Home » Health » Autism, Disney, International Travel, United States » HELP! Tips Needed for Traveling with Special Needs Children

HELP! Tips Needed for Traveling with Special Needs Children

Traveling with special needs children

With Spring Break upon us and summertime just around the corner, this is a great time to think about vacations! Traveling with a child with special needs may require a little more planning, but support and information is out there.  There are so many ways to make the trip easier and fun for the entire family and we want to hear your best tips tips and tricks!

Here are some very broad ideas to get you started. Please share yours in the Comments below so we can all learn from your experience. What have you found that makes traveling easier for you and your kids?


When traveling with  special needs children, begin with ensuring the basics are covered.

Air Travel. When booking flights, select seating at the front of the plane, as well as closer proximity to lavatories for easier on/off and in/out. Request wheelchair assistance upon arrival, and seek out wheelchair-accessible security lines, both of which will help you better maneuver the airport. If security screening is a concern, hand searches, as well as private screenings, may be requested for disabled passengers. If you have questions about traveling with special needs children, we recommend first contacting the carrier with whom you intend to travel, rather than the airport from which you’ll be departing.

Transportation. Rental car agencies are catering to families of all types, including those in need of modified cars and vans with room for wheelchairs, lifts and specialized seats. In large cities, most taxi companies offer a select number of wheelchair-friendly cabs, such as Houston’s Yellow Cabs. Request a list of taxi companies through your hotel and contact them to schedule wheelchair accessible taxis for airport and attraction transportation.

Another popular option for families traveling with special needs children is traveling by shuttle bus. Shuttle busses are larger and usually better-equipped for handicapped passengers than the average taxi, but, as expected, offer less privacy, as well as less control over where you’ll stop and when you’ll get to your destination. Contact your hotel to see what options are available.

Hotels. All U.S. hotels are required to offer wheelchair-accessible rooms. Be sure to request these special rooms well in advance of your stay. Some may also provide shower chairs, upon request.

However, not all international hotels may be so friendly. Be sure to thoroughly review hotel websites and reviews, and contact them directly to be certain. Also be sure to inquire about elevators, as some resorts may not offer elevators, in which case ground-floor accommodations are recommended. Stairs need to be considered for resorts offering bungalows — while quaint mountaintop accommodations overlooking blue seas are gorgeous, they may not be wheelchair accessible.  When visiting Europe last summer, we found many hotels without elevators or had stairs leading up to them. A couple of the elevators were so small that a going in with wheelchair would be impossible.

Need a little more personalized help?  Here are a few travel agencies that specialize in vacation planning for those who are differently abled:

  • Hammer Travel provides a variety of experiences for individuals or groups. Hammer’s mission is to “provide travel opportunities for people with developmental disabilities that are unique, safe, and enjoyable.”
  • Flying Wheels Travel provides people with physical disabilities, chronic illness or difficulty walking the opportunity to extend their lifestyle with unique travel and recreation destinations while empowering individuals and their family members to explore the world.
  • Accessible Escapes provides package tours and customizable tours in Italy to those with physical disabilities. Autism Escapes also allows travelers to specify individual diet, hygiene and mobility needs.
  • Autism on the Seas has worked together with Royal Caribbean International creating a unique “Cruises and Land Resort Stays with our Staff” experience for those with autism and other special needs.


Anticipating problems before they occur can eliminate stress in the event a problem does occur. When packing, don’t forget:

Medications, etc. Pack all medications in carry-on luggage in case checked bags are delayed or lost. Most liquids must meet the traditional 3-1-1 rule for carry-on luggage, which requires that passengers place liquids in a container with a capacity no more than 3.4 ounces, in one zip-top sealable bag, and each passenger may only have one bag for liquids. However, liquid medication is one of very few items (including baby formula, baby food and breast milk) which may be allowed in higher quantities, if declared beforehand and approved during the screening process. Bringing a note from your doctor on the medications may come in handy, as would an extra prescription in case one must be filled.

Have a family member with diabetes? Here are some great traveling tips!

Make arrangements to either bring all necessary medical equipment and devices with you or have them waiting at your destination. While you can bring your wheelchair or feeding tray, you can arrange for dialysis or a nebulizer. Do you need a portable bed rail?

