Special Needs Vacation Tips and Tricks

A special needs vacation requires a little extra planning. Trish Shaeffer shares her tips for making the beach and camping fun for kids with special needs.

School’s out, summer’s here, and it’s time to make vacation plans. Guest blogger Trish Shaeffer is here with field tested tips and tricks for a special needs vacation everyone in the family will enjoy.

Special Needs Vacation Tips and Tricks

Everyday life with a special needs child is full of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but summer vacation time can bring a whole new meaning to “multi-tasking.” To make vacation time planning a little easier, here are some special needs vacation tips and tricks I have used over the years. Feel free to use one, use them all or even add some of your own in the comment box below.

We usually travel by car which brings its own sense of adventure. It’s good to note that during any car ride for longer than an hour or two, it’s good to pull over, take a break and have everyone stretch their legs. We have had some adventures at truck stops, gas stations, and rest stops along the way to our destination. But the most important tip is to always have fun. With that said, here we go!

Special Needs Vacation Beach Tips

Tired of carrying a heavy umbrella to the beach? You can buy clip-on umbrellas that work great for strollers and, yes, even wheelchairs. I found our umbrella at a beach store. No more heavy umbrella to carry to the beach and it’s adjustable.

Tired of getting sand all over your towel or blanket? Just bring along a fitted crib or bed sheet. Use coolers to hold up the corners for no more buried beach blanket. To remove sand from feet and hands, use baby powder and brush sand away.

Beach not handicapped accessible? Use a wagon or boogie board to pull your child to the water or around the beach. This will work depending on the size and balance of your child. Alex loves going for a ride to the water.

A few other beach tips.

  • Freeze water bottles or juice bottles before going to beach. By the time you get there, your drinks are just thawing out and cold to drink.
  • To keep medications cool, place them in a Ziploc or water tight bag, and tape it to the inside lid of an ice cooler. This works for epi pens too. Make sure to follow instructions for temperature storage for medication.
Special Needs Vacation Camping Tips

Need a child-size air mattress for half the cost? Use inflatable pool mats for the kids to sleep on while camping.

Have a wanderer on your hands? Have them wear bright colors so you can easily locate them. You can also hang small bells on tent zippers so you will know when the tent is being opened. Install a buddy system; have siblings pair up to keep each other safe. For extra safety, put a GPS tracker on your child. Many sync right to your cell phone and are small enough to fit on wrists or even shoes.

Too hot outside? Place wet wash cloths in Ziploc bags and place on ice in a cooler until needed. Place the cloths on the back of your child’s neck to cool them down on a hot day.

Want to avoid bathroom disasters? Make sure to get a beach or camping spot close to the bathrooms. Or bring a travel potty seat to make it easier for your child. We found one for our son that adapts nicely and has handles for him to balance.

A few other camping tips.

  • Get a campsite with electrical outlets for any equipment you bring along such as a nebulizer or feeding pump.
  • Always have a first aid kit when traveling and extra blankets. Also bring any chargers or car chargers you need.
  • Nap mats and yoga mats work great if you are out at the campsite and you child needs some tummy time.
  • Bring a spray bottle with water and mint mixture. Spray on your child to keep them cool and to keep the bugs away.
  • Test tick guards on small site to check a reaction. Always check with your child’s healthcare provider before using natural remedies and essential oils. Also ask what percentage of DEET should be in your child’s bug spray.
  • Bring noise-cancelling head phones for loud attractions or hand dryers in the bathroom. If you child is like mine, the headphones are a must against the wicked hand dryer.

Last but least, just in case you forgot….have fun with your family on your special needs vacation adventures!

Trish Shaeffer mom of 3 active boys, a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins who were born 2 months early and have special needs. She’s a peer supporter for Parent to Parent and volunteers with the United Cerebral Palsy Network, Special Olympics, and the United Way. She’s also an equine volunteer at Leg Up Farm. She’s married to her best friend and biggest supporter, Chris Schaeffer.



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A special needs vacation requires a little extra planning. Trish Shaeffer shares her tips for making the beach and camping fun for kids with special needs.




1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Wright Stephanie Wright
    June 22, 2017    

    These are great tips! I have used a few like freezing the water bottles before but the others are new & fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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