There are times that I let my son’s autism hold us back. We make decisions based not only on what would be easier for him, but also what we want to avoid (like stares and unhelpful advice from others). But last year I turned forty. One of the blessings of that milestone was that it moved us to decide to be more adventurous as a family. Becoming forty also helped me care less about other people’s reactions to us. So, we decided to hit the road as a family!
During 2019, we went from coast to coast—visiting the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, and Florida beaches. Logging all those miles helped me figure out how to make traveling easier for James and for all of us!
- Stay in homes instead of hotels when possible. James doesn’t always sleep well, and when he’s awake, everyone who shares walls with him is also awake. So renting a home is easier if we’re spending multiple nights in one place. Not only do we not worry about waking up the neighbors, we also have a kitchen where we can cook to meet his diet needs and a washer and dryer so I can wash clothes and not have to pack as many. Rates are often comparable to hotel rates, so look into renting a home next time you plan a trip.
- Prepare ahead of time for how you will travel. If you’re flying, you can make arrangements ahead of time with the airline, the airport, and even TSA. We’ve had good experiences at every level with people understanding our challenges and being as accommodating as possible. Driving is still easier overall, so we log more miles in the car than in the air. We plan ahead by downloading movies on the boys’ devices and packaging snacks in small baggies so they are ready to hand out.
- Shop when you get there. I often have to remind myself that if I can buy it here, I can buy it there. I don’t need to load us down with everything we might possibly need.
- Make it educational. You knew that I would say that, right? When we planned our trip to places that look so different from home, we studied the trees and animals we might see there! We learned new vocabulary words. We read books. So when we saw a cactus for the first time, we knew not to touch it!
- Lower your expectations and stay flexible. Even with all the planning I did for our trip, I couldn’t have planned for the boys getting the flu while we were there! I was so thankful we were in a house where I could cook and do laundry. I was thankful for a drugstore nearby. And I was thankful I hadn’t overscheduled every day with so many to dos that the boys couldn’t get the rest they needed to recover. Reminding yourself that no one’s vacation is as perfect as it looks on Instagram is a helpful way to manage your expectations.
I know traveling with kids with disabilities can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay home and miss out on all the fun! My fortieth birthday made me brave enough to try new adventures, and I’m so glad we did. Hit the road for spring break! Or start planning now for a summer getaway. Don’t let the what-ifs keep you home!
Sandra Peoples is a special-needs mom and sibling. She is the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family and the host of the podcast Self Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver. You can connect with her at sandrapeoples.com.