Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism


This month we had the opportunity to interview Ron Sandison, a professor of theology, motivational speaker, and writer about his tips on traveling with autism. Ron, who works full time in the medical field is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American and The Art of Autism.

Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. Also, Ron has published articles in Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Autism File Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, Not Alone, the Mighty, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, and many others.

 Ron resides in Rochester Hills MI  with his wife, Kristen, and his baby daughter Makayla Marie.

How I started traveling

While in college at Oral Roberts University every summer I would travel to a different country for a one or two-month mission trip. When I went with ORU mission trips to Cameroon and Madagascar—I lived in the jungles for two weeks. I was able to see amazing wildlife like monkeys/apes and taste exotic foods like spicy Toucan. For our second honeymoon, my wife Kristen and I traveled to Israel for two weeks. I was able to swim in the Jordan River, ride a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee and see the birthplace of Jesus.

Twelve and counting

I had the pleasure of traveling to twelve different countries—Madagascar, Cameroon, France, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Bulgaria, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Canada. 

Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism menorah

How I handle airports and flights

The only thing I don’t like about traveling is airports. Boarding on airplanes gives me extreme anxiety. I hate being surrounded by strange people while battling for an overhead compartment to place my luggage. I avoid this scenario by pre-boarding. I tell the check-in flight attendant, “I have autism, and due to anxiety and sensory issues, I need to pre-board.”

If a flight attendant tells me, “You don’t look like you have autism or act like it.” I put on my funny beach hat with palm trees.
Then the flight attendant says, “Oh, I see! We will pre-board you right away.”

Sometimes I wear my funny hat just so the check-in flight attendant won’t question my autism diagnosis.

Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism statueOn associating Travel with  smells

Some of my favorite travel smells include Belgium—the chocolate shops and Cameroon with its fresh bananas and mangos. In France & Bulgaria the smell of freshly brewed coffee and in Madagascar the seafood and fruit in the market!
Just thinking about these smells fills me with joy and makes me want to travel there again.

Ways to deal with less pleasant smells

Some travel scents I detest include pygmies’ bad breath—strong enough to kill a horse or mule. In Cameroon and Madagascar the odor of buses filled with locals who don’t use deodorant, bath, and are dripping with sweat from the heat.

I have learned coping skills to handle offensive odors placing candies near my nose when the scent becomes too much for me to bear. One of the best candies is Cracker Barrel’s old fashion candy sticks. I also try to set next to an open window when riding a bus or taxi cab overseas.

Ron’s tips for bouncing back from a trip

Two tricks I learned to recuperate from long trips are getting sufficient sleep and enjoying a favorite meal. When I came back from my two week trip to Israel—I slept for two straight days to regain my strength. When I travel overseas for a longer period; I like to go to one of my favorite restaurants and eat a meal I was unable to get in that country. When I returned after a two-month mission trip from Cameroon—I had pizza.

Preparing for the trip

I prepare mentally for traveling overseas by reading a travel guide and also checking out DVDs from the library on the countries I will be visiting. Two weeks before my trip I begin to daydream what it will be like to travel to that country.

Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism green

My favorite spots to visit

Four of my favorite places so far have been Masada, Foumban, London, and Loch Ness.

I love the rich history behind Masada—Herod’s Palace was the final stronghold from the Jewish Revolt to fall to the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. The view from the top of Herod’s Palace is incredible and seeing Ibex wild goats was cool.

Foumban has some of the best woodcarvings in Africa. When I visited this city, I got a woodcarving of a lion—one of my favorite souvenirs. London has excellent sightseeing and shopping spots. I liked Loch Ness because of the mystery of the “Loch Ness Monster” dating back to the 4th century.

My travel bucket list

The next three places I hope to visit are Greece, Turkey, and Australia.
I hope to travel to Greece because I teach Koine Greek and have translated 2/3 of the New Testament from Greek into English. I’d love Turkey so I could tour the seven churches of Revelation. I have memorized the complete book of Revelation. And as an animal lover, I would enjoy seeing kangaroos and koalas in their natural environment in Australia.


Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism israel

My personal travel tips

My favorite electronic device to travel with is GPS, so I don’t ever get lost. Furthermore, I always bring lots of books to read while on the airplane or during down time.
Luggage wise-I pack clothes I feel comfortable wearing. I try not to over pack since I hate carrying heavy luggage.
One of my autistic special interests is animals. In fact, from age seven to fifteen I carried a stuffed animal of a prairie dog. Hence, I buy some animal as a souvenir in every country, I visit. I also collect woodcarvings and religious icons.

 I believe People with autism should be encouraged to travel

The biggest misconception individuals with autism have about traveling is that it is dangerous. Many people with autism tell me, “I am afraid to go overseas. You are endangering your life.” I  say I feel safer abroad than in many U.S cities since the crime rate is lower in many countries.

Travel has been a big part of my life. I speak and travel to over seventy events a year. I firmly believe that travel has contributed to my life by enabling me to see amazing sights and experience different cultures. I have eaten many different foods overseas—the only food I don’t like is cassava- a root vegetable.

People with autism need to travel to better understand the world and to experience life. As more people with autism travel, they will learn new social skills and also better coping skills for handling sensory issues.




Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand

 Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand pin

Here at Autistic Globetrotting, we believe that there’s no substitute for personal experience. While most of the articles here detail our personal travel experience, in this post we interviewed Yumi Yasuyama about her recent trip to Thailand.


Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand family

Photo Credit: Yumi Yasuyama

How was the flight?

This time we flew with Thai Airlines. We couldn’t get a flight with Japan Airlines because it was peak season, but even so, the Thai Airlines flight was crowded.The flight was 6.5 hours from Chūbu Centrair International Airport to Bangkok. The service was excellent. The flight stewardess gave Aki, my son with autism, a lot of papers and colored pen markers so he wouldn’t get bored.

Where did you stay?

We stayed in the  Sukhumvit area at Grande Centre Point Terminal 21 Hotel. We were looking for a very convenient area especially because Aki has autism, not to mention ADHD, a panic disorder and food issues. I chose this central location so that if Aki had some meltdown, it would be easier to rush back to our room.

As always, I emailed the hotel before booking and explained our situation. The hotel gave us connecting rooms and even upgraded us to a room with a kitchenette.

Furthermore, they put us on a less crowded floor, and every time we showed up in the restaurant, lobby, pool, spa or fitness center, the staff was quick to give us assistance. We felt like we were given V.I.P treatment.

Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand swimming

Photo Credit: Yumi Yasuyama

What the highlights of the trip? 

Aki wanted to ride an elephant, so it was our primary purpose. We made inquiries online and planned a visit to an elephant camp.Also, the original plan included visits to some temples and some public markets. When we were there, most of the temples were under construction, which was quite a disappointment for us.
Also, it was too hot at 39℃ to be outside. So we ended up visiting the Indian district of Bangkok, had made-to-order tailored suits and shirts for the boys, and tried differThaimassages.We found the people in Thailand very helpful and friendly. They didn’t even ask for tips, but their services were fantastic.

Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand pool

Photo Credit: Yumi Yasuyama

Did you encounter any particular issues?

In the hotel, the communication was not a problem since everyone spoke English.Outside it was a little more of a challenge, but we were able to communicate through gestures, a little bit of English, pointing to pictures, and a Google Translate App. It was fun, and the boys giggled every time they understood us.
Overall we had a great experience even the street vendors were polite. At night we did wander into some districts where there were bars, but we still felt pretty safe.

In what ways did you find Thailand similar to Japan?

The people in Thailand are very honest. I left some tips for the staff in the hotel for making our beds, and when we got back to the rooms, the money had been left there on the top of our pillows.

