Tackle Family Vacation Anxiety With Slow Travel and Sensory Play

June 26, 2024

tackling vacation anxiety

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Vacation anxiety can turn a dream family trip into a stressful ordeal. With these strategies for family travel, set yourself up for a smooth journey for parents and kids alike.

Traveling with kids is our favorite thing – Mango Tree exists to encourage you to book family trips with confidence and to show your kids the world.  But family travel comes with challenges, especially when traveling with an anxious child (or anxious parents!). 

Many families, our clients included, experience some form of vacation anxiety, which can lead to sleep disruption before and during the trip, crankiness, poor appetite, and overall exhaustion. These symptoms can make what should be a fun and memorable trip feel overwhelming. Understanding and addressing travel anxiety and how it can impact children can greatly improve the overall travel experience. 

In this post, we’ll explore practical tips to help parents manage family vacation anxiety, with a focus on highlighting the benefits of slow travel with kids, and how tuning into sensory needs can be a game changer. 

To bring you the best tips, we’ve collaborated with Kaitlin Malaspina, CEO of Pitch A Fête , a family experience company that believes in the power of sensory play to nurture young minds. Throughout this article, we’ll share her expert insights on how sensory play can reduce travel anxiety and make family trips more enjoyable. 

Whether you’re specifically traveling with an anxious child, or just looking to create a calm, sensory-friendly travel environment for your family, these tips will help you get in the right headspace and take your family travel to the next level. 

traveling with an anxious child

Understanding Travel Anxiety In Children 

Travel anxiety can sneak up on kids in surprising and different ways, and it’s not always easy to spot. It’s easy to reframe anxious behavior in kids as bad behavior that needs correction, rather than behavior that needs to be met with compassion and understanding. 

The causes of travel anxiety are different for everyone. You might notice your child talking a lot about a particular part of the trip, like the flight. This could be a sign they’re nervous. If they aren’t eating much on vacation, it might be because they’re out of their routine and feeling unsettled. Other common signs of travel anxiety in kids include difficulty sleeping, crankiness, and irritability.

This type of anxiety often arises from the unfamiliarity of new places and the disruption of routines. We can teach our kids through travel to navigate uncomfortable and also thrilling situations. But as with many growth experiences, especially at the beginning, kids need our guidance. 

Not all signs of vacation anxiety need to be addressed – sometimes, it’s OK just to let your kid eat grilled cheese for a week if that makes them feel grounded on vacation.  But some children might express their anxiety in more extreme or disruptive ways, such as by withdrawing from family activities or refusing to leave a hotel room. Understanding these behaviors as potential signs of travel anxiety can help you address the behavior and ease your children’s worries to help them enjoy the adventures. 

Traveling with an anxious child 

An Emerging Family Travel Concept: Sensory Friendly Travel 

There are lots of strategies for minimizing travel anxiety, but one that we think is often overlooked – and that merits more attention as more and more families prioritize shared travel experiences – is sensory awareness and prioritizing sensory regulation during travel with kids

Paying attention to each family member’s sensory needs can make a huge difference in your overall travel enjoyment. 

When you’re traveling, think about how you and your children interact with the world around you.  Each person has different ways of taking in sights, sounds, physical touch, tastes, and smells.  Travel delights the senses, but can also be individually tailored to match your families’ needs. 

Sensory-friendly travel isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Every family is a unique blend of personalities and sensory preferences – both neurotypical and neurodivergent members experience the world in their own way. Sensory-friendly travel is about understanding those preferences and creating experiences that minimize overwhelm and maximize comfort for everyone. – Kaitlin, CEO of Pitch A Fête

When we spoke to Kaitlin, she offered a concrete example of how tuning into each family member’s senses can improve the overall travel experience: Imagine a museum visit where the whole family is engaged – the little one with sensory sensitivities has a calming fidget toy, while the older sibling tackles a scavenger hunt through the exhibits. Suddenly, a museum trip becomes a shared adventure, fostering lasting memories for all. 

That’s the magic of sensory-friendly travel – it allows every member of the family to truly enjoy the experience, creating a foundation for positive memories.

Vacation anxiety 

How To Ease Vacation Anxiety With Sensory Awareness and Play 

Sensory-friendly travel sounds great in the abstract, but the key is learning practical tips for implementing this approach to family travel, and in particular to help smooth the road when traveling with an anxious child.  Apply these techniques as you embark on your next family adventure! 

Research and Select Sensory-Friendly Accommodations 

Finding the right accommodation can make a world of difference when traveling with kids, especially those who experience travel anxiety. And child-friendly hotels can mean so much more than hotels with nannies or kids’ clubs. Yes, parents deserve breaks on vacation.  But today’s parents also seek out meaningful travel experiences they can share with their kids, including at luxury hotels.  

Here are some tips on choosing the best hotels for sensory-friendly travel to elevate your own travel experiences. 

First, look for hotels with amenities that cater to children’s needs. Dedicated play areas, water features, and indoor playrooms are great for burning off energy and providing familiar spaces for play. Spacious rooms are also essential, as they allow for movement and relaxation, which can be crucial for children who might feel confined in smaller spaces.

Beyond the room, researching the hotel’s surroundings is key. “Look for hotels located near parks with diverse textures or green spaces where kids can explore freely,” Kaitlin tells us. “Proximity to calming environments can be a huge benefit for sensory processing.”

