Vacation Planning Tips for Parents

by Jennifer Sladen
Senior Program Associate, Autism NOW Center

As summer begins, most people begin thinking about the dreaded v-word — vacation. While vacations can be wonderful ways to spend time with family and enjoy new adventures and experiences, worrying about where to go, how to effectively plan, and how to deal with people and unexpected events on trips can cause parents to feel overwhelmed.

Below, we have listed several tips and suggestions to assist any parents out there facing the daunting task of planning and going on a vacation!

Plan Effectively for Your Trip!

One way to make sure that your family vacation goes smoothly is to plan the trip itself as well as to prepare your family members for new experience while on vacation.

First, you need to decide where your family would like to go.

  • Make sure to consider all of the interests and “likes” of your whole family as well as how your family members will react in any particular environment. For example, going to a crowded amusement park may be a fun activity, but it may overwhelm a child with autism or another developmental disability. Finding a balance between interests and necessary accommodations for sensory and stress needs is important to making sure all family members will have a good time on a vacation.
  • Research your destination options – the places that you may be able to go may surprise you!
  • For individualized assistance, check out organizations that provide information tailored to families with special needs (some examples are included below)!

Second, helping your family and child with autism or another developmental disability to prepare for new or unexpected experiences is a key part to planning a great vacation.

  • To help prepare your child for a vacation, think about introducing them to new sensations or activities that they will encounter a few months before you leave.
  • Consider role-playing different activities or situations that may occur on the trip (i.e. security procedures at an airport or train station, riding in a car, meeting family members).
  • Provide visuals like objects, maps, pictures, websites, and videos to show your child some of the things that they will be doing and seeing on the trip.
  • Use social stories to help explain any situation that may be occurring. For instance, you could use a social story to explain what sleeping in a hotel/family’s house/other sleeping area will be like.
  • Bring prepared activities to keep your child engaged during travel and during the trip itself.
  • Consider bringing items from home to help provide comfort and familiarity during the trip. This may help put your child at ease by letting them know that not everything on the trip will be different.

Communicate with as Many People as Possible
When planning and going on your family vacation, communication will be critical. Making sure to call your accommodation as well as your transportation provider (i.e. hotel, resort, or an airline or train company) and let them know that you are travelling with a child with special needs is important. By taking this step, you may avoid any miscommunication with staff or others on your trip and let the company know about any challenges that your family may have.

Keep Things Simple yet Structured
While many people think vacations should be unstructured so that everyone can relax, your child with autism may need some structure to avoid having anxiety about unplanned time. You can provide this structure by thinking about the pace of your vacation and designating times for relaxing into the vacation. You may want to consider creating a loose structure for your vacation and its activities. For example, days could regularly include breakfast, mid-morning activities until mid-afternoon, lunch, downtime for resting, dinner, and evening activities. This loose structure plan may help provide a happy medium for family to relax but as well as a sense of familiarity in what will occur each day.

Relax and Enjoy Yourself
Undoubtedly, there will be things that occur on your trip that will be unexpected or you may encounter someone who may judge you or your family because of their ignorance about your child with special needs. This trip is about the quality time you spend with your family; so, make sure to enjoy yourself and don’t let unexpected people or events

We hope that you have found these tips and suggestions helpful as you plan or think about planning a family vacation! Have a wonderful and memorable time!

Additional Resources

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