Aki lost his bag in Bangkok, and we didn’t know where, but somebody found it, saw our hotel room key and brought it to the hotel lobby. We had already given up hope on ever finding it, but when it was returned,  the money inside was untouched. Sadly, since the kind person who returned it never left their name, we couldn’t thank anybody.

Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand night view
Photo Credit: Yumi Yasuyama

In what ways did you find Thailand different from Japan?

The foods were different in Thailand compared with Japan. They add a lot of spices. The boys giggled every time they tried new foods.We tried noodles, BBQ, and Thai curry. Their fruits were superb! We even found this Steak House right outside our hotel where they served Angus prime ribs which were delicious.

Tackling the congested traffic was challenging for Aki; especially with loud horns and motorcycles driving in the opposite lanes.

One of the sad differences was seeing some young girls, very young much younger than our boys who are 17 and 18, in the alley at the night district in Sukhumvit acquiring customers while wearing their very sexy outfits. I’m glad my son didn’t ask for clarifications as to what these girls were doing.

What souvenirs did you bring home?

Aki bought some fridge magnets, dried fruits, and chocolates that he gave to his teachers.Our other son got these scorpion keyholders and a Bulgari leather belt. He didn’t go crazy shopping this time. I was quite impressed.
We visited a gem factory, and my mom bought 23k earrings as she thought the prices were lower than in Japan.

Taking Your Kids With Autism to Bangkok Thailand elephant

Photo Credit: Yumi Yasuyama

What is your fondest memory?

My favorite memory is of visiting the Safari Park; riding the elephant, seeing so many giraffe and tigers up close and touching them. Seeing my boys communicate with the local vendors using sign languages and trying to get discounts is a close second.

The best part was that Aki didn’t have any meltdowns.We traveled with some friends this time, and they did help me a lot with the boys.
Sometime in the near future, we would like to go back and visit some of the Thai islands and stay longer . This visit was way too short.

Yumi Yasuyama lives in Aichi-Ken, Kariya City, Japan and is a mother to two sons, one of which (Aki) has autism and ADHD.She and her sons share their family adventures on their Facebook page called-Adventures in Autism. In this interview, Yumi sheds light on what motivates them to travel as well as describing the different challenges associated with planning their trips.

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess

Shalese Nicole recently received her Master’s degree in Public Health Education. With a passion for Autism Advocacy, and global travel she set out to create Autistic Travel Goddess to showcase traveling from an autism-friendly perspective. Outside of travel and raising autism awareness, she enjoys shopping, reading and water sports. Connect with Shalese on Facebook and  Youtube,.

We recently had the great opportunity to interview Shalese Nicole, founder of Autistic Travel Goddess. We asked her questions about her life, her inspirations, and her travels.

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess road

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard


What is your personal connection with autism?

I was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Growing up, I always wondered why I seemed to be treated differently. During my teen years of bullying, special education classes, and lack of understanding from others; I was forced to come to that painful realization that a person with autism was considered defective. From then on, I strove to understand why I was unique and wanted to teach the world that people with autism are just as capable of leading good lives as anyone else. My drive for advocacy, helping others on the spectrum and spreading autism awareness began in college when I became fiercely curious about my identity as an autistic person.

When did you start traveling and why?

It’s hard to say, but my traveling began when I moved around a lot as a child. I have had the privilege of living in several different states. As a family, we would take road trips whenever we could to visit family, or for fun. I used to spend hours in my bedroom looking at atlases, maps, and encyclopedias daydreaming about exploring the world.
My parents knew what would be on my holiday wish list every year – the National Geographic magazines and encyclopedias about places to travel.
Traveling became an intense curiosity and a dream of mine.

My first overseas trip was my freshman year in college, where I went to Scotland for a class trip. During my adult years, I make it a point to travel somewhere new once a year.

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess sea

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard

What did you learn from traveling?

Every time I take a trip, whether it’s the next town over or overseas; I come away learning more about people than ever before.

