Planning a holiday can be exciting and stressful for everybody, but there can be extra things to consider if you are travelling with someone who is autistic.
Find out about choosing where to go, deciding how to get there, preparing for the trip and some practical considerations.
If you are working in the holiday industry, find out more about autism.
You may have had a holiday destination recommended to you or read about what seems to be an ideal destination on social media. It’s important that you check this out thoroughly to be sure that it is going to be right for the autistic person you are travelling with.
It is best to find out about the facilities provided and whether the staff have an understanding of autism or disabilities in general. Think about anything specific that might make the autistic person you are travelling with anxious, for example sensory needs. Is there a quieter area of the hotel or complex that you can book?
Our Autism Services Directory, although not a recommendation, lists holiday venues in the UK and abroad which have stated that they are suitable for autistic people. It also gives information on a small number of organisations, such as The Family Fund, who are able to provide funding.
If you are going on holiday with an autistic adult, try to involve them in planning the trip.
Once you have booked your holiday you should tell the autistic person that you are travelling with about the trip. Because autistic people can find change difficult, this may lead to high anxiety, meltdowns or behaviour that challenges.
However, by preparing them for change, fears will hopefully be reduced. Here are some things you could try:
- spend time with them looking at photographs in a brochure or on the holiday companies website
- compile a visual support, such as a booklet with photos, to help them remember where they are going and what it will look like when they get there
- prepare a timetable in advance, taking into consideration any obsessions, repetitive behaviour or routines that person has
- think about what situations they may need to understand (such as delays or unavoidable changes to travel plans) and how you can use social stories to help them prepare. You may find it easier to use a social story creator
- if you are travelling with a younger child, try to address any worries they may have by reading a relaxation book together or using a worry eater.
Take any support materials you have prepared on holiday with you, for example you may have created a social story about going to a restaurant. Take it with you, and review the story in your hotel room before going down to the restaurant.
Make your holiday provider/s aware of any special requirements needed by the autistic person you are travelling with. This may include:
- a need to sit in a certain seat or area of your transport
- any medication needs such as storage
- the need to wear ear defenders to block out noise
- any item of comfort you may need to take with you to reduce anxiety.
You may be given the opportunity to complete a form or send an email detailing these needs. We recommend you follow up any verbal communication in writing and take a copy of this on holiday with you.
Many tourist attractions will allow a carer free entrance, and/or arrange special access to facilities, if you show them some evidence of the person’s disability, for example a letter showing that they receive Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments. So consider taking some documents with you.
New-born babies and children up to the age of 15 years now have to have their own passports. From 16 years onwards they are eligible for the standard ten-year passport.
Read more about passport services if you are disabled.
Always make sure that you have travel insurance that meets the requirement of the autistic person you are travelling with. You can search for travel insurance by using a medical insurance comparison website.
Cerebra also has information on travel insurance that covers children with disabilities.
While on holiday you may find it useful to carry an autism alert card that gives a brief explanation of autism.
You may want to think of some useful phrases that explain your situation and translate them before your holiday, writing them onto small cards so that you can take them with you.
This could be something like ‘My son is not being naughty. He is on the autism spectrum/He is autistic. Please show some understanding’ or ‘This person is autistic. Autism is a disability. Please be patient and tolerant’.
You will know which form of transport is best for you and your autistic companion. Here are some things to consider when using the most common.
Discuss your check-in arrangements with the airline. They might be able to arrange a special check in time or have a quieter area of the airport where you can wait. You could also ask about boarding as they may let you board first or last.
Take anything that is going make their journey more comfortable such as headphones to listen to music, ear defenders, books or toys and comforters such as pillows.
Many airports and airlines now have far more autism awareness and have produced procedures and guides for those travelling with an autistic person:
- Manchester can provide special assistance and give you a lanyard to wear as a discreet way of showing airport staff that you may need help.
- Gatwick autism friendly visual guide. This airport is also an autism friendly award holder.
- Edinburgh Travelling with additional needs or hidden disabilities.
- Aer Lingus Travelling with children and individuals with autism.
Read more about special assistance from airports and airlines.
Trains and boats
Travelling by train or boat can be a less stressful experience for some autistic people. Again, it is important to take anything that is going to provide a distraction and make the journey easier. This could be access to their favourite music, a much loved book or toy.
Many train stations and ferry ports will offer special assistance for disabled travellers. We advise that you contact the stations or port you are travelling from and to before your trip to explain that you are travelling with an autistic passenger and ask what support they offer.
If travelling through Europe, you might find it useful to read advice on passengers with special needs.
National Rail also have information for disabled passengers.
If you work in the holiday industry, the following will help you to understand the needs of your autistic customers:
Last reviewed: 9 June 2017.