Family Travel and Autism

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Planning for the Holidays

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Mid October and I am already thinking about Christmas.  Not the holiday planning but the holiday planning.  You know the kind of planning I am thinking of - who is going where, when and for how long over Christmas.  Daughters coming home from college and my autistic son staying busy while keeping the anticipation of Santa at bay.  All prime for multiple meltdowns.

I think this year I will go about things differently.  I think that I am going to keep my son as active and busy before Christmas as I can.  But to do that I need to be prepared myself.  Buy presents early, wrap early, hide em early, decorate early - see the theme.

I know there will be some last minute stuff but maybe, just maybe, I can get on top of it.

Break out the lists.  Here I come!

Disney Again

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

For Christmas, my autistic son asked to visit Walt Disney World again.  It had been four years since our last visit and I truly doubted that I could afford it this year.  With a great deal of research using the WDW website and anything I could find, I came to these financial absolutes -- ticket prices don't change or discount for anything.  Yes, you could spend a day at sales pitch for a ticket but that was one day wasted on your vacation.  Also, their resort is the best value due to the ability to use their transportation.  They will transport you from the airport and to the parks saving on car rental as well as parking fees.  And finally, once you are in the parks you are subject to their food costs which are astronimical.

So I worked and tweaked the budget to squeeze out airfare, ticket and hotel cost.  But as my husband pointed out, we still couldn't afford the food.  Until a unique offer came across my email - if you stay at the resort, you received a free meal plan for everyone!  Yipee!  Free food was the final push we needed to book the vacation.

So my first advice to anyone considering a Disney vacation - sign up for the email alerts and watch carefully.  As soon as you see that free meal plan offer, jump on it.  Wow, it was worth it.

More on that soon though . ..

The Joys of Packing

Posted on August 29, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

As any parent know packing for a vacation is like a puzzle.  How do you fit it all into a tiny carryon for the plane?

Some of you may say, well just check your bags.  But for my thrifty budget, I am unwilling to pay the additional 40 (there and back) on top of the airline fee.  And there is the problem with space in a rental car - or even your car.  Put it all in there and then some kids and you barely have room to turn around let alone reach for the navigation control to find the best route to the hotel.  Just try plugging in the DVD player while reaching over the books, game devices, bags and shoes that accumulate in the backseat.

So here is some advice from the website, Smarter Travel on five tips to pack a small bag - http://tinyurl.com/ckky9de

I also want to add the possiblity of dumping the purse.  I used an back pack instead.  It fit everything we needed plus my wallet and phone.  I used every pocket and zipper.  Plus, i gave everyone a backpack and they could take what they wanted if it fit in the bag and that was that.

Another consideration is the utility of zip lock bags.  Anything that could leak in a bag goes in a zip.  Toothbrushes/paste in a zip and in the hotel - dig for it in the bag, plop it on the counter and they kids are ready.  Zip lock bags make great shower kits - small soap, shampoo, hand them out and they are ready to go.

One final caution, weigh your bag before you go to the airport.  On our last trip, we were the family with the open suitcases rearranging all the stuff.  Don't forget, jeans weigh at least five lbs!

Safe travels and have fun!

Yes, it has been awhile . ..

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Yes, it has been awhile since I posted a blog.  Frankly I do have a great deal to write about but lack the motivation.  Until now.

Something unique happened to me on a recent trip to New York City.  I was there with family for my standard medical appointment - let's see if Mom's cancer returned - when out of boredom I spotted an interesting poster on the subway.  The poster was promoting the city's "Summer Streets" where they close Park Avenue for three straight Saturday's in August for the morning only.  If you planned it right and got there early you could also rent a bike for free. 

So early it was at 7am when I stood in line for an hour (I was very tempted to walk away at this point.)  I rented four bikes for myself as well as my husband, daughter and autistic son.  We had one hour and calmly rode the bikes up Park Avenue.  What an experience!  To view the city from the view of a bike along the street. 

Remember, I have one leg that doesn't work right and a son who tends to drift in attention.  Yet this morning, we could take time and ride slowly and just enjoy the city.  What an opportunity to spend time with him and have fun ourselves!  He loves to ride bikes and he was fabulous on this excursion.  The timing was right as well -- more than hour would have too much on my leg and my son.

Thank you New York for a great summer morning!

