Patricia Romanowski Bashe, can be found on line at . According to Patricia Romanowski Bashe, “The term adaptive behavior encompasses what I call ‘independence skills’ and includes everything from dressing, self-care, cooking and housekeeping to how to use money, respond in an emergency, and travel within one’s community. Independence is more than just ‘knowing how to do something.’ It requires learning not only what to do but also when, why, how much, and when to stop and start.” Confidence in travel comes from learning skills, practice, support and feedback. There is a lot to gain from the growth that comes with overcoming fears when trying something new and succeeding. Successful travel leads to the desire for more travel experiences. As confidence builds, the desire to learn to travel independently increases.

Introduction to travel allows the young adult to explore, decide what is right for them and make decisions based on knowledge, thereby providing the direction needed to navigate one’s world, on a social level, recreational, explore job possibilities and even travel abroad to foreign places. Travel offers so many possibilities to explore the world, both locally and abroad. The use of public transportation is the starting point that can offer the young adult a pathway to independence. Successful independent travel begins with being open to learning about travel, having the opportunity to learn, developing skills, patience and a determination to succeed. Building independence and confidence in travel begins one step at a time. Once you begin the learning process have fun and enjoy the experience. Happy travels! •

• Safety is #1: Learn safety rules before using public transportation.
• Plan in Advance: Preview the trip you plan to take, view images of transportation systems to be used, research details of what transportation to take and specific details (departure and arrival times, fares, location, train and/or bus stops), and plan a budget.
• Communicate the Travel Plan: Travel information needs to be communicated accurately to people you are traveling with and to a family member before a trip.
• Be Prepared: Do I have enough money, emergency money, a fully charged cellular phone, directions, tickets, emergency contact numbers? Check the weather and dress appropriately. Review a checklist of what is needed before a trip.
• Be on Time: All planning and preparation will be of no use if an individual is not aware of time. Understanding the importance of time is essential when using public transportation. Always build in extra time when planning.


Carol Jockle is a social counselor and travel training instructor for the NYIT Vocational Independence Program for 26 years. She has a Master’s degree in College Student Development from Long Island University.

Erin Vlasak is the Director of Student Services for NYIT VIP for 12 years. Erin oversees the social counseling, residential life, medical and fitness programs. She too has a Master’s degree in College Student Development from Long Island University.

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