A mum and dad with three boys standing in front of a beach.
14 Dec

Holiday tips for autistic people

As we approach the end of the year, many of us and our loved ones look forward to going on a holiday. For autistic individuals and autism families, holidays can be a little more challenging to organise and navigate, particularly due to sensory sensitivities, safety concerns and the risk of burnout.

However, that doesn’t mean they have to be out of the question. With adequate preparation, concrete plans, clear boundaries and assertiveness, people on the autism spectrum and those they’re travelling with can enjoy a fantastic holiday, from travelling and transport to food and activities.

In this post, we’ll take you through some strategies for planning a holiday when you or your loved one/s are autistic. We’ll also share some fantastic tips from autism mum and advocate Kathrine Peereboom, who enjoyed a holiday with her three neurodivergent boys earlier this year:

  • Tips from an autism mum and advocate
  • Create boundaries
  • Incorporate special interests
  • Consider compromises
  • Further resources

Tips from an autism mum

Kathrine Peereboom is an autism and disability advocate as well as the proud mother of three neurodivergent boys. Having been on a holiday with her family earlier in the year, she shared some handy tips and tricks with us to help other parents and carers prepare a safe and enjoyable holiday for the entire family:

Destination Research

Investigate your chosen destination, considering factors like hotel safety, nearby amenities, quiet sensory spaces and engaging activities.

Accommodation Modifications

Review your room's floor plan and be ready to make minor adjustments for your family's safety, such as using zip ties on balcony doors and adding a safety bolt to the front entry. Remove expensive statues and lamps and place them in the closet until checkout and feel free to place the mattress on the floor for safety and comfort.

Packing Essentials

Ensure to pack their preferred safe foods, toys, medications and devices for the trip. I will place an order with an online grocery store and have it delivered to minimise the suitcases, such as nappies, wipes, chicken nuggets, etc.

Summer Holiday Planning

If your plans involve pools, beaches, or theme parks, bring suitable swimwear for privacy and dignity. For instance, we have swimwear with back zippers to prevent undressing in public, catering to our 10-year-old who wears a men's XL size.

Create a Visual Schedule

Having a visual schedule or itinerary can help maintain a sense of routine and predictability for your loved one. Use images or simple drawings to illustrate the sequence of activities during the trip.

Prepare for Sensory Needs

Pack sensory items that provide comfort, such as a favourite blanket, fidget toys, or weighted items that can help regulate sensory input and provide a sense of security.

Identify Quiet Spaces

Plan ahead by locating quiet spaces or designated sensory-friendly areas at your destination. These spaces can serve as retreats if your loved one becomes overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Communicate with Staff

Inform hotel or attraction staff about your loved one's needs in advance. Some places might offer accommodations or have staff trained in assisting individuals with sensory sensitivities.

Utilise Social Stories

Consider creating social stories or visual guides that explain the trip, the transportation process, and activities involved. This can help your loved one better understand what to expect.

Practise Emergency Protocols

Prior to your trip, acquaint your loved one with emergency protocols and teach them how to seek help or identify staff members in case of need. This can provide a sense of security and empowerment in unfamiliar situations.

Practise Relaxation Techniques

Teach and practice relaxation techniques beforehand, such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, to help manage anxiety or stress during travel.

 ‘Remember, each individual is unique, so what works well for one person might not be as effective for another. Tailoring your preparations to fit your loved one's specific needs and preferences is key.’

For more travel tips from autism parents, particularly around staying safe, you can watch Part 2 of our Autism Safety Series, where Kathrine and three other autism parents and advocates discussed how to stay safe in unfamiliar places:


Create boundaries

It’s important to establish and maintain clear boundaries throughout your holiday, particularly if you’re travelling with other people. By honouring our boundaries, as well as the boundaries of others, we can navigate challenges and conflict more easily and prevent meltdowns, burnout or situations that cause us to feel physically or psychologically unsafe.

Successfully creating boundaries starts with a strong understanding of yourself and/or your child, including needs, strengths, challenges and support requirements. From there, you can identify what situations or actions would make you or your child feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and how these situations could be addressed instead.

Here are a few examples of how setting boundaries can look on a holiday:


Don't allow yourself/your child to be forced to try a new food or eat a food that triggers anxiety and/or sensory sensitivities. Providing or having suitable alternatives provided so you/your child can still be included at mealtimes.


Retreat to quiet rooms or areas to regulate, or leaving events, places or situations quickly to avoid meltdown.


Don't allow yourself/your child to be forced to hug or kiss people or show them physical affection. Using different greetings such as smiles, nods, fist bumps or waves.


Limiting social events to avoid burnouts. Scheduling recovery time for you/your child after social events in which you’re not disturbed.

Additionally, an autistic person’s loved ones should have clear boundaries that honour their own needs. If you’re a parent/carer of a person with autism, be conscious of what you can realistically achieve and be responsible for in your caring role:don’t take on too many responsibilities or allow others to tell you what you’re capable of. And don’t forget, you deserve a holiday, too! Consider how you can lean on external services (e.g., babysitting, kids clubs) or the other people travelling with you to share the load so you have time and space to relax.

Communicating your boundaries with others can feel daunting, but with practice, it becomes easier. It’s always best to discuss any boundaries you have with those you’re travelling with in the planning stages of your holiday, and to have a plan for what to do if a person is not respectful of what you’re asking. Can you have the conversation another time? Could you explain your boundaries in a different way? Or, perhaps they’re not the best person to be travelling with, and you will have saved yourself a very challenging holiday!  

Incorporate special interests

For people on the autism spectrum, special interests and passions are hugely comforting, particularly in times and places that diverge from their regular routine. Unpredictability and change, both inevitable parts of holidays, can be hugely stressful for people with autism, and having an engaging distraction and means of emotional regulation can make all the difference.

There are a range of ways you can incorporate you or your child’s special interests during a holiday. When initially planning a holiday, consider whether there are locations, attractions or events you can visit that reflect you or your child’s passions. For example, if you/your child loves railways, you could see if there is a train trip you could take. Or, if you/your child loves the water, you could schedule plenty of time for swimming amongst other activities.  

Sometimes, it can be easier and more effective to bring special interests with you. Consider how comfort items (e.g., toys, digital devices) can be brought along to support emotional regulation and make different aspects of your holiday easier to navigate. Travelling to and from your destination is a particularly useful time to incorporate special interests to help pass the time and distract from challenging sensory and/or social situations.

Consider compromises

Compromises are an essential part of any holiday, particularly when one or more people have autism or additional needs. Where possible, it’s important everyone in the family or on the holiday has a chance to take part in something they’d like todo, as well as refrain from events or activities that might make them uncomfortable or overwhelmed.

If you’re going on a holiday with other people, have a discussion well in advance around what compromises you’re willing to make. For example, it might be attending an event, location or exhibition that aligns with you/your child’s special interests, even if everyone else doesn’t find it so interesting. Or it could be one parent taking their child’s neurotypical siblings to a noisy playground, so they don’t miss out. It could also be allowing each parent to have a morning or day to themselves.

Although a compromise might mean you/your child does something they’re not particularly interested in, it should never compromise their boundaries or safety. If you/your child does feel uncomfortable with a certain activity, it’s vital they can advocate for themselves or has someone to help them advocate for their needs.

Further resources

To learn more about Kathrine and her work and advocacy, you can visit her website. For additional support related to holidays, you can visit the following pages:

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