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Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

Hi, I'm Jill!

I’m a mama-in-training of a highly sensitive son. I love yoga pants, dungeness crab season, and working from my San Francisco flat in my PJs. My mission? To help other mamas raise a thriving highly sensitive child without losing their ever-lovin’ minds!

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Planning the perfect family getaway when you have a highly sensitive child might seem like navigating through uncharted waters. Really, finding out what suits your child best and planning ahead is the name of the game here. From choosing the right destination to packing sensory aids, creating an environment where your child feels safe and comfortable is key. This guide will walk you through essential tips and sensory strategies for road trips.

Woman pointing at a paper map

Crafting the Ultimate Sensory-Friendly Road Trip Plan

Ah, the family road trip. A time-honored tradition filled with sing-alongs, snack stops, and sibling squabbles. But for those with sensory processing challenges, long car rides can be a recipe for sensory overload.

Fear not, my fellow sensory sensitive travelers. With a little pre-planning and the right tools, you can turn that dreaded road trip into a sensory-friendly adventure. Let’s explore some strategies to make your next long car ride enjoyable for everyone, especially those highly sensitive children.

Incorporating Sensory Strategies for a Smooth Journey

The key to a successful sensory-friendly road trip? A solid sensory diet. This means using sensory tools and activities to support individuals with processing challenges during travel.

Start by creating a sensory story to talk about the trip in advance. Let your child know the plan for the trip, what will happen and when. Use this travel sensory story to guide the use of sensory tools during the road trip. Pack preferred sensory items that can be placed in the vehicle or alongside the child for easy access.

Don’t forget about movement breaks. Plan out stops in advance so you know when the next opportunity for stretching and sensory input will be. If possible, choose stops with playgrounds or open spaces for running and playing.

Selecting the Right Sensory Tools for Your Trip

When it comes to choosing effective sensory aids for your road trip, think about items that provide comfort and sensory input. Weighted blankets and lap pads can offer calming proprioceptive input during long periods of sitting.

Noise-canceling headphones are a must for filtering out unwanted noise and creating a more tranquil environment. Fidget toys, chewable jewelry, and oral motor tools like straws or chewing gum can also help with sensory regulation.

Consider creating a portable sensory kit with favorite toys, blankets, or items that provide comfort and familiarity on the go. Having these tools readily available can make all the difference in preventing sensory overload.

Pre-planning the trip with everyone involved encourages collaboration and excitement among fellow travelers.

Three children and their mother splashing at the beach

Engaging Activities to Break the Monotony of Long Drives

Let’s face it, even the most scenic routes can get boring after a while. Keeping passengers entertained and engaged with a variety of activities can transform a tedious journey into an adventure.

Creative Car Games for Family Fun

Who needs screens when you’ve got good old-fashioned car games? Engage your child in fun and interactive games that require minimal equipment but promise maximum entertainment for all ages.

Classic games like I Spy, 20 Questions, and the License Plate Game are always a hit. You can also try storytelling games where each person adds a sentence to create a silly tale. Or play “Would You Rather” with a sensory twist – “Would you rather touch slimy spaghetti or crunchy leaves?”

The Role of Heavy Work Activities During Stops

When it’s time for a break, don’t just settle for a quick bathroom stop. Utilize rest stops for heavy work activities that provide necessary motor input.

Encourage kids to do jumping jacks, push-ups, or wall pushes. Have a family race or play tag in a safe area. Even carrying a heavy backpack or pushing a stroller can provide helpful proprioceptive input.

Carrying a mix of books, music, video games, and other activities keeps passengers engaged and creates shared moments.

Rest stops are your friend on a long road trip. They offer a chance to stretch, refresh, and explore. But with a little planning, you can make the most out of every stop on your journey.

Planning Your Stops with Sensory Needs in Mind

When choosing rest stops, look for ones that offer opportunities for both relaxation and exploration suitable for sensory-sensitive travelers. Parks, nature trails, or even a quiet corner of a rest area can provide a much-needed sensory break.