Don’t forget to bring a letter of disability from your physician to access special guest services at theme parks, and a GPS bracelet or other accommodation for wanders.

Insurance. Check with your insurance company to be sure your child is covered when traveling to different states and abroad, as well as a list of facilities that are covered in the destinations you are visiting — including cruise ships — in the event you must visit a doctor. If insurance is not covered, consider purchasing travel insurance that may assist with unexpected costs. Make a copy of your insurance information, physician’s contact information and emergency contact list.

Purchasing travel insurance for a big-splurge trip may be something to consider, as well, in the event illness or trouble arises pre-trip that makes your family have to cancel or reschedule.

Carry-on. If your child has frequent accidents, bring a full change of clothes in a carry-on.

Familiar Items. For children who may become stressed, anxious or confused in new situations and places, traveling can be quite the disruption to the familiar and safe. To help avoid fits, bring familiar and beloved items from home, such as pillows, blankets and toys. Try to focus on things that will distract and even relax your child, as opposed to things that may overexcite him or her. How about a pillowcase with some fidget toys?

Bring favorite foods and snacks. Don’t forget the comfort that will come from that special cup or music they love so much!

Noise-canceling Headphones. If loud noises are troublesome to your child, noise-canceling headphones can help drown out noises on planes and crowded subways. MP3 players with your child’s favorite music can take their minds off of unsettling crowds and places.


Major attractions across the U.S. work hard to appeal to families and meet ADA requirements. Some may even offer special mobility equipment and wheelchairs to assist families, and calling ahead will help determine if there are any special restrictions or programs specifically for special needs families. Finding a vacation that accommodates every family member’s interest may be easier than you think.

City Travel. The cities most often visited by travelers are often the best for special needs travelers, as well. Many offer travel guides through their Visitors & Convention Bureaus, and these may include guides for people with disabilities, which can help you pre-plan your vacation, or look into last-minute information when you stumble across an attraction during the trip.

For example, Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website offers detailed travel support that lists the popular attractions and whether they can accommodate disabled visitors. Its listing for Boone Hall Plantation, for example, lets you know ahead of time that while entrances are ramped and the property is suitable for motorized wheelchairs, only the first floor is accessible by wheelchair and elevators are not offered.

Theme Parks. Catering to kids is a theme park’s business, and thankfully, many theme parks have made parks friendly to those with special needs. Disney, of course, reigns supreme in accommodating special needs families, making it easy for kids to enjoy every attraction. The Disabilities Access Service Card also helps families avoid long lines, and many parks have followed in Disney’s footsteps with similar offerings.travel on free admission days  is another excellent choice for special needs children, with their Ride Accessibility Program to ensure guests are given equal access to every ride and attraction. They also offer their Special Access Pass to people who can’t easily wait in line due to their disabilities.

Cruises. The newer and larger cruise ships work hard to accommodate guests with special needs, from offering wheelchair-friendly staterooms, public areas and swimming pools, to providing shore excursions geared toward those with special needs. Royal Caribbean received the very first “Autism Friendly” certification by Autism on the Seas in February, 2014. For a list of the best ships for cruisers with disabilities, visit Cruise Critic.

National Parks. America the Beautiful and its breathtaking National Parks are available to everyone, especially those visitors with special needs. Many parks provide visitors with things like special wheelchair-accessible trails, auto tours and observation areas. Visit the websites of the National Park you’d like to visit for more details on their disabled accessibility to ensure it meets your needs. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Access Pass is a free, lifetime pass to the National Parks, given to disabled travelers. The passes provide free admission, as well as discounts on amenity fees such as swimming and camping. Pair this with free admission days  at the National Parks and you’ve got an amazing, budget-friendly vacation!

Other ways to avoid “bumps in the road” while traveling with special needs children are to prepare your child for traveling before the trip. Try discussing where you are traveling and what the child will encounter each day, and sticking to routines once traveling. Just as a toddler needs naptimes to ward off tantrums, sticking to your at-home routine as much as possible can ease tension for a child with special needs. Remember to move at your child’s pace to be sure he or she enjoys the trip and, most importantly, that the entire family enjoys their time together.


Don’t forget to share your best tips and tricks for traveling with children with special needs.  Thanks for your input!



Source: Blogs Release