Travel Math Two

Posted on October 28, 2011 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

 

For my own quiet week of vacation, I am flying to San Francisco for $300 on the red eye.  I considered staying in hotels and renting a car. Two star hotels run about $100 per night and a car rental is 250.  That would be $1200.  I wasn’t in love with this idea because it meant making a reservation and plan in general.  I hoped to travel freely without an agenda.  If I wanted to stay somewhere longer, I could without penalty.  I also wanted to spend time in the redwoods and that meant staying in a national park.  Using the maximum guide of $1200, I evaluated my other options.

 

I considered renting a campervan for rent out of San Francisco.  Very hippy dippy.  Had a bed and gas camper stove.  I also looked into renting a small RV.  A small RV for the week without bedding and utilities ran about $600.  Campervan was$400.  While the campervan had plates, stove and bedding – and the RV did not – I decided on the RV.  I took the smallest one available at  19 feet. Why?  It had a bathroom.  Now I am completely mobile and still well under the $1200 budget even with airfare. Plus I get the luxury of traveling where I want when.  I also rented a small enough RV that I can manage it on the narrow coastal roads. I couldn’t imagine renting a 30 footer for that narrow Redwood Coastal Highway!

 

I also like the idea of a microwave for my own food.  A refrigerator for my own drinks.  I can pack a sleeping bag in the corner of my suitcase.  A plate, cup, knife, and fork don’t take much room.  And I  save the $150 rental fee. 

 

In full disclosure, I did have to book a pay-for-suitcase-cheap flight.  But the cost for a suitcase is only $20 each way. So for $40 I can pack exactly what I need instead of renting for $150.

 

I calculated all of my costs?  Nope,  I need to consider gas, tolls, food, and souvenirs as well. I understand gas will be expensive. An RV on the west coast?  Of course it will be costly.  And there isthe cost of campgrounds.  In order tos have cost, I hope to use my national park handicapped pass for a discount or to stay overnight in Walmart type lots as needed.  That should help. Souvenirs can be low key and memorable.  Lots of pics via cell phone.  Magnets and keychains for my daughterscollections.  Most of all, junior ranger books for my son.  Finally, keep within budget as a present for my husband.


I have been back for almost a week.  I hope to a full accounting of expenses by next week.  I know that I underestimated gasoline expense.  I also underestimated campground costs.  So we will see how I did at the end.

 

Travel Math

Posted on October 12, 2011 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Here is thefirst of two truth articles. The bottom line.  How much does it cost?

In June, we vacationed on the Outer Banks.  I discovered years ago that renting a placeon the beach is totally dependent on the real estate principal – location, location, and location.  While location can determine the price, you may not want to stay where it is affordable.


For example, I prefer national parks, outdoors, few people,and slow pace.  My sister prefers not to vacation with us because she likes a city with lots of restaurants and nightlife.  That would just tire me out.


My first piece of advice is to determine what type of vacation you like.  If you like the city, then determine which city and what you want to do.  Airfare can be a problem but with sites like farecast and airfarewatchdog you can fly across the country, with your family.  For the five of us to fly to New York City (LaGuardia) is round trip $200 per person.  The same cost as flying round trip to Florida or Kansas City. To go the west coast from here in Ohio, it is an average of $350 per person.  Knowing these numbers helps me in budgeting.  I set aside the money for the next year, or put aside some each month, for that big family trip.


I travel to NYC every few months.  The family travels with me frequently.  We have squeezed into one-bed hotel rooms tripping over ours muggled sleeping bags.  I found several good deals on two room suites that slept everyone comfortably for an average of $200 per night (a steal in NYC!)  We also borrowed an apartment from a friend. 


 When we travel to places like the Outer Banks, the first decision is to decide length of time. Due to the twelve-hour drive, I like for this to be the family week-long vacation.  We rent a house usually far from the crowds.  Why?  Mostly because I can rent four times the house for half the price.  For example,in the high season, we rented a three bedroom near the ocean (one block off)for $695.  Full kitchen, washer/driver, family room, outside shower and short walk to the beach.  The down side – we were a hike from any semblance of civilization.  Worked for me though   Quiet days.  Beach walks.  Making dinner with the kids not for the kids.  Space for my autistic son to stretch out.


Factor in meals, gas, and trinkets; our week trip tothe outer banks was around $1100.  Only$400 for food and souvenirs?  Sure, weate out only once.  The rest was normal food just as we always spend.  We took out a Food Lion savings card from the local chain to take advantage of local savings.  Souvenirs?  We gathered shells and driftwood.  I also gave the kids $10 apiece to spend in a local shop.  See, we all get what we wanted!

