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Travel Tips for a Fun-Filled Family Vacation

By Samantha Sallade, Ph.D.

Dr. Sallade is a certified school psychologist who is experienced in evaluating children for autism and other neurodevelopmental challenges. She is the Director of Clinical Operations of As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments.

It’s vacation time! Many families are eager to hit the road (or the plane, or the train) for some fun adventures. However, for families who have a child with autism, travel can require some additional preperation due to considerations such as:

  • New environments
  • New people
  • Changes to established routines and schedules
  • New foods and activities
  • Lots of sensory stimulation

But don’t worry – with a bit of preparation, patience and flexibility, you and your little one(s) can have a fun-filled vacation.

Here are some tips to embrace the trip:

Prepare Your Child

Start by getting your child excited and prepared for the adventure ahead. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Use a calendar to mark the day you depart, and have your child cross off each day as it passes. This gives your child a visual marker of when changes will happen.
  • Create a social story with pictures and simple labels to help your child visualize what the travel will entail.
  • Talk through the social story with your child as much as you can.

Show and Tell

  • As the trip approaches, play a fun game of “travel” with your child. Maybe their favorite toys or dolls are going on a journey. Role-playing can be a great way to help them understand and anticipate the trip.
  • Ask your child to do some show and tell by explaining to you (or to a favorite toy) what will happen during the trip.

Pack Early

Creating a packing list early can save you a lot of stress. Here are some essentials to conside, especially for your carry-on if you’re flying: 

  • Plenty of snacks and small meals
  • Gum or other chewy items to help with pressure changes in the ears (if you’re flying)
  • Comfort items from home
  • Your child’s prescription medicines, including extra doses in case of any delays or cancellations 
  • Games, toys, or books to help keep your child busy
  • Noise-canceling headphones or other sensory-friendly items that can soothe and calm your child
  • Chargers for all electronic devices
  • Strollers, baby carriers, car seats or booster seats
  • Clothes, toiletries, shoes, sunscreen – whatever you’ll need for the trip itself

Embrace Flexibility

Despite all of your careful preperations, things may not go as you planned. And, that’s okay! Take a deep breath, stay flexible and remember – you’re doing the best you can in a challenging situation, and so is your child. 

Dig deep into your toolbox of strategies and know that you can do this. You can get through whatever comes up, whatever goes wrong. And, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. Cut yourself (and your child) some slack, and try to go with the flow.


There’s plenty of information online about traveling with a child with autism. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Before your trip, try searching “autism-friendly vacation destinations” or “sensory-friendly vacation destinations.”
  • Take a look at support services and accommodations available through transportation organizations (like TSA Cares)
  • Ask for help. There are professionals known as Certified Autism Travel Professionals (CATP) who have demonstrated that they are both knowledgeable and capable of providing support and travel-related services to an individual on the autism spectrum as well as their family.
  • Check out some travel guides for additional resources, like this one from Autism Travel.

Travel is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family bonds, learn new skills and create lasting memories. Wishing you happy and safe travels!

For additional resources, check out some more Notes from the Doc blog articles.

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