Welcome to Trip Planning
In this section we will guide you through the process of planning your trip– from trip definition through trip selection and execution…
The first step to planning a trip is to determine the type of trip. Trips usually fall into three categories:
Just as it sounds this is a trip to the beach. Our beach trips have been to the US Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. To see out top picks for Beach Vacations click here: Top Picks Beach.
Beach vacations can be relaxing if well thought out. They can be challenging and not enjoyable however if you choose the wrong type of beach vacation.
There are all inconclusive resorts, large and small, there are individual hotels/motels and there are private homes/condos that you can rent. We have tried all of these and some are better than others when you are traveling with an autistic child.
All Inclusive Resorts
If you choose this type of accommodation, try to stay away from resorts that are larger than 250 or so rooms. Larger resorts mean more people, commotion, and potential lines in the dining areas all of which can upset your autistic child. We have stayed at exactly ONE large all inclusive facility and it was a bad experience for us–so we never stay at large resorts.
Smaller all in inclusive resorts have some advantages. Not worrying about meals, having a variety of food options and having a host of activities organized and planned for you can be fun for the rest of the family…..
(Note: An important consideration for your trip if you also have typical children is making sure that the trip is balanced and will also be enjoyable for the whole family–this is more challenging than it sounds. While planning the trip with your autistic child in mind you might forget that your other children also need to be considered and the trip must be something that everyone can enjoy. Performing extensive research on the location, getting there, accommodations and activities is necessary and in some cases might involve pre trip “training” . By “training” we mean, if you think you would like to go horseback riding on the trip then before you go you must make sure that your autistic child is ok with being on a horse–DON’T wait until you are actually on the trail ride!)
Following the same logic that we talked about regarding all inclusive resorts, try to find smaller hotels with 250 rooms or so. This is a better fit for the same reason that a smaller all inclusive resort is a good fit. Smaller hotels will be easier to navigate with your autistic child and you might actually have better more intimate service.
Room configuration is important regardless of the accommodation selected. Suites work well since you can have your child actually in the same room without having your child in the same bedroom. Of course the best room configuration is one that you are most comfortable with and will depend on the age of your child and how many of you are traveling. We have found that with the 5 of us, suites or connecting suites work well, OR if the hotel or resort doesn’t have these then multiple connecting rooms work well (however hotels tend NOT to guarantee that they will be able to connect you–we have found that if you tell them that you have a special needs child they are usually more accommodating).
Private Homes or Condo Rentals
This option is our personal favorite, especially on a beach vacation. Renting a condo or a home lets you customize your room set up as well as cook meals which in many cases not only helps with the budget but given your child’s special food needs can actually be more relaxing than searching for a restaurant.
(NOTE: Restaurants…..by the way…fall into the same category of A Trip to The Supermarket from our Getting Started page. You need to be sure that your child is restaurant ready, by that we mean go to restaurants with your child before leaving on the trip. We know many families avoid restaurants, however your child should become desensitized to sensory aspects of a restaurant in order to be able to travel. Many airlines no longer provide meals on the flights so you may be searching for restaurants or a place to eat at an airport–the worst way to introduce your child to a restaurant is at an airport!)
Renting a condo or a home relieves a lot of the potential stress of a restaurant. We have had some of the best beach vacations renting condos and private homes. We almost always take this route when taking a beach trip. Since you can’t stay on a beach or in the sun all day, and often your autistic child will need down time or time for other activities, staying in a place with a living room or large “hanging out” area works well. You don’t even have to actually be inside to achieve this–often beach homes have large “outside rooms” that are covered and have comfortable furniture, tables and chairs for relaxing or doing a favorite craft or activity.
Ok so it’s obvious, this is a vacation full of action and activities. We have not been on many true adventure vacations as a family since our children have different ideas of what adventures are fun and of course this changes with age. When they are small it is harder to find balance with an adventure vacation because of the different skill levels they have —both your typical and your autistic child will have different skill levels. We have a few adventure vacation ideas to share but not as many as the other two types of trip. For out top picks click here: Top Picks Adventure.