What I learn about myself is that traveling is a way to defy stereotypes of autism. At home, I tend to prefer my space and don’t try to actively engage in social activities.

When I travel, my entire boundary is lifted. I am more open to talking to others, being social, and being able to empathize with new people in a new place.

People’s attitudes about autism, or unique perspectives differ depending on the location.
It is nice to be able to travel the world, and defy that stereotype that autistic people are not social beings and that we can’t live independently.

Travel somehow heightens my instincts as well. It’s something about being in a new place that sharpens my intuition. Normal sensory annoyances don’t annoy me as much when I am on a trip. For example, I find myself LESS annoyed with crowded rooms when I am busy trying to embrace being in another region, state, or country.

Your favorite travel destination so far has been?

I would have to say Scotland because I am completely in a new territory, with a new cultural atmosphere. The rugged lands, beauty, and the people are heartwarming as ever. I felt that I could relate to the Scottish more than my fellow Americans due possibly personality similarities.
On the other hand, I enjoyed standing out and seeing how vastly different the lives of the citizens are from mine. Going to another country is such an imaginative, transformative experience for me that cannot be replicated otherwise.

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess bridge

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard

What was your worst travel experience?

I guess New York was the most stressful trip I have taken. I find the incredible crowds, traffic, and difficulty navigating the city to be a distraction from me embracing the place and actually experiencing the trip.
What I would do differently if I travel to NYC again is to plan better, and schedule what I call “sensor breaks,” where I intentionally return back to the hotel to rejuvenate so I may go back out less overwhelmed.
Also, I would NOT try to cram too much in so few days. New York is stimulating and big enough where I needed to expand the trip for at least one week, instead of rushing it all in in four days.

What are your favorite modes of transportation and why?

My favorite means of transportation are airplanes and rail. Airplanes help me indulge in my love for heights. Being so high in the air makes me feel powerful like I can take on the world. I also like being closer to God and nature. A plane in the clouds is the best way to do that.

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess hawaii

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard

Rail is my favorite, most relaxing way to see scenery that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It is also a smooth ride, with no stressful traffic. Trains have always been my ‘thing’ since childhood.

Any place you would NEVER travel to?

I recently read about Ft. McMurray, Alberta, and found it too depressing to travel to, based on what I have read and how it appears. It is huge in the oil industry, and the natives complain about how expensive the cost of living is there. Also, it doesn’t seem to be much there in terms of activities and sites. The only thing that would make me go is the Northern lights, but then I could see that elsewhere!

I used to think I would travel EVERYWHERE. The more I travel, the more important the vibes are to me. If I feel a place is rather dull and depressing; I no longer desire to travel there. Not just Ft. McMurray, but also any place that gives off that appearance is off my list of places to see.

Five items you always take along while traveling?

I always take my headphones- listening to good music implants the memory of the feeling I get when going on that trip. Every time I hear that song, I remember my first time on a trip. A camera, a good book to read during long wait and a stylish outfit/accessory as a confidence booster in a new place. Even if I don’t wear it, just the act of having it with me gives me a sense of my uniqueness to offer the new location I am visiting. I always bring my slippers- they are my ‘stim’ toys and give me something soft to rub my feet on (cleaner than hotel carpet). And let me not forget my favorite snack of all time, POPCORN. Popcorn has all sorts of exciting, positive memories for me and it’s a conveniently healthy travel food that keeps my hunger in check!

Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess mask

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard

Are you a theme park lover or hater?

Love. Love, Love theme parks! The faster, higher the roller coasters are the better it is!

Where would you travel if money was no object?

If money were no object, my dream vacation would be a cruise around the world. Being on a ship, going to different continents surely would teach me about the earth we live on. I would like that voyage to include Antarctica, Greenland and the most remote areas of the world. The earth is a beautiful place, and there’s so much to see. My dream vacation would allow me to see EVERY corner. Surfing in Fiji, and petting penguins in Antarctica are the greatest gifts to life.


