At a glance
An active vacation can be great for kids with ADHD.
Planning ahead to find the right spot for your family vacation is key.
Bring toys and games to keep your child occupied during downtime.
If your child has or is super active, it might feel like there’s no such thing as a “relaxing” vacation. Thankfully, many family vacations can keep your active child happy and engaged—and help everyone else have fun, too.
1. Theme Parks
Theme parks are full of rides, shows, and child-friendly activities. This makes them a good choice when your child has ADHD. But be prepared for long lines. Before you go, find out which rides or activities your child wants to do the most. If possible, try to go to the park on an off-peak day or week. Or take advantage of services that can shorten the time you spend in line, like Disney’s FastPass system. Bring toys or favorite comic books to keep your child entertained while waiting.
Lots of kids with ADHD have sensory challenges, too. If that’s your child, explore these tips to manage sensory overload at theme parks.
2. All-Inclusive Resorts and Cruises
Kid-friendly resorts and cruises are another family vacation option that can keep your child entertained and busy. These full-scale places, with pools and game rooms, usually offer group activities for kids—as well as kids’ clubs and camps.
When researching options, think about what your child likes to do. Make sure there will be activities that match your child’s skills and interests. For example, if your child loves swimming and learning about sea animals, look for a place that offers snorkeling outings. Kids with ADHD tend to stay on task better if they enjoy what they’re doing.
3. National Parks
If your family likes being outdoors, going to a national park can be a fantastic and healthy family getaway. Find a park that has a wide variety of activities like hiking, fishing, or kayaking. Encourage your child to collect things along the way, like pine cones, feathers, or stones. Many parks offer the chance for kids to complete some of the Junior Ranger activities. Be sure to bring games and toys for downtime or for when the weather is bad.
4. Zoos and Aquariums
Visiting zoos and aquariums is a fun way to teach your child about the natural world. It also gives active kids a chance to move around and see lots of different exhibits. Look for places that have interactive activities like feeding barnyard animals, watching an animal feeding demonstration, or petting rays and sea stars in shallow “touch tanks” or “touch pools.” As with amusement parks, find out when things aren’t as busy so your child won’t have to wait in long lines.
5. Beaches and Lakes
If your family needs a warm-weather fix, a beach or lake vacation is a solid choice. In a place like this, your child will stay active by running, swimming, sailing, or playing beach volleyball. Look for a place that also offers water sports like waterskiing, rowing, or surfing for your child to try with the help of a licensed guide.
Some beaches even have surf schools so your child can interact with other kids the same age while learning something new. Try to find a beach or lake that has a playground or other kid-friendly activities nearby, too, just in case your child needs a change of scenery or the weather isn’t perfect.
Help your child burn off energy by exploring an interesting or historic city. Go on long walks to take in the sights in places like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. They have lots of great restaurants, museums, parks, and other kid-friendly attractions.
Just be aware that you’re likely to encounter long lines at major attractions. Plan to limit the amount of time you spend in more crowded places. And don’t rule out smaller cities like New Orleans, Asheville, or Cleveland. Spots like these can be a little less overwhelming but still offer cool attractions.
7. A Farm or a Dude Ranch
A working farm or dude ranch can be a wonderful place to spend quality time together as a family and keep your child active. Ranches and farms tend to offer lots of things to do throughout the day, like collecting eggs, milking cows, riding horses, and swimming.
8. Ski Resorts
If your family likes cold-weather fun, a ski resort vacation can be just the ticket—especially for active kids. Kids can ski or snowboard. Or if they don’t want to go downhill, they can try cross-country skiing. Look for a resort with lots of different activities your child can try when the novelty of skiing wears off. These might be toboggan rides, ice skating, snow tubing, or arts and crafts indoors.
No matter what vacation you choose, keep in mind that kids with ADHD often do best with a set routine. Prepping beforehand is key. This includes sticking to your child’s usual wake time and bedtime or going over the travel schedule in advance. This will help avoid travel challenges.
Find out how to get your child ready for a trip.
Lots of vacation spots have plenty of activities to keep your child busy.
Try to visit parks and attractions on off-peak days.
Planning ahead is key. Stick to a routine and talk about the itinerary with your child in advance.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.