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Packing Tips

Packing for any trip, whether it’s a day trip, weekend trip or extended stay journey, is challenging and can be frustrating when you have an autistic child.

If you are flying, then it is important to decide if your goal is to carry on your bags or check them. If you decide you are checking bags then you don’t have the same restrictions around security, however you have committed to waiting on long lines both at check in and at baggage claim. Also with the new fees imposed by airlines this might also mean additional costs (not to mention the possibility of lost baggage!).

After having a tough time at the airport many years ago when we had checked bags, we made the family commitment that we would always carry on our luggage. Because of this, we hope to share some of our tips to maximize packing a carry on bag while remaining well within the airline and security regulations around carry on luggage. For more information on this go to http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel

Also be sure your carry on bag meets the size requirements for your particular airline. Some airlines not only have a size but a weight limit. For more information please click on Travel Links.

Our Carry On Bag Goals:

  1. organize clothing around color themes to mix and match
  2. use footwear that is multipurpose
  3. pack toiletries and medicines that are under 3oz and fit in quart size zip lock bags (as per the security regulations)
  4. back activities that are
  • lightweight
  • self contained
  • not messy

Let’s briefly look at each of these goals:


This is probably the most challenging part for any of us. In order for this to work you must be able to commit, in advance, to a series of “out fits” and commit to a color scheme that allows you to mix and match to achieve both casual and less casual attire in a variety of temperatures. Granted, packing for a warm climate is the easiest and if you are going on an adventure vacation, especially a ski vacation, you will probably have to check bags because of the sheer volume of clothing and equipment required for this sort of trip. However even with checked bags, you should carefully organize a carry on bag that can get you through a day or so in case the bags don’t make it to your destination at the same time that you do!

Layers work best for allowing you to add on or take off clothing as the climate might vary. Clothing that can be washed out/hand washed and is no iron, also important in case you want to freshen up your wardrobe. Another tactic is to pack clothing that you were planning to give away and leave it behind in the local good will donation box–that way you have room in your bag for something new or a souvenir!


Choosing footwear that is “multi purpose” might sound odd but think about it. If you are going to do a lot of walking, chose either a hiking sandal or a hiking sneaker instead of packing both a day sandal and a hiking shoe…this is just one example of “multi purpose”. Shoes take up a lot of room in a bag. Always wear the heaviest or bulkiest shoe on the plane to maximize space in the carry on bag. There are a lot of hiking sandals on the market now that are both comfortable and could easily double as a day sandal.

Toiletries and Meds

This has become more of a challenge in the past several years with the new security regulations around liquids. Until recently our child did not swallow pills so all the meds we carried had to be liquids. You can purchase plastic bottles that hold the maximum of 3oz. We also have found that more and more the pharmaceutical firms are coming out with travel friendly sizes. Here are a few that we have used:

  • Robitussin , “To go cough and Cold CF”, 10 single doses .34 oz each: doses are in small plastic tubes with a built in spoon applicator
  • Children’s liquid Motrin, comes in 2 floz bottles
  • Children’s Benadryl and Children’s Mucinex come in “melt in your mouth” portions that are small and easy to pack

In addition to these meds, other toiletries that you might find helpful:

  • OFF Family Care towelette for insect repellant, 12 individually wrapped toweletes each is .0123oz
  • Instant itch relief anti-itch spray comes in .17 flo oz “pen like” spray topical analgesic for relief of itching and pain with cuts, rashes bites
  • Forehead thermometer, Fever Scan strips , reusable also

Once you have made the commitment to carry on bags we think you will be surprised how easy it can be to actually carry on everything you need. We have traveled for as long as two weeks with just carry on bags!


Probably the most important part of your packing is ensuring that your child has activities to do while on the trip. Whether it is down time in the hotel room or waiting in an airport or waiting in a restaurant–it is important to have activities ready for your child that will be engaging and keep your child from feeling overwhelmed by the new environment and potential sensory issues. Activities must be self contained–that is be sure that everything your child needs to complete the activity is included in the kit–you don’t want to find yourself searching for a craft store while on vacation! In many cases the activity is not only self contained but has it’s own carry case–this is wonderful for ensuring that pieces are not lost during your trip.

Also we have found that limiting the projects to those that can be completed while away is helpful. This allows your child to feel a sense of accomplishment–it also gives you the option of leaving it behind if you find that space is an issue and it isn’t something that you would save. Finally, try to stay away from messy projects. Not only will you run the risk of having to pay for damages you will also run into the same restrictions on liquids if you decide to bring a project/kit that has paint in it.

Specific products we have used can be found in the Products section of the web site.


Packing is a challenge however if you follow our tips you might find the trip more enjoyable because you will have:

  1. minimized the time spent in lines at the airport
  2. minimized the time in the security lines if you have followed the carry on rules
  3. maximized your child’s fun by having a variety of activities