Collaboratively Planning a Vacation as a Parent or Caregiver
At a Glance
In this post, we'll be covering how parents and caregivers may want to collaboratively plan a vacation to help prepare and set expectations for a vacation together.
We will provide a series of questions to guide your planning together.
These questions will help outline potential hiccups, support the autistic individual in your life's needs, and help you plan and prepare accordingly.
Much like the holidays, vacations can simultaneously be a new, exciting experience and a frustrating, overwhelming experience.
One great way to support the autistic person or people in your life early in this process is by including them in the planning and preparation to whatever degree they feel most comfortable.
Planning ahead and planning together helps vacations become something that we actively anticipate and prepare for together, as opposed to a continuous series of new experiences and all the potential issues that can come in new spaces.
But what is the best way to include the autistic person or people you are supporting in the planning process? You may already have some ideas as to what a given vacation might entail or you may be completely open to any and all suggestions.
The most crucial component is openly communicating your priorities paying attention when the person you are supporting expresses a need, preference, or boundary. The more you are on the same page in the planning phase, the more you can focus on fun when vacation time finally arrives!
We plan on releasing a few travel-oriented posts in the coming weeks for a variety of perspectives; some like this one will be aimed at parents and caregivers while others will be aimed at autistic adults seeking to travel independently. If there are any travel related topics you’d like to hear about, just drop us a line at email@example.com!
For those of you juggling multiple people in your family and interests, this is another way to navigate this topic area. Everyone can get on the same page around goals, prioritize different activities based on interests and needs, alternate ideas for those not interested, and more.
Getting Started: Three Key Questions
Before we get into the specifics of the trip, it can be helpful to define the parameters of the trip and make sure everyone involved in planning knows what those parameters are.
1. Who is this trip for?
This might seem like a relatively simple question, and in most cases it is! But if we don’t actively answer that question together that can lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding down the line. Oftentimes vacations are for a whole family or group of people, and when that is the case we want to make sure that everyone gets a say in the process.
Alternately if we want a component of or the entire trip to be focused on one person, we need to be prepared to follow through on putting that decision-making power in their hands.
2. What resources do we have for this trip?
This is a case where you have the best knowledge of your own situation and are the best judge of how to communicate your resources. Setting a budget might be the most sensible option, or you might prefer to frame it in terms of the number of activities you can do, restaurants you can eat at, etc.
Vacations can be so exciting to plan and the last thing we want is to have to make a last minute disappointing decision, so the earlier we can establish our available resources the better!
3. What if any limitations should we keep in mind?
Here we are talking about more than just limited resources. Does anyone going on the vacation have sensory needs, for example, that might limit the viability of some activities? Could someone’s schedule necessitate flying? Does anyone in the group have any restaurants they absolutely refuse to eat at?
The more limitations we can identify before we start planning, the less we need to revise. Most importantly, by starting here we are correctly framing people’s boundaries as something that needs to be accounted for from the beginning rather than something that throws a wrench in an existing plan.
Where are we going?
The big question is one that can be stressful if you are entirely unsure about where you’d like to go or if you do have a destination in mind and hope everyone else will go along with it.
If you do already have a specific idea in mind then one approach might be to solicit feedback. Alternately if you are open-minded, a great place to start might be considering some different broad settings that exist within your travel parameters.
We might have a hard time making a meaningful decision between Myrtle Beach, the Appalachians, and Washington, D.C. if we are not familiar with those places, but we at least have an idea of whether we’d prefer the beach, camping, or touring a big city.
While specific iconic destinations might not always be within our parameters, a travel budget does give us some options so we may as well think them through!
Where are we sleeping?
When it comes to lodging, one reality you may encounter is that there are a limited number of places that meet your specific safety and accommodation needs. At the end of the day, if there is only one truly workable option then that is the option you need to take and the most helpful discussion to have about it will be why this particular place is best and what options are available once you get there.
In other circumstances you may find that multiple options fit your family or group’s specific needs, which is a great time to discuss the pros and cons with the person or people you are supporting. What components of lodging are most important to them? Some distance from other vacationers? Nearby familiar restaurants? A nice pool? Their own room to sleep in?
Once you start listing additional priorities the best option is likely to reveal itself pretty quickly, though when it doubt price is always a helpful tiebreaker!
What are we doing?
One crucial component of the trip will be the activities that you are planning day to day, from the logistics of getting there to making sure they have any necessary accommodations available to ensuring that the person you are supporting is actively interested in trying those activities. Oftentimes the destination you are considering will lend itself to some specific options you can explore. One other crucial component of “What are we doing?”, however, is every other part of our day-to-day schedule and how it fits in with the preferences and needs of the person you are supporting!
Does the change in environment mean that lots of breaks and processing and relaxation time are a good idea or does the person you are supporting prefer a rigid schedule where we always have a sense of what is happening next? Do we want to walk around and see as many things as our energy will allow or do we want to actively take time to relax? Do we want all new experiences or do we want to mix in some familiar anchor experiences to avoid getting overwhelmed? How do we want to adjust if something about the schedule changes?
The answers will depend on the specific needs of your, your family, and the person you are supporting but it is crucial to consider the whole picture. The last thing we want is to feel stuck in a schedule that’s not working as intended!
What are we bringing?
As with other components of the vacation, you may already have a basic idea of what essentials you need to bring for a successful trip. Those are great items to bring up during the discussion about how much space we have to pack and what can go in that space.
The person or people you are supporting will almost certainly have some essentials in mind as well, and if the total volume of stuff everyone wants to bring brushes up against your space limitations it is much better to have that conversation ahead of time than right before you hit the road!
While there are obviously practical essentials that will be necessary on any given trip, it is also helpful in a collaborative effort to make sure to designate a proportionate amount of space for the person or people you are supporting to have control over.
For how long?
There are all sorts of factors that go into a trip’s overall length, from how far we are traveling to how big our budget is to how much time away from home we can handle.
Our answers to those questions will vary with every vacation, but especially in the early going it can help to err on the side of shorter trips so that unexpectedly stressful situations do not drag on unnecessarily.
The more trips you and the autistic person or people you are supporting take, the better everyone will have a sense of their own travel needs, preferences, and limitations. In that sense, even though vacations are often to different and new locations it’s possible to build a sense of routine into vacation mode over time.
Planning a vacation can be tricky when trying to account for everyone’s needs, but planning it out together can make the whole process much smoother!
We hope this framework has offered some ideas on how to approach that question in a collaborative setting, and if you’re interested in hearing more about trip planning or travel then we’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be back next week with another travel-themed post!