Blog — Big Feelings in Little Bodies

Sensory Friendly Travel Tips

5 tips to help make travel a little easier for your little one (and therefore you ☺). 


 BY Dr. Allie Ticktin

July 19th, 2024

One of the most exciting parts of being a parent is getting to introduce the world to your little one! Bringing them to places that bring back the feelings of nostalgia and experiencing new cultures with your child is one of the most special experiences. It can also be quite difficult, especially for kiddos who have sensory needs. Traveling brings on new smells, foods, noises, sounds, people, and of course, unexpected chaos (travel delays anyone?). 


1. Prepare, prepare, prepare 

Before going on the trip, read your child books about where you are going. Create visual schedules with the plan for your vacation (remember, the unexpected can be very unsettling for little ones). On this visual schedule you want to include pictures and can cross off each destination as you arrive. Get specific, for example, 1st the airport 2nd an airplane ride to Dallas 3rd a second airplane ride to Orlando etc. This will help especially on long travel days that feel never ending to little ones. Go over the schedule each morning on the trip. This does not have to be fancy! Grab a white board and a marker…. Write it with stick figures on the white board. 

For travel days, bring simple games that you can use anywhere like Wikki Stix or Melissa and Doug invisible ink craft set. 


2. Bring headphones, calming music and body tools

If your child becomes overstimulated, a cozy/ private space may not always be available. Instead, use a pair of headphones, a calming playlist and a body tool. I love the calm kids playlist on Spotify. Find a spot to take a break (could even be in a booth at a restaurant or under a tree at a park) and put on the headphones while they use the body tool (i.e. theraputty, stress ball, etc). Allow your child to take time to empty their cup while they take a break before moving onto the next activity. 


3. Don’t over schedule 

It can be tempting to pack the schedule and make sure you don’t miss a thing, but this can also be overstimulating. Instead of overpacking the schedule, decide on your must-sees and build in a midday reset every day. This is your time to go back to your hotel or a quiet spot and have quiet time to help empty very filled cups and get ready for an exciting second half of the day. An hour of quiet can go a long way. Try to stay away from screens during this time and instead read books or do quiet play. 


4. When you need, fall back on comfort foods instead of trying new foods

A big trigger on trips can be food. Especially when traveling to a new country, the food may be unfamiliar to your little one. While trying new foods is frequently the highlight of any trip for us adults, for children this can be very difficult. If your little one is already having a difficult day or anxious about trying new foods, bring along some safe snacks. Present them with new foods, allowing them to try if they would like while also offering them a familiar food. Without the pressure to try a new food, they may surprise you and decide to try it!


5. Allow choice 

Allowing choice will help your child feel they have more autonomy over what is happening. This is especially important when going through the unexpected (which we know is frequently the case when traveling). The choice can be simple and keeping it minimal (no more than 2 options) is important. Your little one will be excited that they get to choose something and feel a greater sense of control.

Most of all, remember travel is all about the fun! Every vacation will have stressful moments, delays and unexpected happenings, but you will not remember these moments. You will remember the moments you are creating and each new experience.