I love to travel. I need to travel. I am privileged to be able to do so on a regular basis.
My neurodivergent family has been privileged to take several trips, domestic and international. For us, I’ve found two keys to success: flexibility and leaving all expectations at home.
I travelled a fair amount before my children were born. For me, travelling to a new place is a rich sensory seeking experience, unlike most anything I can experience at home. I love to eat. I love to try new food. New flavor combinations, new textures, new ways to use ingredients I never would have thought of on my own. I haven’t always been like this though. As a child, I was labelled picky and was most certainly not adventurous with my food choices. Having already experienced this myself, I try really hard to respect this choice for my children when we travel. I don’t get upset if they eat the same meal every day. I’m not bothered if they don’t eat a “real” meal. I respect the fact that while I would be thrilled trying all the local ethnic cuisine that we can’t get back home, my children would be miserable and hungry.
For us, travel pushes us out of comfort zones and routines, familiarity and soothing habits. There’s a fine balance, I’ve found, between pushing and reality. We travel with an electronic tablet or phone for each family member. My children are responsible for loading their apps, movies, and videos before we leave. On a recent trip, one of my children had three episodes of their favorite cartoon downloaded to their tablet. Since we did a fair amount of driving on this trip (hence no access to wifi) my child watched these three episodes over and over again. There were times when I reached my limit on listening to these episodes, (we also travel with several pairs of headphones) but for my child, the repetition and familiarity was a soothing reminder of home and brought them great peace and comfort in such an unfamiliar setting.
Travelling before my children, and even when we only travelled with one child, I was very much a go go go type. There is an entire planet for us to explore and when I go somewhere, I want to see as much as possible while we’re there. This worked fine when it was just me, even when it was just me and my husband. It was somewhat manageable when my oldest was little, although rather exhausting. Now, it’s just not realistic or fun. It’s taken me awhile to accept this, but really, what memories and experiences am I creating for my family if we’re all exhausted and stressed out? We took a big trip this year, and my initial itinerary was…ambitious. I was trying once again to cram in as much as possible. After discussing it with my husband, we cut about half of it out and made a new plan. This time, there was one big activity that we had tickets for already, and the rest we left open to general ideas. It worked out much better. Did we do as much as I wanted to? No. Did we see everything I’d wanted us to see? No. And that’s ok. I learned long ago to let go of all expectations while travelling with kids and appreciate the things we are able to do. My family is happiest at the ocean. We were able to visit several different beaches. My children were thrilled.
I am lucky to be able to combine several passions into weekend trips that we can all enjoy. We are trying to visit all the Major League Baseball stadiums with our children. Most of these big cities have children’s museums or science museums that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program. By purchasing a membership at our local science museum, we are able to visit other participating museums for deep discounts or even for free. Since my children are not in school, we are able to travel on “off” days, frequently leaving these museums much less crowded and overwhelming for my family. If we do travel on a weekend, I’ve found the last few hours before a museum closes is less busy and more much suited to our needs. For our most recent weekend trip, we got a slow start driving and arrived at the museum an hour before it closed. Was I a bit disappointed to only have an hour there? Yes; but in visiting at this time there were less than a dozen other people there with us so it was a joy to quietly explore without all the sensory overwhelm crowds bring.
By doing so, all of us are exploring one of our passions: travel, baseball or science.
It is a great deal of effort to travel with children- neurodivergent or not- but I really feel it is such a wonderful experience and it is well worth the effort. I hope my children look back on their childhood travels fondly, and perhaps I’ll have even sparked the travel bug in them too.