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Pure Friendship for Individuals with Special Needs

8 Tips for a Successful Road Trip with a Child with Special Needs

When vacationing with special needs kids, traveling by car is undoubtedly one of the more preferred options. Two notable advantages to driving are-you can bring along more supplies than on a flight and you can stop whenever and wherever you want. The major disadvantage is the prospect of dealing with bored and whiny kids for hours while you are busy navigating busy highways or unfamiliar roads.. So, before you set out for your next road trip adventure here is eight tips for a successful road trip with your child with special needs.

1. Map or App

Planning ahead and knowing where everything is located can make your life easier.
  • Use a phone app or mark the location restrooms and parks on a printed map if your child needs breaks.
  • Bookmark chain eateries your child likes and stores to stop and purchase additional snacks/supplies.

2. Remember to bring a travel ‘buddy’

Creating a familiar environment for your child can help lower their anxiety levels while traveling.
  • Take along one of your kid’s favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed animal to help them feel comfortable.
  • Write your phone number or e-mail with a permanent marker on the items in case they get lost or forgotten anywhere.

3. Ask for help

This is your vacation too so don’t try to do it all on your own.
  • If there’s room in your car invite grandparents, babysitters or friends to join you and help engage your child with activities or conversations while you drive.

4. Have essentials ready

You can save yourself priceless time and stress by packing wisely.
  • Remember to pack any medicines your child takes on daily basis, an extra change of clothes and a first aid kit in a separate bag  and place it in the front of the car so you don’t spend time digging through your luggage to find them when needed.

5. Don’t forget the snacks

Hunger gets kids more stressed which in turn can lead to meltdowns so make sure you have snacks available.
  • Unless you want to make frequent stops, you should pack a couple of favorite snacks for your kid to enjoy while sitting in the car especially if your child is on a restricted gluten –free- casein -free diet. You might want to invest in a small inexpensive cooler to keep the food from melting and or spoiling especially during summer months.
  • Don’t forget to pack some small Ziploc bags and some plastic containers to use for meal leftovers when you stop and dine along the way.

6. Entertainment is a must!

Keeping kids entertained is a crucial during car rides for parents’ peace of mind.
  • Depending on your child’s age and preferences you might want to head on to the nearest dollar store for coloring books or GameStop for used DVDs and video games to bring along. Pack at least two recharging cords and adapters for the car if your child uses electronic devices since those can get discharged rather fast.
  • Resist the temptation to pack board games, Legos and puzzles that have small pieces and can get easily lost in car crevices .

7. Have a plan B

It is always a good idea good to have additional entertainment options for those just –in- case scenarios.
  • If your kid has an all-time-favorite movie or game they like to watch or play, bring it along!
  • Other ways to entertain your kids include:  sing along tapes, books on tapes and even old fashioned car games of spotting certain items or places along your driving route. 

8. Pack a ‘road warrior’ kit

Whether this is your first road trip or you are a seasoned traveler these six multi-purposed items are always a good idea to have in your car to help solve minor issues.
  • Wet wipes to clean hands and any spills/ messes.
  • Lysol wipes to sterilize surfaces including some public toilet seats.
  • A roll of toilet paper for public restrooms that don’t supply any (especially at rest stops). The roll can double up as tissues to blow your nose or even napkins when necessary.
  • Duck tape for virtually anything broken that needs a quick fix.
  • Can of WD 40 for stuck zippers, lids and anything else that is stuck.
  • Flashlight to search for items that have fallen under seats or landed in hidden crevices. Nowadays many smart phones come with a setting or app for that but if yours doesn’t you should consider packing an extra one to use in the car.
Have you taken a road trip with your special needs child? Come share your experiences with us.

The Special Needs Travel Guide

Special Needs Travel Guide Want more special needs travel tips? Check out the Special Needs Travel Guide. Packed with 60 pages of information about road trips, airports, flying, cruises, travel agents and much more.

WRITTEN ON June 11, 2014 BY:


Margalit Sturm Francus has lived in five different countries on three continents. In 2009, she established a nonprofit website, Autistic Globetrotting, to inspire and encourage autistic families to explore the world. Her articles have appeared in many media publications, including , SATH and Autisable By communicating with both the autistic and travel communities, she aims to raise autism awareness and facilitate the implementation of much needed accommodations for special needs travelers.