Time for Myself

Posted on October 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

My husband thinks I have gone off the deep end.  I asked if we could arrange the schedules so that I could take a week off by myself to travel.  By yourself?  Yes, a whole week by myself.  Some of you may be scratching your heads.  I imagine most of you are saying to yourself -- ah, a whole week without the kids to do what I when I want where I want.  Heaven.


He agreed.  Such a good man.  I knew that I had to schedule it early because in our house, the children's schedules are priority.  If it goes on the calendar then it is written in gold.  Unmovable, will be done, come heck or high water.  Of course, since I have booked the flight, the week I picked out has filled up with can't miss children's events.  Ugh, I guess I will just have to miss them.  Oh darn.


Many of you have taken a vacation with your family.  And yes, this site is dedicated to promoting family travel.  So why am I writing about taking time on my own.  I have said before, great family time traveling is 99% planning.  I thought I would write about my thought process on planning.  Perhaps it will inspire someone to take their own trips -- with or without the kids.


Stress in a family with a disabled child is a given.  Add to that a life threatening cancer diagnosis and stress doesn't even describe it.  My head has not been in a good place lately.  I have been having a difficult time imaging life post cancer with autism and my own disabilities.  Up to now, my husband was open to me traveling but with a friend.  That way, if something happened, someone would be there to help.


I thought, why not now, by myself.  My latest scans are clear.  I am as physically able as I will ever be.  We have a little in the savings to use (thank you for leaving some money to me Dad and Mom!)  Why not now?  The more I thought, the more I became convinced it was a good idea.


I really looked at from my husband's perspective.  Could I navigate the airport, car rental, maps, hotels, etc. by myself?  If something happened, where would I go for help?  How would I get help?  Would I be too lonely?  Would it be too expensive?


Well, it is true that my memory has been shot by chemotherapy.  So the concerns about navigating the travel process are not far fetched.  Compensation it is then.  Lists were the answer.  Google every aspect of the trip and create many post it note lists.  Review the lists with anyone and everyone who will listen.  And be willing to alter if it means you will be safer.


Now comes in the cell phone.  Up to this summer, my cell phone has been a drug dealer disposable phone.  With my eldest going off to college, we upgraded to a family plan.  Now I have a real cell phone.  I invested in cigerette lighter plug so my short battery life smart phone would be ready at any emergency.  I also planned my route to be near cities yet far from masses of people.  A good balance for my sanity and safety.


Lonely?  Are you kidding?


Expensive.  Well, this could be a problem.  In my next post I will give you a complete breakdown of the costs and compare to recent family trips.  Depending on your own financial situation, it could be a real relevation.

Planning for Summer?

Posted on March 10, 2011 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (4)

We are in the process of planning our summer vacation.  I just sent a deposit on a house in the Outerbanks of North Carolina.  Ouch!  Yet, still as affordable as we could make it.  By working the seasons and flexing my childrens' schedule, we were able to take advantage of a nice house without the high summer week rates.


My bucket list includes a trip back to the Outter Banks.  As a family we have always the quiet, slow pace of the barrier island.  I enjoy the programs of the National Park.  As we are a very fair family, sun is not our friend.  We spend only a few days or hours outside.  If we are careful, we can swim, search for seashells, fish, play games and sleep.  Of course, the sleep is probably just a wish.


We may go elsewhere this summer.  I would love another trip west but the airfare has not been cooperative.  Summer fares are just starting to come on sale so I hope that something comes up soon.  While we went to the southwest last time, I want to visit Yellowstone and the Pacific Northwest.  Perhaps you have been there?  Do you have any t ips you want to share?

The Roar

Posted on February 26, 2010 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The slope of the path required chains anchored into the sandy rock.  Water poured down the rock not unlike those wall fountains in building lobbies.  The difference here was the steel chains were ice cold and the sand filled water poured down on our heads and inside our shirts.  We pressed against the rock and slowly edged our way across the slippery path.  Half way my daughter panicked.  She refused to move another foot - a literal foot.  My husband had taken our son ahead and he needed everything he had to help my son.  My youngest daughter was at the end of the line taking everything very calmly.


