Autism Resources

8 Tips for Planning a Vacation with a Child with Autism

Whitney Heath April 19, 2024

How do you plan sensory-friendly travel?

Traveling with a child with autism can present unique challenges, but with careful planning and consideration, it can also be a rewarding experience for both the child and the family. With the right tips and tricks in your arsenal, you can become a pro at planning a sensory-friendly vacation for kids with autism. From choosing the right accommodation to selecting sensory-friendly destinations and activities, these are the tools you need to make your vacation a success.


Start with Comprehensive Planning

  1. Identify Sensory-Friendly Destinations: Begin by selecting locations known for their sensory-friendly environments. Research theme parks, attractions, and accommodations that cater specifically to the needs of children with autism.
  2. Utilize Pre-Visit Resources: Many destinations offer pre-visit materials such as maps, visual schedules, and social stories. These tools can help familiarize your child with the environment beforehand, reducing anxiety.
  3. Plan Your Itinerary with Flexibility: Create a detailed itinerary that includes potential sensory-friendly activities but remains flexible. Include ample downtime for rest, as over-scheduling can lead to sensory overload. You may want to pack additional resources that could be helpful if plans need to change at the last minute, ensuring that your child can adjust more smoothly to new situations.
  4. Prepare a Sensory Kit: Pack a personalized sensory kit that includes noise-canceling headphones, sensory toys, and other comfort items that help ease travel stress, as well as anything else that helps your child feel comfortable in new environments.
  5. Pack Thoughtfully: When planning a vacation with a child with autism, it’s important to pack  the essentials. This means including items that are familiar to your child, such as their favorite snacks, toys, or a comforting blanket, to provide them with a sense of security.
  6. Contact Venues Ahead of Time: Reach out to accommodations and attractions to inquire about special accommodations or quiet hours. Advance communication can ensure your child’s needs are met, making the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.
  7. Engage in Pre-Trip Discussions: Talk with your child about the trip in a clear and positive tone. Discuss what to expect each day to help manage expectations and reduce anxiety. Familiarizing your child with the itinerary is also crucial; use simple, reassuring language and visual aids to help make the travel plan more understandable and less intimidating for them.
  8. Practice If Possible: Practicing travel routines can also be beneficial. If possible, simulate aspects of travel at home, like sitting with a seatbelt or going through a security checkpoint, to help your child become accustomed to these experiences and reduce anxiety about the unknown.

Choosing the Right Accommodation

Finding the perfect place to stay can make a significant difference in the success of your sensory-friendly vacation. Here are essential tips for choosing the right accommodation:

  1. Research Autism-Friendly Options
  2. Seek Out Quiet Rooms
  3. Inquire About Special Amenities
  4. Discuss Meal Flexibility
  5. Communicate Your Needs Early

By selecting your accommodation with these considerations in mind, you’re laying a strong foundation for stress-free vacation.

Building Flexibility into Your Plans

Understanding the importance of embracing adjustments is crucial for a successful vacation, especially when meticulous planning meets the unexpected need for flexibility. Whether it’s due to sensory overload requiring the omission of a planned activity, or the need for unexpected downtime, being adaptable is key.

Preparing for Plan B (and even Plan C) is equally important. Having alternative options ready can greatly alleviate stress if initial plans fall through. This could include having a list of quieter, less crowded places to visit should your planned destination prove to be too overwhelming.

Incorporating ample downtime into each day’s schedule is vital to give your child an opportunity to rest and recharge. Adequate rest will help to prevent sensory overload and enhance the vacation experience for everyone.

By planning in advance and seeking out accommodations for autism, vacation can be an enjoyable time for the whole family. Throughout it all, staying patient and positive is essential. Maintaining a cheerful and optimistic attitude is key. Even when plans need to change, your attitude can keep the vacation atmosphere light, creating happy memories for your child.