Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism


Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism pin

As a parent or caregiver, we are always looking for ways to minimize travel anxiety. The best way to do that is to identify one’s child’s anxiety triggers before, during and after travel and then seek to find suitable accommodations or solutions to eliminate these triggers.   Here are some factors and questions to consider before booking the next family trip.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism chair

Daily Schedule

Generally speaking, people with autism find adhering to routines comforting, and they resist changes of any kind. Parents should over their regular schedule, ask what they will be missing while they are gone, and consider accommodations to help them adjust.

What Will They Hate to Miss While They’re Gone?

Ask your kids ahead of time whether there is anything they will miss while they were gone. If it is things like homework or a favorite TV show, parents can make arrangements to get it to them via e-mail or online.

How to Spend the First Ten Minutes in your Hotel Room blue


Are They Used to Dining at a Specific Time or Eating Specific Foods?

This one is a bit trickier, especially when traveling across time zones. Parents should carry snacks for kids. They should also try to plan meal times similar to the ones they are used to.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism

Sensory Overload

Since every child is different and those on the autism spectrum have varied responses, the parent or caregiver needs to determine the specific triggers for their child.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism ship

Do Certain Smells Bother Your Child?

Parents should make sure seats on the airplane are away from toilets or galleys. Dining in ethnic restaurants or visiting attractions that involve animals like zoos, farms, and even Disney’s the Animal Kingdom might not be the ideal place for children with smell sensitivities.

Does Your Child React Adversely to Certain Lighting?

Parents should call up any shows or attractions to check what lights they use and choose to avoid going there or not accordingly.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism bull


Is Your Child Sensitive to Noise?

Parents can pack a set of noise-canceling headphones to use at theme parks and during fire drills. Also, they can map out quiet places in theme parks and request a quiet room in hotels and airports if they are available.

Does Your Child Have Temperature Sensitivities?

Some children are incredibly temperature sensitive and can’t tolerate heat, direct sun or wind blowing on them for prolonged periods of time. Parents can pack items like umbrellas or fans to help children cope.

How Does Your Child Cope with Crowds?

If crowds distress them, parents might want to take advantage of the airport lounge or avoid visiting a theme park on weekends and holidays.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism music

Is Your Child Comfortable with People Touching Them or Their Belongings?

Parents should notify the TSA agent ahead of time of their child’s diagnosis and have a doctor’s note ready for any problems that may arise.

What Clothing is Your Child Comfortable Wearing?

Many kids on the spectrum aren’t able to wear certain types of clothes like button-down collar shirts or long pants. This fact might be problematic in some locations where a specific dress is required such as in restaurants or formal nights on cruise ships. Most places unless it is a formal gala will forgo the dress requirement if parents call in advance explain the situation. Parents should pack clothing that kids have worn before and found familiar.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism chess

Can Your Child be Confined to a Small Space for Long Periods of Time?

Parents should plan on splitting the flight into shorter segments or taking longer breaks during a road trip to accommodate kids.

Navigating the Unfamiliar

Children with autism need to feel that they are in control of their environment. Unfamiliar surroundings frighten them and stress them out.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism group

Are They Used to Sharing a Common Space?

Parents should consider their child’s familiarity with sharing common spaces when booking lodging, as conflict might arise.

Is Your Child Used to Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Bed or Room?

If kids have never slept anywhere else but their room they might become anxious when they travel, especially the first time. Parents should try to get them used to different environments by having them sleep at a friend’s or family member’s house first. Moreover, In additionparents should also pack their favorite toy and blanket to help them adjust to new places.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism red

Is Your Child Comfortable Sitting Next to Strangers?

Parents should opt to book window or aisle seats on planes and trains for their child. That way, they can sit next to a family member or caregiver instead of strangers.

Does Your Child Fear Parental Separation?

Most children have separation anxiety whether on the autism spectrum or not. Parents of children who are verbally communicative should teach them to identify staff and ask them for help whAlso, equipping the kids with a phone or walkie-talkie in advised.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism chair

If they are not verbal, parents should have them wear a special tag on their clothing or a GPS device that can help track their exact location if they wander off.

Degree of Flexibility

Many children on the autism spectrum are obsessed with certain habits and show inflexibility when parents try you change them. Parents should try to work with them and accommodate their needs rather than stress them out and risk a meltdown.

How Well Does Your Child Transition?

Parents of children who have difficulty with transitioning between activities or are obsessed with being punctual should allocate enough time to reach places.
Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism sitting


How Does Your Child React to Schedule Changes?

Parents should research their travel plans thoroughly at booking and before actual travel. That way, sudden changes to schedule don’t catch anyone by surprise. Moreover, they should check both flight schedules, and theme park rides the day of travel since plans can change last minute.

How Does Your Child Cope with Standing in Line?

Whether it is waiting in lines to board a flight or lines in the public restrooms; waiting for a table in restaurants, or even waiting for their food, children with autism seem to have a problem with occupying themselves during free time and that in turn stresses them out. Parents should inquire ahead of time for line accommodations to avoid waits wherever possible. They should remember to bring entertainment like coloring books, building blocks or cards to occupy them.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism bus

How Successfully Can Your Child Follow Directions and Rules?