Allow extra time at each stop for sensory-friendly activities. This might mean a few minutes of deep pressure with a weighted lap pad, a quick sensory diet routine, or simply time to decompress in a safe space.

Making frequent stops during a long journey allows for stretching, rejuvenation, and exploration of hidden gems along the route.

Ensuring Comfort in Small Spaces

Let’s talk about creating a comfortable and accommodating environment within the confines of your vehicle. Because let’s be real, no matter how many stops you make, you’ll still be spending a lot of time in those car seats.

Customizing Car Seats for Optimal Comfort

For those with sensory sensitivities, long periods of sitting can be a challenge. But with a few adjustments and accessories, you can make car seats more bearable.

Consider using a weighted lap pad or seat cushion for added proprioceptive input. Fidget toys attached to the seat can provide tactile stimulation. And don’t forget about proper positioning – adjust headrests, lumbar support, and seat angles for optimal comfort.

Offering a variety of snacks and drinks promotes socializing and bonding among attendees at gatherings or events.

A family sitting in front of their RV in lawn chairs and singing.

The Importance of Bringing Familiar Items from Home

In the midst of all the newness and excitement of a road trip, familiar items can be a grounding force. They serve as a calming influence during travel and provide a sense of security in new environments.

Creating a Portable Sensory Kit

One way to bring the comforts of home on the road is by creating a portable sensory kit. This personalized collection of favorite toys, blankets, or items provides comfort and sensory input on the go.

Include things like a weighted stuffed animal, a soft blanket with a familiar scent, or a favorite chew toy. Having these items readily available can help soothe and regulate during moments of overwhelm.

Planning together fosters team-building skills and strengthens relationships.

Managing Screen Time and Electronic Use on Road Trips

In today’s digital age, it’s easy to rely on screens for entertainment during long car rides. But for those with sensory processing challenges, finding a balance between digital engagement and other forms of stimulation is crucial.

Introducing Audio Books as an Alternative

One way to keep minds engaged without relying solely on visual screens is by introducing audio books. These are a great activity that allows for imagination and learning while giving eyes a break from screens.

Choose age-appropriate books with engaging narration and storylines. You can even have family members take turns selecting books or chapters, making it a collaborative experience.

Noise-canceling headphones can help filter out unwanted noise and provide a more tranquil environment.

Key Takeaway: 

Turn road trips into sensory-friendly adventures with pre-planning, the right tools, and engaging activities. Pack a portable sensory kit, plan movement breaks with heavy work activities, and keep everyone entertained without relying solely on screens. This approach ensures comfort and fun for travelers with sensory processing challenges.

FAQs in Relation to Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

How do you drive with sensory issues?

To drive with sensory issues, use aids like noise-reducing headphones and adjust the environment inside your vehicle to reduce overload.

What are sensory based strategies?

Sensory-based strategies include activities or tools that help manage how we process sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, balance, and body awareness.

How do you travel when you are highly sensitive?

Highly sensitive people should plan ahead when travelling. Choose quiet times to travel and bring familiar items to soothe nerves.


In essence, crafting a memorable vacation with sensitivity in mind isn’t just possible; it’s within reach with thoughtful preparation and understanding of your child’s needs. By selecting destinations wisely, incorporating breaks effectively, embracing sensory tools, and ensuring comfort at every step of the journey – we pave the way for joy-filled adventures that cater to everyone in the family. 

Remember, when planning your sensory-friendly travel, consider the following:

  • Create a sensory diet specifically for the trip, including calming and alerting activities
  • Plan for extra time at stops to allow for sensory breaks and regulation
  • Bring familiar items from home to provide comfort and security in new environments
  • Use weighted lap pads, noise-canceling headphones, and other sensory tools to manage sensory input
  • Incorporate heavy work activities during stops to provide necessary proprioceptive input
  • Offer a variety of engaging activities to prevent boredom and overstimulation

Keep in mind, every child’s sensory needs are unique. What works for one may not work for another. Be patient, flexible, and open to trying new strategies. With a little preparation and a lot of love, you can create a road trip experience that’s enjoyable for the whole family, sensory challenges and all.

Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

Jill Gilbert

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