(Note: Regarding accommodations for an adventure vacation, we would recommend following the information on hotels etc found in the Beach Vacations section.)
A skiing vacation would be considered an adventure vacation. We have done these but most often prefer to go to our own place to ski given the equipment involved. Of course this type of vacation isn’t recommend unless you know for sure that either your autistic child can ski or will like to learn to ski. Learning the sport on vacation isn’t recommended and can be a disaster (not to mention costly!). We have been skiing for a number of years at the same very modest mountain with our son. It’s familiar and he enjoys it. It is at this time that he is probably ready for something larger but only with an adaptive ski program. You can find information on adaptive ski programs by clicking on Top Picks Adventure
Planning an adventure vacation requires a lot of soul searching…that is what can your child really do, or what is your autistic child really comfortable doing? Dude ranch? Horses? Hiking? Rafting?Skiing? Tricky but important to carefully evaluate how your day will look in an adventure vacation and what down time if any will your child have.
(Note: By the way we are firm believers in “down time” –over stimulating your autistic child is a formula for disaster. Be sure to include down time in all of your trips regardless of the type of trip.)
The adventure vacation almost always requires a facility that either specializes in adaptive programs for children with special needs or a facility that can accommodate your particular child’s needs (for example 1:1 instruction). For more information on programs like this please go to our Travel Services Page and look for useful links.
This type of trip involves seeing sites either in the US or abroad. We have actually done more of this type of travel abroad than in the US (probably because we lived abroad when the children were small).
Once again, like the adventure vacation you have to plan this trip carefully. Don’t overdue the sites or locations visited. Be selective and try to keep the traveling between sites to a minimum, unless your child loves spending endless hours in car or on a plane!
Once you have picked the trip destination, start by making a list of the sites you want to see. Next plot the time required for each and the distance between them. Then take a close look at what you have mapped out for your vacation. See if it really can be executed and most importantly enjoyed! This is the hard part. We have found that keeping the driving distance between sites to a maximum of 3-4 hours works well and keeping the plane trips to a maximum of 9 hours is doable. (our longest was to Greece–we managed but we are still not ready for a trip to Asia with our son–it was hard when we did it as adults!)
(Note: We are assuming that you will probably fly somewhere and rent a car. Renting a car gives you flexibility and what we call “an escape route”. We avoid public transportation when we can since following a train or bus schedule might not be practical with an autistic child–you can’t predict what the day will be like and you will need the flexibility to change your plans.)
Of course each child is different and only you know your child and what can be tolerated. Dong a few local site seeing activities is a good way to “try on” a touring vacation. Go to the local aquarium or a historical site near your home–use this to trouble shoot while close to home. When you are away, your only escape is your hotel room or your rental car!
There are so many wonderful touring vacation options that this section will continue to grow. For now we would like to discuss Overseas tours.
Yes you can and you will do an overseas trip!
We have had many successful overseas trips BUT not without hurdles and challenges. Hopefully we can share them with you so you can minimize them (notice we say minimize not eliminate, you can never be 100% sure that it will all be perfect).
Dealing with a time zone change is difficult and you must be prepared mentally and physically for sleepless nights. You must give yourself and your family time to adjust. Staying outside and active and immediately putting everyone on the local time zone is necessary for battling jet lag. There are of course medications, over the counter and prescription as well as natural remedies for jet lag that you might want to have available–but please try them before you are in a foreign place to ensure that your child doesn’t have an adverse reaction.
Three important points to remember when traveling overseas:
- Language differences and knowing how to say “my child is autistic” in the local language is a must for a host of reasons from dealing with an emergency to explaining to someone why your child might be acting different from other children.
- Medications for things as simple as a common cold could be very different than what you are used to. Be sure to pack familiar medications (a list of easy to pack carry on items is available on the Travel Services page under the packing section)
- Food will be different or so it should be so that you can experience local culture. Taking your child to a restaurant at home that has food similar tot he country you will visit will help you anticipate restaurant ordering.
Once you have decided on the type of trip, check out our top picks for each:
Refer to our Travel Services page for information on packing and search useful websites.
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