The ability for a child to follow direction affect many aspects of travel like buckling up seat belts, using a public swimming pool and visiting theme parks. Parents of children who experience difficulties with these tasks should stay in close range at all times to provide cues.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism plane


The most important thing is for parents to be available and willing to discuss situations with children and prepare them ahead of time. Knowing that someone is there for them is the most reassuring thing kids can have, and a comfort for when they are feeling fears and anxiety.

Scary Moments when Traveling with Autism

Travel with kids can have its scary moments, especially when your kids have autism.
Looking back, these incidents not only stressed us out at the time but also taught us new ways to cope and problem-solve as parents.
And best of all -we learnt that bad travel experiences make for great stories.

Scary Moments when Traveling with Autism

Carnival Magic Mediterranean Cruise
Almost run over 

We had repeatedly asked the Carnival Magic crew if we could re-enter the port in Livorno, Italy on our own after meeting our friends in Pisa.
Their answer was yes.
In reality, that didn’t prove simple. We returned to the port entrance and found it locked.
We were told by a port official that the only way to re-enter was via an official Carnival labeled bus. It was an incredibly hot day in July, and there was no shade to speak of while we waited. I could see my sensory-sensitive son was struggling. He leaped and ran towards the first Carnival bus that appeared.

It was an incredibly hot day in July, and there was no shade to speak of while we waited.
I could see my sensory-sensitive son was struggling. He leaped and ran towards the first Carnival bus that appeared.
However, that bus didn’t stop and was inches from running him over.
It turns out only certain buses were supposed to stop near the entrance, not all of them -a fact that was not initially mentioned.It was only half an hour later that the bus that actually COULD bring us in, finally showed up.

Our takeaway: Better communication between the crew about the port regulations would have done wonders.
The ship captain assured me in a talk we had after the incident that the staff will be instructed on better explaining the logistics of returning to the cruise ship to the passengers.

Carnival  Magic Mediterranean Cruise
Almost lost 

This situation started as a goodwill gesture by the staff that went south.
My son went to a teen activity which turned out to be too crowded and my son due to his sensory issues found it difficult to cope.
So, the staff gave him some tokens to play video games at the ship’s video arcade.
He proceeded to go alone to the ship’s arcade to play and didn’t call us to let us know where he was headedIn his moment of excitement he got confused and thought the staff would relay his whereabouts to us.
In the meantime, I went to pick him up at the teen club and discovered he wasn’t there.
I felt the panic set after I called the cabin, and he wasn’t there either.
The staff did not feel it was important to call him on the ship’s speaker system and locate him though he was a minor at the time, and they were explicitly told he was special needs.
We did finally find him half an hour later when he returned to our cabin on his own.

Our takeaway: We bought a walkie-talkie system we now travel with and communicate with him every 15-20 minutes.We have also reiterated to him that he has to communicate where he is at all times.


Long Haul Flight on Swiss
Almost  hit

Long haul flights can bring the worse in some people.
We were sitting in our economy seats on a Los Angeles to Zurich flight on Swiss Airlines.Our son with autism was sitting quietly in his seat by the window watching the movie screen when an elderly person was sitting in front of him reached out and tried to slap him.
My motherly instincts kicked in incredibly fast as I reached for the flight attendant call button.
Turns out my son was continuously moving his feet  (not kicking)  and managed to annoy our fellow passenger.
When the flight attendant arrived, we explained that stimming is part of our son’s disability when he gets anxious.Luckily, there was a bulk seat available on the opposite side of the aircraft, and she moved our son with no further incident.
The guy who was sitting front took this incident very personally and continued muttering nasty remarks to my other son and me throughout the ten-hour flight though I explained this was a medical condition.

 Our Takeaway: I learnt to ask for bulk and or aisle seating for my son when I book a flight.

Chicago airport
Almost blacklisted

We were flying Los Angeles -Chicago-Amsterdam with incredibly tight connect times.The flight experienced a 30 minutes delay in L.A., so we arrived at Chicago’s O’hare airport later than we were supposed to.
Our next flight to Amsterdam was leaving in 15 minutes, so we asked the airline representative what to do.
She assured us we could still make the trip.
So, we ran dragging our carry-on bags across terminals and escalators to the next gate.
To our disappointment, we weren’t allowed on board even though we could still see the aircraft on the tarmac.
What the airline representative had forgotten to relay was that per United Airlines’ regulation the airplane door officially closes 45 minutes before departure on international flights.
So, even though the plane was still physically there, we could not board it.

Sweating and out of breath, my son had a major screaming meltdown.The situation got so bad the agent at the gate threatened to call security and put him on the no–fly list.
He did calm down when we explained our kid’s diagnosis’ and proceeded to offer him a fast food coupon as compensation.

Our takeaway: Never accept any flight connections shorter than 1.5 hours!

Have you ever experienced ‘scary’ moments when traveling with your kids?  What did you learn from them?

Pin It on Pinterest