Autism-Friendly Holidays: The Top 13 Things to Do When Travelling with Kids with Autism
Autism-friendly holidays are more common than you think! For us, almost every holiday we’ve ever been on has been good for our autistic kid. Travelling with an austistic kid may sound like a hard job. However, to our family of three, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever had.
To start, here’s a little background about us. We are a multicultural travel couple and bloggers, and we travel 70% of the year. If we are in our home country (which is the Philippines for now), we take our child Han on three-week trips. We travel long and slow, and yes, our little one is a seven-year-old boy with autism.
Now there are different levels of autism; our little one is a high func. We’ve travelled with him since he was two years old, and we've experienced a lot of things when travelling with him.
Today we’re sharing some of the best tips to make sure travelling with an autistic kid goes as smoothly as possible so that the whole family can have a fun holiday!
Here are different ways you can manage travel with a kid with autism:
1. Routines Create Autism-Friendly Holidays
Routines are one of the most important things to keep when travelling with autistic children. They are not the best with surprises or handling emotions when things are too unfamiliar and out of the ordinary. Since travel is all about new things and adventure, your little one will appreciate that some routines are kept the same.
2. Brief Before the Trip to Set Expectations
Setting the expectations can actually be very fun, and with the correct ones in place, your kid can have a picture of what is about to happen and ease up any of his worries. Also, you’ll be able to answer his questions and see his reactions in advance.
3. Have Soothing Toys, Headphones and Earplugs
Travel includes moving from different places, riding transportation, hotels and meeting new people all the time. When your little one feels overstimulated - by lights, sounds or touch - it’s always better to have the toys to soothe him, whether that’s a movie on an iPad, with his favourite toys, music or games or with noise-cancelling headphones. These are some of the easiest ways you can calm him down in situations when the new environment becomes too tough for him.
4. Plan Activities with Your Kid
We always print out worksheets for Han during our autism-friendly holidays. Fun worksheets can include trace writing, colouring and maths, English and writing activities. We also bring along at least one book he loves. Travel and education can’t usually be balanced at the same time, but it’s good to show him (especially on very long trips that are several weeks long) that we are not forgetting his study routines and that we can have time for him.
5. Bring Snacks or a Familiar Favourite Food if Your Child is Fussy with Eating
A lot of autistic kids can be picky with food. Travel is a chance for adults to get to new places and, of course, eat new food. However, this might not be a favourite activity for your autistic kid. Bringing some snacks that he loves can take the stress off of him - or off you at certain times - so always keep some of his favourites handy. Also, eating times can sometimes be unpredictable so we make sure we have small snacks for him to eat when a meal goes out of schedule any day.
6. Brief Safety Precautions
If your little one is already doing activities on his own, it’s important that he gets briefed on important places to go to in an emergency or where to go to the bathroom or get water.
For us, we swim a lot, so we make sure we always know where he is and we never leave him alone. One good thing about travelling with kids is that the staff and adults around you are always helpful and they prioritise kids when it comes to transportation, comfort and safety - so always be open to asking for help if you need anything.
Also make sure to check with staff to ensure all trips are appropriate for your kids. We do cliff jumpings and we visit caves and islands, but some are not appropriate for very young children. Those are things we always check before doing any tour.
7. Trips Should Be Appealing and Appropriate
One thing we make sure of is we travel with him and take him on trips that he prefers and actually enjoys. He loves the beach and islands, which matches our ideal itinerary and usual plans. We make sure that if we have a lot of work to bring with us (we work on our laptops and we take photos and videos during our trips) that we always incorporate an outdoor activity with him to ensure he gets his energy used on busy work days.
8. Arrange Things in Advance
It’s very important to have solid plans when travelling with an autistic child. Make sure that your transportation and accommodation are prepared and you’re familiar with where all things will be during travels. We always make sure we know beforehand what time buses will leave and how long transport will usually take so we can account for food and sleep. We always bring blankets and jackets with us when we know transportation can get cold, like on planes and buses.
9. Be Ready for Anything
Surprises can happen anytime. Make sure to bring necessary medications, even the ones for common ailments like fever and cough and colds. We also bring a thermometer with us to make sure we can check Han’s temperature any time. When travelling in places with different temperatures or if we’re travelling longer than three weeks, we bring paracetamol, asthma and allergy medications, mosquito repellents and lotions.
Depending on where you’re travelling, make sure to bring the best gear and clothing. When he was younger, we always brought floaties since we swam a lot. Now that he’s older, island tours always provide life jackets. Since he started snorkelling, we also bring his own snorkelling gear.
10. Include the Little One When Preparing Things
A must do when preparing for a holiday with an autistic child! Since we always pack a few backpacks during our travels, we taught him a routine that keeps him excited and also keeps him at ease. He knows where his floaties and his swimming shirts and shorts are, so he’ll know to find them when travelling. This is one of the things he actually looks forward to doing, and we always make sure we compliment him for being ready and for being excited to go on a trip.
11. Review the Day Before the Night Ends to See What He Thinks
Something we love doing during holidays with our autistic child, and even on regular days at home, is having a small talk before sleeping. This can easily replace storytime in case your little one still wants to listen to stories at night. We try to review what happened during the day, things that we learned, things he did well and what he can improve on. During travels, we talk about all the fun things he did and what to expect the next day to encourage him to sleep soon and get a good rest before the next day. We also tell him if we’re expecting to wake up extra earlier the next day because of long travel or early island trips.
12. Document, Take Notes and Be Observant
Always be observant. This is a must do for us when travelling with an autistic child like Han. We always take mental notes of what makes him happy, and what he doesn't like doing on trips. We learned he relates easily to strangers, especially adults, so he happily spends time with boat staff during island hopping trips or even while camping. He can easily bond with foreign tourists too. On joint tours, we are often joined by adults coming from different places so he usually makes relationships with them, and we eventually keep up those relationships online. We know that he needs extra help relating with young kids, so that's when we give him extra encouragement.
13. Have a Genuinely Fun Experience.
And lastly, it’s very important to know that despite all the responsibilities of travelling with an autistic child, that your life is good and that you are on holiday to have a really good time. So make sure you really have a good time - you and your whole family. Our family trips are some of our best times of our lives and we wouldn’t change them for anything, however hard it can be. We miss our little one too much when we travel without him and we’re looking forward to taking him on trips outside the country as soon as we can!
Have fun on your next holiday with your kid! We are sure that travelling with an autisic child will be an amazing experience.