I was the only to help.  I looked directly into her eyes and told her to breathe.  In my mind, I was thinking if you can with sand in your mouth.  Breath and don't look down.  Shift a little at a time and look at me, not down, not up, not out.  Just at me.  In this fashion, we slowly inched our way 20 feet to the level trail and off the chains.  A few short switchbacks later and we were catching our breath under a rock overhang.  We looked out over the valley and the long series of switchbacks that had almost emcapcitated me on the way up.  We rung out sleeves, wiped faces with gritty hands and took a breath.  Until we heard a rumble and gush of water.  I looked down at watched the rock wall over the switchback giveway and tumble down 1,000 feet onto the valley floor.  Behind the rock, water poured out in a smaller waterfall.  It just kept coming.  It never slowed.  The worst part.  It was blocking our path.  We would have to walk through the hard part and then again and again as we went down the switchbacks.


My mind was numbing with cold and my feet were cold.  Wait  a minute, my feet were wet.  The water was pooling around my feet and pouring down the small series of switchbacks we had just walked.  And here we stood under a rock overhang not unlike the one that had just given way.  Smart move midwesterner tourists.


Holding hands and moving slowly so we wouldn't slide down the canyon wall, we left our safe haven.  A few moments later, just before we reached the waterfall, I heard a roar.


Now you don't me all that well.  I have suffered severe hearing loss from chemotherapy.  So if I heard it, it must have been an incredible roar.  I turned to look and the entire rock face gave way to raging waterfall that plummeted 1,500 feet to the floor of the canyon.  Trees, rocks, boulders rushed out with it.  We were witnessing a flash flood.  Just minutes after we left that overhang.


Now it was my daughters turn to help me down.  She took my hand and quietly tugged me forward.  We plowed through the smaller waterfall and all the subsequent waterfalls.  I couldn't take my eyes off the enourmous waterfall now in front of me.  The sound filled my ears and senses.  I admit that I was in shock. 


We finally reached the bottom and the rain had stopped.  The water continued to pour from the top of the canyon cliff and tourists poured from the buses to take pictures.  In halting steps, my family made their way to the bus stop.  We were drenched, white from cold and covered in sand.  We looked as if we had swam in the sea and rolled on the beach.


The looks we got.

Taste of Adventure

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 11:19 PM Comments comments (0)

The kids were anxious. Antsy and anxious.  They wantedmore excitement and challenge. Adventure.  So far our hikes weresafe and easy for them.  For me, theywere a stretch and exciting.  Of course,my physical challenges are far greater.

 

For our third day, we decided that my daughters would choosethe days activities.  I provided maps,park newspaper and tour books.  Theypoured over them and selected the hike to hidden canyon.  Hidden canyon was rated a moderate, 2.2 mileroundtrip hike.   We decided to leaveearly in the morning, lunch at the top and return in the early afternoon.

 

Up and out early by 8:30 am, we were on the bus by 9am.  The base of the trail is located at base ofweeping rock, which is a very popular and beautiful spot.  We started up the series of switchback inorder to ascend 850 feet.  Theswitchbacks were in full sun.  Andsteep.  Very steep.

 

The trip was supposed to take 3 to 4 hours.  For me, the ascent took almost twohours.  I had to pause at eachswitchback to catch my breath.  I feltso bad for the kids to slow them down. I admit that there were times when I could barely catch my breath.

 

We finally reached the top where the trail split.  One part of the trail split to the top ofthe canyon and our half split to the hidden canyon.  We continued on towards the hidden canyon and came to our firstset of chains.

 

For those who rock climb, chains aren’t a surprise.  For those of us who don’t know any better,this was intimidating.  Chains anchoredinto the rock with a sloping, slippery trail. Fun.

 

Fortunately, this was very short section of only a fewfeet.   Going slowly, we made our waypast the area helping each other over the height and fear.  Just beyond, we hit a long stairs andanother set of chains.  This set waslong, steep and disappeared around a bend.

 

We were in a conundrum. My middle child was anxious to go. My oldest eager but wary.  Myyoungest hopefully oblivious.  Myhusband worried.  In honest, I was eageras well.   We compromised that I wouldgo with the girls as far as I could and see if it was passable.  Actually, it was not as bad as Ithought.  If we didn’t rush and held onto the chains, the path was doable.  Except that my oldest daughter decided after a short distance to notcontinue.  My middle girl went the wholelength all the way to the canyon.  Shewas the only one who made it.

 

I paused just prior the entrance of the canyon to catch mybreath and stopped.  We headed back tothe beginning of the chains and that is when the fun started.

 

Next time . . .



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