Traveling with Autism? Tips for Successful Road Trips

Every summer questions about car travel seem to top our e-mail inquiries. So, naturally thought I’d share this one as the ‘Ask Margalit’ question of the month.

Traveling with Autism? Tips for Road Trips:Door Mirror


Dear Margalit,

Later this summer for our family vacation we are taking a road trip across five Southern States! I am looking forward to it but also dreading it because our 9-year-old son with autism struggles with being in the car for any length of time.
His older siblings do better, but I guess I need to hear the benefits of driving as flying is not an option this time, and my head is spinning.
Do you have any tips or pointers for me that could make the journey more bearable? I would appreciate it.
Thanks in advance,

Dear Sami,
Let me say right off the bat that traveling by car is one of my preferred options.
I love that I can take along more supplies than on a flight, and I can stop when and where I need to.
If you plan the navigation of the unfamiliar roads in advance, you could have a wonderful holiday to remember.

  • I suggest you use an App or road map to mark off the location of restrooms and parks along the route, as well as chain diners and stores where you can stop and restock as necessary.
  • If your son has a favorite stuffed toy, pillow or blanket – bring it along because the familiarity helps lower anxiety levels.
    I like to use a permanent marker to write a phone number or email on belongings in the event of them getting misplaced somewhere.
  • I keep the medicines my son will take every day of the trip, an extra change of clothing and a first-aid kit, in the front, so that I don’t have to dig through all the packed luggage to find it.
  • Having snacks available is necessary. I have noticed that low blood sugar can trigger a meltdown. Of course, if your child has dietary needs, you won’t want to be stopping and looking for special snacks unnecessarily so bring these in a small cooler.
    I never travel without Ziploc bags; you never know when leftovers from a pit-stop can come in handy.
  • Of course, keeping the children entertained is vital. I am a fan of Dollar stores for inexpensive, age-appropriate games and books that don’t have little pieces that can get lost. If your child has a few favorite video games or DVD’s, bring those along and don’t forget to keep the electronic gadgets charged.
  • It’s good to be flexible and make alternative plans if Plan A doesn’t work.
    Old-fashioned car games like “I Spy” can be a useful distraction and you might want to bring a friend, babysitter or grandparent along to help keep your children entertained – space-allowing of course.
  • As a final tip, I will share with you what I call my “Road Warrior Kit” that has saved us many a time. It has a roll of toilet paper, WD40, Duct tape, Wet wipes, Lysol wipes and a flashlight. All of these multi-purpose items come in extremely handy and even necessary at various stops along the way. Your family’s health, safety, hygiene and comfort are so important.

I hope you have a wonderful road trip!
Enjoy making memories with your family.



Checklist for Road Tripping with your Child with Autism

Travel doesn’t have to mean getting on a plane and traveling for extended hours – it can be as simple as a road trip to a different city or state. Similar to plane travel the pre-planning stage is important and Autistic Globetrotting has you covered with a handy checklist, so you don’t forget anything!


Checklist for Road Tripping with your Child with Autism freeway

Gather information

  • Will you be able to buy supplies or snacks along the way or do you need to bring everything with you?
  • What are the medical facilities along the way if your child with special needs requires medical care?
  • Where are bathrooms along the way? An iPhone app such as “Sit or Squat” can help you with this one.
  • Where are the best spots or attractions to stop and stretch that will be entertaining for your child?

Stock up

  • Bring your bag of tricks with games, coloring books, and videos to occupy your child.
  • Don’t forget your electronic gadgets and your recharge chords, especially for the car. You might want to get two in case one is defective or gets broken.
  • Bring extra batteries!
  • Headphones for your child to enjoy the movies or music and not disturb other passengers.
  • Bring trash bags, tissues, and duct tape (it fixes everything!).

The Vehicle

 When using your car:

  • Take it and get everything checked before you leave, such as tire pressure, A/C or heat, and seat belts.
  • Have the car serviced close to the time of travel?
  • Become an AAA member so you will be protected in the event of a roadside emergency.
  • Review your auto policy to make sure everything is up to date and to make sure you have your most recent insurance card and registration information in your car.
  • Bring maps/GPS.

When renting a car:

  • Shop early for good rental prices via the Internet, but also call local offices directly as it can be cheaper. Also, check if your hotel offers any cheap car rental packages.
  • Check for any discounts – credit union, AAA, Costco.
  • Double check your contract to know what documentation or membership cards you need to present.
  • Be aware of their mileage policy especially the excess miles you may have to pay for.
  • Clarify the exact operating hours-open and close.
  • Enroll in the car rental loyalty programs for upgrades.
  • Ask if they can add satellite radio or GPS service
  • Check to make sure the lights, windows, doors and SEAT BELTS are working properly.
  • Photograph the car – front and back – with the attendant there to avoid any bogus claims later. Also, make sure your camera has a stamped date.

 What you need for your child with autism in a rental car:

  • Bring your vehicle seat or check for car seat availability.
  • Opt for Captain chairs -more comfortable for your kids and they won’t fight over space.
  • Check where the AC/heating vent is and how close your child is sitting to it.
  • Check safety features, such as childproof locks, and locking window buttons.
  • Rent a satellite radio service that provides entertainment.
  • Look into renting/bringing your DVD player with movies for long haul travel.
  • Ask for a nonsmoking car if your kid has allergies.


What tips have you picked up along the way that you could add to our list?


Pin It on Pinterest