Family road trips can be a fun way to get out of the house and see new sites during the summer months. They can also feel like a daunting task when you have a child with developmental disabilities.

Road trips require a great deal of advance preparation to ensure they go smoothly for any family, but especially for a family with a child on the spectrum or with other needs.

Consider these tips to make your next summer road trip fun for the whole family:

Prepare for the Trip

  • Get your child used to being in the car for long periods by taking small, shorter car trips before your long road trip.

  • Consider practicing shorter car rides without the iPad and with other favorite toys, while building up to longer car rides – for those moments on the road trip when you need to charge or lose service.

  • Before leaving, talk about the purpose of your trip, where you’re going, how long it will take and the stops you’ll make along the way. Discussing your trip in advance will help alleviate some fears of the unknown. If your learner might not understand this, you might show them pictures in advance of the car, familiar stopping points, familiar vacation spots, etc.

  • Make all parts of the trip easiest for your child by doing what will likely feel counterintuitive; it’s okay to do everything for them. Carry their things, put their shoes on, dress them, etc. Every stressor you can eliminate is helpful!

  • Pack a selection of snacks and drinks and consider packing some special treats to offer at different points during the trip.

  • Consider withholding or saving special toys, movies, songs, or devices until later parts of the trip when everyone is bored and restless.

  • Plan your trip around times of day that your child is usually napping or sleeping.

  • Organize your child’s belongings before you leave and keep them within their reach, so that they can grab their favorite items and you can stay focused on driving.

On the Road

  • Enjoy time together as a family!

  • Don’t fill your days with too many activities.

  • Hold on to as many “normal” routines as possible, including mealtimes and bedtimes.

  • Remember to take breaks, just as you did while driving. Time to rest and regroup will keep everyone in happier moods.

  • Keep your child’s personal interests in mind when planning activities.

Maintain Perspective

Road trips can be tiring for everyone! Don’t expect your child to be able to sit still for a long drive, even if they’ve done well in the car in the past. It’s important to have a plan in place before leaving and to set realistic goals for how you’ll travel each day.

If you think your child may need extra time for breaks, work them into your schedule and find ways to split up the driving time, whether that means spending the night in a hotel or taking the scenic route. Rushing travel can make it a more stressful experience for everyone involved.

Whatever happens on your road trip, good or bad, try to focus on the special moments and the meaningful memories you’re making as a family!