Some hotels offer sensory toys, white noise machines, or aromatherapy options in their rooms. These small touches can create a calming atmosphere that helps children (and parents) relax, helping everyone enjoy the hotel together

Luxury family hotels are increasingly focusing on sensory experiences as a way to enhance the experience of their family travelers – and Kaitlin of Pitch A Fête is helping them to do so.  Her innovative program, Camp Fête, empowers hotels to create immersive sensory and play experiences within their Kids Clubs. Kaitlin describes Camp Fête as a unique blend of pre-designed, interactive activities that go beyond standard coloring and playtime.

These workshops foster creativity and ignite imaginations through engaging themes and hands-on exploration. Kaitlin’s approach transforms the typical hotel Kids Club into a dynamic, sensory-friendly environment where children can thrive and families can enjoy their stay with peace of mind.

Ready to find a luxury hotel that truly priorities the needs of families? Work with Mango Tree for a custom trip plan that checks all the boxes for their needs, and yours

Use Sensory Play To Combat Travel Anxiety 

Once on the road, seek out local activities that offer sensory engagement can make your trip more enriching and enjoyable for kids, and keep family vacation anxiety at bay. Look for interactive museums, nature parks, local markets, and festivals. These experiences stimulate multiple senses and create memorable, educational moments for your children.

“Play is magic! It breaks the ice in new environments, helps kids burn off steam, and keeps everyone engaged,” Kaitlin says. Instead of packing a million toys, she emphasizes, think strategically. Airports and train stations offer endless opportunities for sensory play. Count the different colored planes, make up stories about the people you see, or have a quiet listening challenge to see who can hear the most unique sounds.

Pitch A Fête offers eco-friendly sensory kits for families who want to bring portable toys on the road to keep kids calm and grounded, without the bulk. They offer a variety of textures and activities, like mini dough sets and calming fidget toys, and also DIY Plush Pal Kits, which allow children to create cuddly companions for your family adventures. 

These kits spark creativity and provide comfort, making them ideal for families prioritizing slow travel where you have the time to enjoy these activities fully. By combining free sensory play opportunities with a few well-chosen activities, you can keep little hands and minds busy while minimizing the amount of stuff you need to pack.

Benefits of slow travel with kids 

Prioritize Sensory Breaks and Quiet Time

Travel days can be particularly stressful for kids, leading to crankiness and meltdowns. It’s essential to empathize with your children by seeing the world through their eyes and recognizing the challenges they face. Long lines, crowded spaces, and unfamiliar environments can be overwhelming and trigger manifestations of underlying vacation anxiety. Offering sensory breaks and quiet time can make a significant difference in managing these chaotic days.

So often in today’s world, we might think of quiet time as synonymous with iPad or screen time.  But do screens really offer our kids the sensory break they need? Sometimes, 30 minutes in a park away from city sounds might be a much better sensory experience.  

Studies even show that coloring, a simple and portable activity, can reduce anxiety significantly in adults – and the benefits are likely similar for kids! Always keep coloring activities on hand, and find a quiet restaurant corner for a glass of wine and a quick color when everyone needs a moment to reset.

Prioritize the sensory needs of all family members 

Vacation anxiety can impact children – but adults too. As parents, we are more likely to enjoy traveling with our kids if we reduce our own sensory overwhelm, and find time for the activities that bring us joy.  That’s why parent-friendly family travel is a huge part of our mission here at Mango Tree. 

As a parent, you can’t be expected to be at your best if you spend your entire vacation bouncing from kid activity to kid activity, with nothing to fill your cup. Balancing activities to cater to both parents’ and kids’ interests – and sensory preferences – is key to a stress-free family trip. 

Slow travel family 

The Benefits of Slow Travel For Families

Families are increasingly embracing slow travel to keep anxiety at a minimum. Slow travel emphasizes immersing oneself in the local culture, spending extended time in each location, and fostering meaningful connections with the people and places visited. This trend is driven by a shift in values, where travelers seek deeper, more authentic experiences over superficial sightseeing. 

Slow travel is expected to expand in 2025, and it is particularly appealing to families. This style of travel creates room for rest and routine while still offering enriching and memorable experiences.

Instead of bouncing from city to city, activity to activity, consider slowing down with your kids for an immersive farm stay, or a lazy beachfront hiatus, where it’s easier to implement some of the tips in this article for keeping family vacation anxiety at bay. 

By spending more time in one place, families can reduce the stress of constant movement, allowing children to adjust and feel comfortable in their surroundings. An unhurried approach means you can spend more time in each location, allowing your children to fully engage with their surroundings. 

This approach supports a more sustainable and enjoyable travel experience. It fosters a sense of connection and calm, revealing the benefits of slow travel for the whole family. 


Traveling with kids can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but it also comes with its challenges, especially when dealing with vacation anxiety. By embracing slow travel, families can transform these challenges into opportunities for deeper connections and memorable experiences. 

By prioritizing sensory-friendly environments and incorporating sensory play, families can significantly reduce travel anxiety and make the journey more enjoyable for everyone.

At Mango Tree Travel, we understand the unique needs of families traveling with children, one of the many benefits to bringing us on board. Whether you’re dealing with an anxious child or just looking to create a calm and engaging travel environment, our tailored travel planning services can help. We can help you craft slow travel experiences that cater to both parents’ and kids’ interests, ensuring a balanced and stress-free trip.

Don’t let vacation anxiety hold your family back from exploring the world. Let us help you plan a sensory-friendly and immersive travel experience that everyone will cherish. Contact Mango Tree Travel today to start planning your next family adventure. Embrace the benefits of slow travel with kids and discover how enriching and enjoyable family travel can truly be.