My favorite vacation planning tips for special needs families were put to good use this past January and February. Our original idea was a 3 generation trip to Disney World over spring break. Due to some health issues we weren’t sure would be resolved beforehand and because we wanted maximum enjoyment and many good memories for the grandkids, one of whom lives with autism, anxiety, and ADHD, we decided to vacay closer to home. These 10 planning tips helped us make spring break the happiest place on earth for everyone in our family.

Tip #1

Less is more. Choosing a destination that was a drivable distance meant less money spent on travel and more to spend on fun attractions, as well as more time enjoying them Less travel time also meant less cranky kids when we arrived at our destination.

Tip #2

Research, research, research. This allowed us to find lodging that best met our family members’ needs and our budget. It also helped us compile a list of kid and disability-friendly attractions in different possible destinations so we could make the best choice for our family. You can do the same for your family so everyone can participate fully.

Tip #3

Book a rental home instead of a hotel. Rental homes tend to provide family gathering spaces and quiet areas where kids with sensory issues can recharge and avoid meltdowns. Food can be refrigerated and/or prepared for those with special dietary needs. Laundry facilities are often available––a godsend for kids with special toileting needs. Rental homes are often cheaper than hotels, too. A favorite feature in our rental was a clean and airy basement where the kids could go to rough house and be as noisy as their hearts’ desired.

Tip #4

Ask the kids what attractions they want to visit. After we chose our destination, we showed the grandkids videos of several attractions we could visit. They watched intently and asked several questions before giving their input. Some of their choices surprised us, but we honored them. They felt invested in the process. Seeing the videos beforehand lowered our anxious grandchild’s anxiety and increased his confidence as we entered each new place.

Tip #5

Pace yourselves. My tendency is to pack as much into each day as I can. Because, well, who knows when we’ll get back here and a desire to get maximum bang for my buck. My daughter had a different idea. She suggested choosing only one location to visit per day (always in the afternoon)  so the kids would have time to decompress on either side of it. The slower pace resulted in zero vacation meltdowns and many happy memories.

Image from @ralppie on Unsplash

Tip #6

Eat restaurant meals at lunchtime and get there early. Our lunch reservations were always for 11. Lazy mornings at our rental gave the grands time to sleep in, eat a good breakfast, and play in the mornings. They were hungry, but not too hungry when we arrived at the restaurant. The servers took our orders and returned with our food quickly––another plus of early arrivals. Once we’d eaten our fill, we dropped off leftovers at the rental and were on our way to our planned activity between noon and 12:30.

Tip #7

Pack snack bags. During our lazy mornings, I asked the kids what 3 snacks they wanted in their afternoon snack bags. One had to be fruit or carrot sticks. The others were free choice. We put them in a back pack along with their water bottles. We took a formal snack break if the afternoon excursion was several hours. For shorter excursions, they snacked during the drive back to where we were staying. This was the other reason our vacay was meltdown free

Tip #8

Plan a down day. As in a day without any planned activities, other than eating lunch at a restaurant. We scheduled our do nothing day halfway through the vacation. The kids had already visited the park down the street almost every morning or late afternoon for a short while. During our down day, they played there for an hour. Later in the afternoon they and their dad came along when my husband and I field tripped to the IKEA just down the road. They enjoyed the entire experience and were totally enchanted playing house in the kids’ room displays. 

Tip #9

Take board games. Our down day would have been even better had we brought along the kids’ favorite games. They asked if we could play Sorry or Uno, but we hadn’t thought to bring them. Next time, we’ll know better.

Tip #10

Be flexible. Our research turned up more attractions than we could hit in a week, including an immersive children’s picture book museum that opened during spring break. That discovery came in handy when one of our top picks looked over-crowded. Instead of getting bent out of shape, we did a quick pivot and snagged tickets to The Rabbit Hole. It was enchanting, and we all had a wonderful time.

I hope you find this list of favorite vacation planning trips for special needs families helpful. You’re invited to share your best planning tips in the comment box. Your idea might be the one that helps another family impacted by disability plan their best vacation ever!

Jolene Philo is the author of several books for the caregiving community. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She’s also the creator and host of the Different Dream website. Sharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman, was released in August of 2019 and is available at local bookstores, their bookstore website, and Amazon. See Jane Dance!, the third book in the West River cozy mystery series, which features characters affected by disability, was released in October of 2023. The audio version of Book 1, See Jane Run!, was released in November of 2023.

Jolene Philo will be speaking at our Disability & the Church 2024 Conference. Go to to register now and see her there1

Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry