We love going on trips but there’s no doubt that some days out as a family with additional needs can be daunting and stressful – not to mention costly – if it all goes wrong.
Luckily there are lots of ways to potentially save money on autism-friendly days out. Here are 31 of them:
1. Max Card
The Max Card is a great way to save money on autism-friendly days out in certain parts of the country. It is a discount card for families of children up to the age of 19 with additional needs. Show your Max Card upon entry to a participating venue to obtain free or discounted admission. The cost of the card varies depending on what area you live in – we pay £3 – and is valid for two years.
2. Bus travel
The England National Concessionary Travel Scheme provides free off-peak bus travel throughout England for people over the age of five with disabilities. In some areas an adult may also travel free of charge. Bus travel passes are issued by your local authority.
3. Rail travel
The Disabled Person’s Railcard allows you to save 1/3 off all rail travel for just £20 a year. It covers both the card holder and an adult companion.
4. Free cinema ticket for a carer
You can apply for a card from the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association that gives one free ticket for anyone accompanying a disabled person over the age of eight to the cinema. The card costs £6 for one year.
5. Theatre tickets
Lots of theatres offer discounted tickets for disabled people. Some also reserve seats for wheelchair users and allow carers in for free. Check with the theatre when you’re booking tickets to find out what they offer.
6. Carers free at English Heritage
English Heritage gives free entry to companions of disabled visitors. The disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee (although if they have a Max Card they may get a discount).
7. Carers free at National Trust properties
With National Trust’s Essential Companion card you can bring one or two companions with you , free of charge. Even if you don’t have a card, you can still bring carers or companions free – the card just makes it quicker and simpler.
8. Concessions at public libraries
Some libraries offer services at a reduced rate or free of charge to disabled people: Overdue books, computer access, audio and visual material. Check with your local authority.
9. Free admission at football matches
Some clubs offer this to fans with disabilities and their carers. Check with your local club to see if they do.
10. Fast track
If you’re going to an attraction where there might be queues, such as a theme park or a festival, find out if they operate a fast track system. Often, these places will let you bypass the queues if you take a copy of your DLA award letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, or other evidence, as proof of disability.
Lots of places offer concessions for disabled people and carers but don’t always advertise them. It’s always worth asking, even if the answer is no.
12. Relaxed sessions
Many local soft play centres and trampoline parks hold specific sessions for children with complex needs. It’s always worth asking, so try getting in touch with your local centre. They can sometimes work out cheaper than a standard session too. They can be a great way of accessing an autism-friendly day out.
13. Supermarket vouchers
Tesco Clubcard and Nectar allow you to swap points for deals to big attractions and restaurants. Check how far in advance you have to swap them for and plan accordingly.
14. Get outdoors
Wrap up warm and get outdoors. Parks and playgrounds, scavenger hunts in the woods, and countryside walks are all great places for burning off energy and saving money. Take a flask of hot chocolate with you.
15. Think picnics
If you’re going out for the day, pack a picnic – yes even in the winter. Kids’ meals can be extortionate and queues long at tourist attractions so keep down costs by bringing your own packed lunches. Don’t forget to bring snacks too.
16. Blue Badge
The Blue Badge scheme in now open to applications from people with hidden disabilities, such as autism. The badges give priority access to parking close to shops and city centres, as well as free parking in many roads.
17. Save on special offers
If you buy something on special offer in the supermarket or in the sales, put the saving into a jar or another bank account to save for autism-friendly days out. You won’t notice the difference and the pennies will soon rock up.
18. Ice cream
Even when it’s winter the kids will still be asking for ice cream when you go out to eat. Many ice creams come with two scoops as standard. If you have younger children, ask for one of the scoops in a separate bowl so they can share one dessert.
19. Get a Radar key
Many accessible toilets are part of the National Key Scheme, which means they can only be used by people with a Radar key. The key allows you quick and easy access to these toilets when needed for free. This will save you a lot of time and hassle as you won’t have to wait for a member of staff arriving with a key to open the door.
20. Kids Pass
Get a £1 trial of Kids Pass for 40 days and save with over 5,000 discounts on days out, cinemas, restaurants and holidays.
21. Carers go free – Cadw Wales
Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, has responsibility for 128 castles, abbeys, churches, chapels and other historic monuments. Carer/companions accompanying the disabled are admitted free at all monuments.
22. Carers go free – Historic Environment Scotland
Historic Environment Scotland cares for and promotes Scotland’s historic environment. It offers free entry to carers accompanying a disabled visitor on a one-to-one basis to more than 80 historic sites across Scotland.
23. Carers go free at festivals
Many festivals offer free carer/PA tickets. Booking procedures are different for each festival so check on the festival website to begin with or give them a call if not. The disability eligibility requirements also varies between festivals. Some festivals offer camping for the disabled in a designated area.
24. Carers go free at theme parks
With the right support, theme parks can be fantastic autism-friendly days out. The person with the disability or additional need will usually pay the full entrance fee – unless you have a discount voucher – with a free carer ticket/concession for the main carer. Some parks offer more than one concession if extra support is required.
25. Exemption from toll road charges
If you have a blue badge for disabled parking or receive certain benefits, you may be exempt from paying tolls on roads such as the M6 or the Dartford Crossing. Exemption criteria varies. For some roads you may need to apply in advance – with others you can present your blue badge at the toll booth. Check on the routes’ websites before you travel to see if you qualify.
26. Relaxed cinema screenings
The main cinema chains offer special screenings for people with autism, where special adjustments are made. For instance, low lights, low sound levels, no trailers or adverts, and guests are allowed to move around and make noise. Some charities, for example, Mencap, also run occasional free film screenings throughout the year, which can make for a great autism-friendly day out.
27. Get a free ‘Just Can’t Wait’ toilet card to discreetly ask for help
If you have a bladder or bowel condition, there’s a handy free card you can use to discreetly ask to use the toilet when you’re out and about. While the card doesn’t guarantee access to any toilet, it can help by making staff aware that you have a medical condition that means you ‘just can’t wait’. For example, you could show it if you’re passing a pub or cafe with a sign saying ‘toilets are for customers only’.
You can order your free card from the Bladder & Bowel Community, by submitting a few details. There’s also a free Just Can’t Wait Card app, which you can use to show the card instantly, plus find the nearest public toilet.
28. Consider a £15 ‘Access Card’ to get support more easily
An issue many disabled people face is having to ‘prove’ they need special assistance or reasonable adjustments made, eg, at music venues or when dealing with service providers. One solution to this is to get an Access Card, which costs £15 for three years.
To apply, you’ll need to fill out a form and provide evidence of your disability, eg, a letter from your doctor. You’ll then be sent your Access Card, which will display symbols relevant to your needs – these include wheelchair access, urgent toilet needs or difficulty with standing and queuing (see the full list). The idea is that staff will quickly and discreetly understand what assistance you require.
While it’s not necessary to have an Access Card in order to get assistance, even in venues which specifically work with the scheme, many say it can make the process a lot easier if you can simply flash a card.
29. Disability Grants
Charities and Trusts provide funding towards the high cost of disability equipment, holidays and days out among others.. Disability Grants is here to help YOU, your family or anyone you’re supporting with a disability.
Check out the Disability Grants website to see what you can claim for.
30. Make the most of a visit to London
There are lots of places that make great autism-friendly days out. Visit London’s website has a Accessible London section containing information for visitors with additional needs.
31. Use Social Media
Follow your favourite tourist attractions on social media for discounts and special events. Seek out the pages of local groups that organise regular kids clubs, events and trips which can be a godsend on a quiet weekend or in the school holidays. They are a great chance to meet other parents too.
- What’s your top money-saving tip for fun autism-friendly days out?
- If you enjoyed reading 31 ways to save money on fun autism-friendly days out, read: The Best UK Family Days Out for Families of Children with Autism