Saturday, 24 July 2021

Arranging a long holiday with autistic kids

 

Two years ago, our family were starting on a wonderful and unforgettable holiday to North America.  It took in six destinations, five flights, three travel booking sites and companies and of course us and our wonderful autistic and neurotypical kids.  With an increase in working from home (or maybe anywhere you have an internet connection) and restrictions I've heard about the idea of basically getting away for an extended period, almost living away on a holiday destination.

Taking kids travelling is an excellent experience for us all.  Travelling to new places together is a fantastic way to make some special memories, discovering new experiences and enjoy quality time in each other’s company. Before we went I would never have imagined taking our pre-verbal son on a helicopter ride in Maui or zipline across the Canadian Rockies.  

Planning a holiday with autistic kids can be challenging.  Autistic kids are, traditionally, set in routine, like familiarity not change and need time to cope with things. We have restricted diets, issues with sleep and communication difficulties (to say the least).  Holiday periods can be challenging for many SEND families.    But there's all the normal admin to think about as well.  

What can I suggest if you are thinking of doing this now?

Sort out travel documents

Even a fortnight in the sun that would normally require minimal paperwork to arrange is more complicated now.  An extended trip is often a lot more involved from an admin viewpoint.  You will need to find out whether you will need visas for the countries you plan to visit, and if so, which type of visa you will need. Applying for visas can be challenging, and having your application rejected can spell the end of your travel plans.  I know of friends who have looked into an immigration lawyer to help with visa's especially if there is anything unusual in an application. 

Don’t forget to check your passports when you book your trip - things are all taking longer at the moment so make sure they aren't expired!  Many places require a minimum of six months left before your passport expires to gain entry to their country. So if you are travelling for several weeks or months, you may need to renew your passport before you go.

If like us you'll need to take medications with you then check as you may need to organise doctors or other professionals letters to support taking them into some countries too. 

COVID restrictions

So before anything else - can you practically go and stay where you want?  What are the current traveling restrictions in place from both the UK side of things and those in the country you are going to?  There's no point setting off to visit that special place to find that you'll have to quarantine for two weeks and then the rest of the time is still on lock-down (unless of course being isolated is exactly what you are after). 

Will you need to take tests before you go, what kind?  Do you need to take lateral flow tests with you?  Do you want to.  How many face masks will you need - answer loads if you think you will need them anywhere!  Remember many masks are only valid for a few hours before they should be replaced or washed.   Not all autistic kids can wear face masks and here they are exempt, but we got them used to both wearing them and being around other people who are wearing them too.  

If you need evidence of a double jab, do you have it... and is the one you have accepted.  Ultimately all the answers to these were just too much of a headache for me and we opted to staycation this year, but that's our choice. 

Flights

If you are booking less than four flights you can book these yourself by selecting the multi-city or multiple-destinations on sites like Expedia and Opodo.   By linking your flights on one ticket you can get cheaper prices and extra benefits like being able to check additional luggage on internal flights.

We used a travel agent in the end - but there are ones what do this well and ones that don't.  One I went to quoted over double the price of another and that's a massive difference on a long holiday.  I'd recommend Trailfinders, who we went with in the end, but Travelbag also did well.  As above, check exactly what the policies are for cancellations relating to COVID and whether you are happy with them or not. 

When looking at flights, have your 'best day to travel' dates - the days you'd like to fly on most. This will give you somewhere to start.  You can then fiddle the dates a little with availability and prices.    I was surprised to find that several flights on the same day were the same or only marginally different in price. 

This meant I was able to choose the flight times that suited us best.  We need times that not only work for the holiday schedule, but for the kids.  We choose over night flights in some places, avoided them in others and generally stayed away from early morning departures.  It's just too much for the kids morning to through into an airport.

We have been on lots of flights with the kids. Practice doesn't make perfect but certainly helps.  I'm not embarking on a long trip without an idea of whether my kids can cope with airports or flights - that would be crazy especially at the moment when there are extra delays in airports with all the extra test requires etc. 
  
Protect your family and home

Your trip is very likely to be a huge success and a fantastic experience you and the kids remember forever. If something does go wrong, you may require access to healthcare and a travel insurance policy that will pay your costs. Choosing a travel insurance policy that provides you with the correct level of cover will give you added peace of mind while travelling.

If you are travelling for a long time, it is essential to consider what will happen to your home while you are away. Having a trusted friend, family member, or neighbour check in on your house every once in a while should help to keep it safe and just as you left it when you return home from your adventure.  Also check how long you can leave you home vacant for without invalidating your insurance - many are 60 days but some are less and some more! 

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