Traveling With Autism: Tips for an Enriching Trip

young girl reading a book in a car

People often say it’s about the journey, not the destination. While that may be true in some circumstances, a family vacation is most definitely about the destination. The travel portion can be stressful when you consider every factor. Planning the trip, packing everything up, and getting from point A to point B wouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s list of “Favorite Parts of the Trip.” When children are thrown into the mix, they’re another factor to consider. 

On top of all that, traveling with autism presents additional unique challenges. But with a thoughtful approach and solid planning, the adventure can be rewarding for everyone! The care professionals at Basal want to lend some ideas, so here are a few tips to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Preparing for the Journey

Before you even pull the suitcases from the closet, the trip itself needs to be planned. Your first step should be researching destinations that accommodate special needs children with sensory-friendly activities and other benefits. For example, theme parks, museums, and resorts usually offer programs and experiences tailored to special needs.

It isn’t just about the amusement parks or other exciting destinations, though. Accommodations need to be taken into account and given extra thought when traveling with autism. Select hotels or other lodging options that offer quiet rooms, access to outdoors spaces, and other utilities that can contribute to maintaining your child’s routine.

When you’ve made your destination and lodging selections, it’s time to plan your itinerary. Make a plan that will ensure fun activities and outings, but don’t forget to build in some downtime. This will help your child get the respite they need, and it’ll give you time to decompress. Consider the time of day your child is usually relaxed, and work that into your schedule.

Packing Essentials

Packing the right items can make a big difference. Prioritize things that will address your child’s sensory needs and keep them engaged and happy during travel. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sensory Items: Weighted blankets, sensory/fidget toys, and noise-canceling headphones can help prevent overstimulation during a stressful part of the trip like baggage claim or high-traffic roadways.
  • Entertainment: Sticker books and other engaging activities are a big help as well. We recommend Melissa & Doug Wow! Sticker Stampers.
  • Comfort Items: Does your child have a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or other toy? Bringing it along can help to comfort them.

Navigating Airports and Flights

These days, the airport isn’t exactly anyone’s favorite part of travel (the scene from Home Alone is all too real). There’s a lot to keep track of, the crowds can be overwhelming, and don’t get us started on TSA! Googling “flying with special needs child” can yield all kinds of conflicting results, too. But there are steps you can take to reduce that stress when traveling with autism. With the right preparation, you’ll be above the clouds with your sanity intact.

  • Airport Security: In true dad fashion, we suggest arriving at the airport earlier than you think you need to. This will allow you plenty of time to make it through the security song and dance in the event of unexpected hiccups like long lines. Additionally, many airports offer programs that aim to help special needs children to get familiar with the security process beforehand.
  • Boarding: Speaking of services most airports allow, take advantage of pre-boarding options. This will allow you and your child to board the plane with enough time to adjust to the new environment before takeoff.
  • In-Flight Challenges: Explain to your child what they should expect from the flight. After all, the initial takeoff can be really jarring and scary for a young one who isn’t expecting it. Have activities on-hand that will keep them calm. Our recommendations: Road Trip Scavenger Hunt Cards and Melissa & Doug Water Wow Books.

Keeping the Child Engaged

Traveling with autism can be stressful. Engagement with activities your child loves can reduce anxiety and make the trip all the more enjoyable for your family! How do you do this, though? For starters, you can plan a variety of activities and games. Take advantage of classics like the Travel Lite Brite and Doodle Board! You can also play fun card games (those decks are perfectly portable).

Want to make it even simpler? Some activities don’t require any materials at all! I Spy is a timeless travel game, and storytelling will always have its place. If you need a few more ideas, we’re always happy to lend our tips!

Ensuring Comfort and Safety

Keeping things fun is a great way to ease the stress of travel for a special needs child, but when they’re uncomfortable, situations can deteriorate quickly. Here are a few things you can do to maintain comfort.

  • Familiar Items: We want to reiterate this because it’s an effective step to take. Kids love their cherished items, so bring along that stuffed bunny they love so much! It’ll provide some much needed comfort.
  • Maintaining Routines: We’ve already mentioned planning your activities around the time of day when your child tends to relax, but it’s important to consider other parts of their daily routine as well. Some examples are sleep scheduled and meal times.
  • Contingency Plans: Sometimes a meltdown happens no matter how many preventative steps you take. It’s part of raising your child! But all’s not lost. If you have a backup plan, you’re ready to adapt. Do your best to identify quiet spaces and have their favorite snacks on hand. It’s also advisable to have your child’s water bottle on hand to keep them hydrated.

Safe Travels!

By taking these steps, traveling with autism can be enjoyable and enriching for the whole family. With the right preparation, it can be yet another great part of your family adventure! If you need additional help in planning, we’re always happy to offer advice. Safe travels!