10 Planning Tips for a Successful Trip with Children with Autism

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We recently started traveling more.  Haven’t tackled flight yet, we are still hitting the open road by car, but we are working our way up to the plane.  I am not a travel blogger, but I felt that I knew a little bit to share some tips and tricks that I have learned along the way with this whole “Hamms see the World” thing we are doing.  I’ll be documenting our journey with traveling across the states in our little (not so little) Ford.  Maybe some of the spots we visit will inspire you to get out there more too.  I know we have hidden in the house for too long, afraid to venture out there and see the world, but we are taking the chance because I know it’ll pay off in the end.  Memories made, my kids get to interact with the world, and their parents get to experience places we used to just dream about visiting. 

I hope that through our travels and sharing with others, that it will inspire other families like ours to get out there.  We need you guys out there.  I know it’s hard, but it’s going to be okay, because I’m going to help you get through it.  I wish I could physically be there to help every family individually, but I hope through our successes (and failures) that others will be like, “we can do that too.”

Let’s get into these planning tips, shall we?  

  1. Plan, plan, plan.  And then plan some more.  I’m serious, this is an important one.  As special needs parents we are always planning and preparing for the unexpected, the expected, and everything in between.  What I learned when traveling this past year is that I do the same planning I do every other day of the year, but even more.  I plan for the bad days, the good days, those half-good/half-bad days.  I plan for the unexpected, when things go wrong, and when things go the way they were planned to.  Do you know how many times we have been so thrown off our game because the day went smoothly?  I usually add extra time to whatever it is we are doing by scheduling one or two events per day, allowing an extra day or so for travel, etc.  But there are those times where everything goes so well that I am left with all these extra hours and nothing to do, and guess what happens?  That good day turns into a bad one quickly when I have nothing planned.  If your kids are anything like mine (and chances are, they are), they thrive off routine and schedules.  They need to know what is going to happen and when.  So, I now make plans for when the days go sideways, and when they go better than expected. 
  2. Take notes.   Write down all the places your family wants to visit and then grab you a snack, comfortable seat, large drink, and reliable internet.  Be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time on this one.  For every site you want to visit, find out if they have any sensory events during your visit.  Sometimes we have lucked up and visit museums during their “sensory days” or zoos during their “special needs friends” events.  This can be easily be found out by a simple Google search.  Also, don’t limit this search to just where you want to visit, search to see if there are any other special needs events in the area during your visit.  Who knows?  You may luck up and find one (or two!). 
  3. Cyberstalk that site. Next, go site by site on your list and extensively search their website up and down.  You’re looking for maps of the area, pictures, and any mention of areas that may be used a “calm down” areas for your kiddo.  Sometimes, we can make our way back to the car, but sometimes where we visit is so large that we are often a long way from our car.  You can also call the site and see if they have any areas you can dip into whenever your kiddo isn’t doing too well.  Also, while on the site, look for any disability accommodations.  If your child has mobility issues in unfamiliar and/or crowded areas, find out if the site offers wheelchairs.  Are there any sensory bags available?  These are things that should be listed on the site but if not, you should call and find out. 
  4. Check for discounts.  Sometimes, certain sites will offer discounts to those who are disabled (such as National Parks), find out what all you need to show to qualify for these discounts, and make sure to bring those items along with you. 
  5. Try to avoid the busy periods.  Google has this little nifty feature on their site where it will tell you what the busy times are during the week for whatever site you searched for.  You can get a general idea of how crowded the site will be.  Note, sometimes this feature isn’t 100% accurate, so I would call the site to find out for sure when they are the least crowded.  Also, take note of how well your child does throughout the day and in general.  If your child is okay with large crowds, then you may be okay with going during a busy period if it fits better with your overall schedule.  If your child is calmer in the mornings and amps up in the afternoons, I would aim to visit your most excited about attractions in the morning periods. 
  6. Find out the sites food and drink policy.  I know that for my kids, they need their snacks.  Sometimes we visit a place where they cannot have their snacks and we often plan to have them eat before we visit or we visit during a time when the kids are least likely to whine for snacks (in the morning). 
  7. How long will you be there? In addition to informing visitors of busy times, Google also lets you know how long people typically spend there.  I would take this time and probably double it.  This allows for those times when you have to take a break, or your child is overwhelmed and needs a break etc.  I would double the typical amount of time spent there and I would probably aim to visit no more than two sites per day.  This way your family isn’t rushed to get through each site, your child is allowed time to process everything they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing at their pace, and you aren’t tiring yourself out trying to get it all down.  We also add about 3 hours to our drive time to get to our final destination.  This allows for us to not feel rushed to get there, time for breaks, meltdowns, switch drivers, etc.
  8. Packing the “Autism Basics”. I have read many other articles on special needs travel and they generally tell you the basics (make sure you have their favorite toys, ipad, chargers, etc.), I’m not going to spend much time on this one because this is one y’all do on a regular.  So outside of telling y’all pack your kid’s snacks, toys, medication, ipad and chargers, etc. I won’t add anything else.
  9. Make social stories/schedules.  Once you have your detailed plan of attractions mapped out, make some social stories and schedules for your children to have and follow along.  Tape the schedule to the back of front seats or on the doors of the cars (on the inside).  If your kiddo has a tendency to mess those little schedules over (like my oldest, he will sometimes eat them), I highly recommend making copies and keep them in the glove compartment.  Put everything on that schedule, from stops along the way, bathroom breaks, stretch breaks, etc.  Even if you think your child doesn’t understand, still do a schedule, I have learned that our children understand a lot more than we give them credit for.  If you have an iPad, you can search for picture scheduling apps on there.  I haven’t found one that I like yet.  I simply Google whatever images I need.  Or I will screenshot images from my son’s communication app and input them into Powerpoint or Word and I create my schedules in there.  I then print them on cardstock and laminate them.  I might make a more detailed post on how I actually make them.
  10. Okay, medication. I know I said I wouldn’t mention medication, but I just have to say this, DO NOT use your vacation as the time to try your child on a new medication or new routine for current medication.  I learned this the hard way, multiple times (I don’t always listen to my own advice).  If you have several months until it’s time for you to hit the road (or air), then use this as the time to try a new medicine or adjust dosages, etc.  Just be sure to make note of everything from their behavior before and after administration, the time given, dose, when it appears to kick in, when it appears to wear off, etc.  This medication log is good to have even when you aren’t traveling.  If you aren’t planning on change medications, you would use this log to help you plan your activities throughout the day.  If you know one of your child’s medicines make him sleepy for about an hour after he takes it first thing in the morning, then plan to start your first activity after this drowsy period.  Both of my boys take medicines for their mood and hyperactivity, but it takes about 30-45 minutes to kick in, so we don’t ever plan to be somewhere until about an hour after they take it.

I think I touched on everything involved with our planning of trips away from home.  Like I said before, I’m not a travel blogger, so I cannot offer you the best deals or discounts, but if I do come across some really good deals I will be sure to pass them along.

Planning is key to a successful trip, especially for those with special needs loved ones.  I hope that you could use any of these tips.  I am still working on tackling every state (with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska) with my little family and our Ford.  I talk more about that in this post.  I was/am still scared shitless about doing it, but I’m going to do it anyways.  My boys are of this world, they belong in this world, and they have every right to an active participant of this world and be among its people, regardless of how some feel about it.  So, take your child to that zoo or park or beach.  Ignore the stares, dismiss the comments, you’re allowed to be there.  And so are your kiddos.

Happy travels.

XOXO,

Tiffy

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