Tips for Planning Day Trips with Special Needs Kids

Now’s the time when families start considering and booking vacations for the summer. But for the parents of children with special needs, thinking about a vacation takes a whole other level of consideration and forethought. As with any outing with small children, being prepared is essential. When planning a trip with an autistic child, planning is taken to a whole new level.

We consider: the journey and how long it will take, the venue and facilities, the food they will have there, the weather, the time of year and whether it will be busy. When packing, we need to consider the things he will need and this can go beyond the needs of a typical child. For example, though he is approaching 6, he needs the right cup and sometimes special cutlery. A great deal of thought goes into every element, from when we go, to what we take.

Many families want to go on vacation, but some ultimately opt not to because the amount of preparation feels too overwhelming. 

I can completely understand and appreciate that sentiment. But on the flip side, vacationing with your family can provide tremendous benefits. Things like getting away from the daily grind, giving your family a sense of normalcy and creating memories that will last forever.

It does take meticulous planning. But for families who have made it work, they say that it is worth the extra effort to witness the joy on their kids’ faces and experience something new together.

If you’re considering a family vacation, I’d like for families to know just how many resources are available to help navigate the planning process. And that logistically speaking, it is possible for the majority of families to travel with careful planning. So if you’re considering a trip, here are some things to start thinking about:


Talk With Your Child’s Doctor

Your doctor or physical therapist can advise you regarding your child’s physical and emotional needs while traveling. Make sure to have all prescriptions filled so there isn’t a chance you’ll run out of anything while on vacation.

Give them a Call

If you are planning to go somewhere, give the venue a call in advance. You can find out when their busiest times are, what kind of food they have, if anything unexpected is happening that day, if they can help support you in any way (skipping queues for example).

Do your Research

These days, most places have websites with lots of information. As well as information about facilities, opening times, and what’s on, they usually have a lot of pictures. This can be great for showing your child in advance or printing off to give them or use on a timetable.


Depending on your child’s age and situation, it can be a great experience to allow your child to participate in some of the decision makings when planning sightseeing or accommodation or food. Allow them to voice their opinion and have a conversation with them about their wishes. Of cause, there could be some more extravagant wishes on the list, but sometimes you might be surprised by the simple things, that might make all the difference to the experience. 


Where to stay during your holiday, can be difficult to decide, as there are multiple things to consider:

  1. How will the bed feel?
  2. What floor is it on?
  3. Is there a restaurant nearby?
  4. Will there be loud music?
  5. Can the windows open?

Packing is Key

Firstly, there are the general things you may need to pack for children. Extra layers, sun cream, hats, a favorite toy. Next, you will likely have to consider any special items your child will need. For example, special health products, cups or cutlery (if eating), ear-defenders or headphones. If you have a sensory seeker, fiddle toys or any other fidget objects that reduce anxiety may be necessary. Next, there are electronic items that may give comfort to your little one.

Another strategy is to take one or two unexpected items. This may sound odd with a child who really needs perfect planning and routine but it has worked to avert upset more than once. By unexpected, I do not mean completely unfamiliar. I mean something that is new enough to distract and engage but familiar enough to be comforting: little matchbox cars, a new chew or fidget toy, or stress relief toy, a sensory toy, a new book, silly putty, anything with a light or that glows.

Obviously, buying something new to use every time you plan a trip would be impractical. However, if there is a big trip coming up, it can be a useful trick to have ‘up your sleeve’ for the most important events.

You Cannot Plan for the Unpredictable

Sometimes, it starts raining unexpectedly. Sometimes, the venue run out of a favorite food, or have to close parts for unpredictable reasons. You can only plan for these to a certain extent. Unexpected noises have been a big issue – from hand-dryers to church bells to dinosaur models that roar without warning. Distraction and comforting tactics can sometimes fix this, but not always. The best you can do is develop plans for what will work best for your family if something unexpected happens.

Plan For Behavior Challenges

Even if you take all the proper steps, you’ll still need to prepare for behavioral challenges when traveling with special needs children. Its not always easy to stay calm, cool, and collected when your children are misbehaving, especially in the heat of the moment. Of course, this is known to be common on long road-trips or extended flights. That’s why its important to think about the various strategies you can use to diffuse, stop, or ignore the behavior. You can also try to set ground rules, or take a break whenever an event occurs. 

"There will never be a perfect time to travel with your children, so do it now, before the opportunity passes you by. You can’t turn back time."


  • Thankyou very much for thanks comes in handy everytime but I don’t take silly putty gets all over the car (mess) iPad unfortunatly he broke it doesn’t have one now just our mobiles but play carpark games in the car when going somewhere long.

    Paula varley
  • It’s all true, many families think the same, it’s helpful!!

    Nayara Costa

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