How to Vacation with a Child who has Sensory Issues

Vacation time is supposed to be a time to relax and have fun, but for moms of children who have sensory issues you know it can be anything but that. The good news is, I’m here to tell you there are things you can do to have a great vacation with a child who has sensory issues.  You can travel 


I have a child who deals with sensory stuff.  I shared a bit about one of our choices to homeschool him in a previous post and how the slower pace and quieter environment was what worked really well for him.

But, aside from our choice of how we educate him, we’ve also learned how to navigate other things with him, like crowds and vacations.

But we’ve mostly learned from our mistakes.  Because sensory overload on vacation is no fun for anyone.

So, today I’m going to share with you what we’ve found works in the hopes that it might encourage you and give you some ideas so that you don’t have to forego making memories with your family on vacation because you are worried the stress just isn’t worth it.


Pick places with smaller crowds.

We’ve never gone to Disney World and more than likely we never will. (I can hear the gasps already.)

When our kids were small we took them to Great Wolf Lodge and while our kids will say they had fun our sensory child was miserable. It was too loud, too crowded, too busy.

Thankfully we learned from that trip and decided to pick places that were quieter. I watched my child when he was out in the woods on a trail walk and he just came alive. He loved it! So, we started doing more camping vacations.

We also took our kids on a trip to the mountains where they hiked and enjoyed spectacular views. Another time we took them to Lancaster, PA where we enjoyed Amish country.

As parents we tend to think a trip to Disney World is a necessity. It’s not. There are so may amazing places to vacation that are perfect for kids who don’t do well in crowded, noisy spots. My kids have amazing memories from the vacations we have taken and no one feels deprived that we never went to Disney World.

Know when to take a break and be willing to change your plans.

We’ve been places where I’ve looked over at my child and I can see he’s struggling. We’ve since learned that sometimes we might be somewhere and suddenly we need to get out of there.

If your child is overwhelmed, take a break. Go somewhere else that isn’t crowded, or are an hour back at the hotel room for a rest in a quiet space.

Last year we decided to surprise our kids with a night at a hotel with a waterside on a road trip we were on. It wasn’t cheap.

But when we walked in the place was crowded and insanely loud because of the acoustics in the room. I think my kids went down the slide three times before we left and hung out in the hotel room instead.

The next hotel we stayed at had just a pool but no slide. However, there was barely anyone using the pool. My kids LOVED it, especially the one with sensory issues.

Be willing to change your plans if they aren’t working, even if it’s going to cost you.

Avoid travelling on spring break and holidays.

We rarely vacation on holidays and spring break. Places are just too crowded and busy. If you can avoid it, take your vacation during an off-time.

This isn’t always possible depending on school and work schedules, but sometimes kids are able to miss a few days of school for vacation, especially if they are younger.

Teach your child self regulation and to use their words when struggling

I think this one is really important. The best thing we can do for our kids is help them to self regulate. Give them tools that help them.

So that means, if they are in a place that is overwhelming them, they learn to say to you, “Can we go somewhere quiet for a little bit? I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Or they use techniques that help them like sitting at the back of a room farther from the speakers when at a show or presentation.

My child is almost 14 now and for the most part he can now self regulate. If it’s too much for him he will tell us. He’s also learned how to handle more because it’s not always possible to leave a situation.

Just recently we went to a hockey game and as we walked through the crowds to get to our seat I could see he was a bit overwhelmed, but is old enough to understand that once he sat down he’d be okay and could enjoy his favorite sport. He loved it so much he wants to go back.

Other ways to help your sensory affected child

As they grow, helping them manage their sensory overload goes a long way when it comes to future family vacations. Here’s a couple coping strategies for sensory processing disorder, or just sensory sensitivities in general.

Limit the use of noise canceling headphones

Okay, this one might be controversial, but I believe limiting the use of noise canceling headphones has helped our child manage his sensory issues. We only used them in extremely loud circumstances, like a demolition derby.

He now doesn’t ever use them as he’s gotten older.  There are times it can become useful, but honestly, I think kids with sensory issues have a hard enough time fitting in with the kids around him that I didn’t want to make it more difficult. 

While I generally encourage my kids to not do things just to fit in, I also don’t want to purposefully make them stand out.  However, there were times the headphones were necessary as I said above and so we used them at times.

When they want to go do something in a crowd that you know will be challenging, let them go.

This one, I’ll fully admit is hard for me. Sometimes our kids want to do something and we aren’t sure they can handle it. We know it’ll be too loud, too busy, too crowded for them. But I think it’s important to let them go.  It’s the way we help them grow.

This past summer my child wanted to go to summer camp. I am not gonna lie, I was nervous wreck. I knew it would be loud and crowded and it would be difficult for him.  

But I also knew there would be parts he loved. And so I let him go.

There WERE parts that were challenging for him, but the other parts were so fun that despite the tough moments he wants to go back this summer. And you know what? I’m still nervous for him to go again, but at least a little less so this time around.

Eventually our children with sensory issues will have to navigate the world without us and if we can prepare them with that in little while they are under our roof it be easier. Plus, it helps for future vacations. Each time gets just a little easier.


If your child has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, or hasn’t been officially diagnosed but you are pretty sure they have sensory issues, our job as parents is to help them learn how to navigate a world that wasn’t really built for them.  That’s okay though, because there are ways they can go to school, work, play, and vacation that fills their souls instead of draining them.

I am in awe of how my almost 14 year old has grown over the years, especially the last few.  We discovered where he thrived and where he struggled.  We lightly pushed him out of his comfort zone in some areas, and made sure to accommodate in other areas.  I believe that balance has really helped him.  He’s growing in confidence and strength, and has become really great at self-regulating.

So, make some changes, but take the vacation and make the memories.  You and your child won’t regret it.


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