Travelling with children with disabilities

Travelling can be challenging, unpredictable, and yet so rewarding – often a combination of all three!

If you are travelling with children with disabilities, additional planning can help make the experience a positive one for both children and adults.

Travel requires good preparation and research, regardless of whether you are travelling domestically or internationally. Undoubtedly parents/caregivers of children with disabilities will be good planners already. If your travel plans include working with a travel agent, spend time discussing the interests and needs or your child/ren. For example, if your child has autism it may be helpful to provide the travel agent with some basic information about communication and sensory challenges and developing a travel related visual alongside your child may be worth considering. Those with children with physical disabilities may need to focus more on accessibility to destinations, any aids required and accommodation needs.  Always think about any medication and/or dietary requirements when deciding on how and where to travel. Remember if you are using a travel agent, they are working for you not the other way around!!

Some ideas to consider:

If you are flying. These are likely to be covered if you are using a travel agent.

  • Request a seat close to the front of the plane and near the bathroom
  • Think about boarding – generally families with children board first (does this meet your child’s needs? – if you think it’s better that they board last discuss with the travel agent and/or boarding staff at the boarding gate)
  • Discuss the needs of your child with the flight attendant/s (providing you are comfortable sharing information) as this may make them more responsive should you need any assistance during the flight

If you are travelling by car. Most of these suggestions are common sense.

  • Sit in the back with your child if possible (this is easier on the adult also as they will not have to keep turning around to interact/attend to the child)
  • Allow plenty of time for travel and have regular breaks
  • Think about your travel route and timings to maximise enjoyable stops along the way that fit in with any routines or special interests your child may have

The below article is written by a father with two children with special needs.  It is helpful and positive.   While based on his experiences in the United States largely relating to flying, it includes useful messages that may resonate with many parents/caregivers.

Our national airline, Air New Zealand, have information and support for children and other travellers relating primarily to physical and sensory disabilities.  This indicates the need to communicate early and clearly with travel agents and/or airlines and staff should your child have a disability outside of these parameters as it should not exclude them from having a positive experience travelling.

Other considerations: 

  • Have a travel ‘goody bag’.  Contents could include: iPad, colouring books/crayons, stickers, water, snacks and reading books.
  • Prepare a one-page document with key information on your child eg. diagnosis, allergies, medications, communication ability
  • Pack a child’s ‘special item’ to ensure they have something familiar with them during their travels
  • Make sure your itinerary has plenty of down time to enable rest and relaxation as well as activities
  • Make the most of adaptive aids such as walkers, strollers, wheelchairs as travelling can be tiring and aids can be helpful for travelling even if not necessary at home


Travel provides a range of exciting opportunities for both exploration and relaxation.  It is possible to provide children with a range of disabilities a variety of interesting travel experiences.  Planning, cooperation with others and patience are the key factors for a successful trip.


• Hamed, H.  (2013).  Tourism and autism:  An initiative study for how travel companies can plan tourism trips for autistic people.  American Journal of Tourism Management.  2 (1) 1-14.

• Neo, W., & Flaherty, G.  (2019).  Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Travel.  International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health.  7 (1) 1-3.

Julie Peake
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