by Jacquelyn Nause
We hear you — few things sound less relaxing or restorative than a vacation with the whole family. For kids with anxiety or attention issues, changing your normal routine could spell disaster. But with a little preparation and the right location, you can have the relaxing, bonding experience that you want from your family vacation.
Many vacations geared toward kids can be too loud, too crowded or just too different from their routine. However, there are many steps you can take to help your vacation go as smoothly as possible.
Best Vacation Destinations for Kids
A location that might work for one child may not work for another, so we have included a variety of options for every taste and budget.
©Mat Hayward / Adobe Stock
There are few vacations quite as perfect for kids with special behavioral needs. Camping offers a quiet atmosphere and natural beauty at a very budget-friendly price. Not to mention that spending time in nature has many positive effects on anxiety and mental health. Family-friendly campgrounds offer a range of amenities for every taste. National parks offer a chance to explore monuments and natural phenomena like hot springs and caves. If you’re lucky, you may even get to observe local wildlife.
©olgasparrow / Adobe Stock
2. Indoor Water Parks
With over a dozen locations around the country, Great Wolf Lodge is a fine destination for family vacations. These family-friendly, affordable destinations are geared toward keeping everyone in your family happy throughout your stay. The rustic-themed hotels offer everything you need to be happy on site for the duration of your vacation. Multiple restaurants, splash pads and water slides, hot tubs, and kid caves will keep the whole family entertained.
©wckiw/ Adobe Stock
3. Theme Park Resorts
Crowded theme parks probably seem like a terrible choice for families with children who have anxiety or attention issues, but many parks have taken steps to provide assistance and accommodations for those with special needs. At Disney Parks, staff and cast members are trained to assist children with sensory or accessibility issues. Most theme parks offer front-of-line passes if you provide a doctor’s note. Contact guest services to discuss your family’s situation and come up with a plan that will best accommodate the needs of your children.
4. Cruise Ships
Like theme parks, some resorts and cruise lines have taken additional steps to train their staff. They offer unique amenities for families with special needs. Sensory-related toys, autism-friendly movies, and modified kids programs are offered at Beaches Resorts as well as on Royal Caribbean Cruises. Resorts and cruises offer full-service, controlled environment for families, and additional staff training goes a long way toward creating a safe and understanding atmosphere for your child.
©gbbrowning / Adobe Stock
5. Anywhere in Austin, Texas
The city of Austin has great amenities for families with special needs. Austin’s Wyndham Garden Hotel has “thoughtful rooms” that are located in quieter areas and appointed with baskets stocked with games and snacks, special safety features and cleaned with non-chemical products. Around town activities such as the Austin Nature Center, Thinkery Children’s Museum and the Austin Aquarium offer family-friendly fun. The Barton Springs Pool and miles of hiking and biking trails around the city are ideal for enjoying the outdoors during your stay.
Set Them Up for Success
Anxious kids like to know what’s happening every step of the way. Take time each morning to preview the day for them and give frequent updates throughout the day letting them know about upcoming transitions and what to expect. Lots of communication about the schedule and activities will help kids feel in the know, helping to keep anxiety at bay.
Be sure to overprepare when packing for vacation as well as for outings each day. Anticipating your child’s needs, pack a bag with anything you may want throughout the day. Snacks, water, extra clothes and headphones or earplugs are good things to have on hand. If they’re willing, it is a good idea to pack a small backpack for your child to carry so they have access to anti-anxiety tools like a favorite book or comfort item. For some children, giving them a job to do, like taking photos, will help keep them engaged and content.
When bedtime arrives, new environments can cause all sorts of issues. Pack any items from home that your child needs at bedtime, such as a stuffed animal, blanket, fan or nightlight. Keeping their bedtime routine as normal as possible will help ease them into sleep.
Jacquelyn Nause is a contributing writer with specialties in plant-based diets, parenting, and wellness. She enjoys traveling with her husband, being a doting mother to her two incredible kids and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest playground.