Q&A with Shalese Nicole Heard of Autistic Travel Goddess SNOW

Photo Credit: Shalese Nicole Heard

Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids


Beth Henry is a flight attendant and a busy mom of two energetic kids. On her website, Cloud Surfing Kids, she shares tips for flying with kids., based on her professional and parental experiences.
Beth has always had a keen interest in child development and psychology and is fascinated with how her daughter, Ella’s mind works. (Ella is a Sensory Seeker and has ADHD: hyper-focus. )
This month we sat down with Beth to hear more about how parents can help their kids with sensory integration challenges enjoy travel better.

Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids flying

Photo credit Beth Henry

How did you start traveling? 

My very first flight was when I moved from Kansas to Texas at age six. I don’t remember anything about it except that my ears hurt so bad while the aircraft was descending that the flight attendant gave me “Mickey Mouse ears” (Styrofoam cups with hot towels inside) to help with the pain. Nowadays, that remedy is no longer recommended as it has been proven as unhelpful and a risk of getting burned.

The next time I flew, I was at fifteen when I got to go on a school trip to Australia! That experience triggered the desire to travel for me.

After several travel opportunities with school—to South Australia, Hawaii, Seattle, Chicago,  and Moscow, Russia, I recognized the joys of exploring new places and meeting people from different backgrounds. In my early twenties, I had the plan to move from city to city every six, so I could explore and get a real feel of the place.  I just wanted to soak in the culture and rhythm of different destinations.
I never got a chance to follow through with that plan, but now as a flight attendant, I get to experience different cities just as I had desired.

Why is it important for you to travel?

I believe that travel helps make people more flexible in life
It helps us better understand other people and cultures. It also helps us appreciate the comforts of home.


Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids tree

Photo credit Beth Henry


How has traveling with special- needs changed your travel style?

My seven-year-old daughter, Ella has Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD (over-focused). She was not diagnosed with these until recently, so I didn’t realize I was experiencing anything different than other travelers when I traveled with her. I would get compliments from other passengers about how attentive and understanding I was with her, but I didn’t realize it was unique.

Her additional needs don’t change how we travel; it just means I need to prepare more than others might.
For instance, where other kids might be okay with just one small toy to keep them occupied for a long meal, she needs to have a good variety of activities.
I feel like the way I prepare for travel would benefit all parents, whether or not their child has special needs.

Fondest memory from travel would be?

My daughter, Ella’s excitement each time we take off and land. She yells, “HIT THE BRAKES!” when we touch down.

Do you share your child’s  disability with other people?

Sometimes I do mention that she has “sensory issues” if I know there will be something that will bother her, or if I need to explain her behavior if she is reacting to sensory overload.
I don’t usually tell people in advance since her meltdowns rarely happen in public.

Girl with family Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids

Photo credit Beth Henry

Any tips to avoid kids from getting  ‘sensory overloaded’ during traveling?

I am lucky that Ella is a sensory ‘seeker’, not a sensory ‘avoider’.
So, most things in our travel day are exciting to her.
I try to help her stay balanced by incorporating lots of proprioceptive activities in our day.
I always have supplies with me that can help calm her if she gets upset. Chewing gum, playing with Play-Doh, holding a soft stuffed animal, listening to music, and snacks all contribute to keeping her calm.
I try to read her closely to avoid sensory overload, but when she does have a meltdown, the fastest way to calm her is to give her something to eat. Even two M&M’s will sometimes help her gain control of herself again and then we can address what is causing the sensory overload.

Items you would never leave home without are?

A change of clothes, diaper wipes, snacks, bubbles, water bottle or straw cup.

What do you do when stuck in the airport?

If there is a lengthy delay, I buy a day pass to the Airline Club Lounge. There we have a less chaotic atmosphere, nice bathrooms, snacks, and sometimes a kid’s room. It is worth every penny because it helps keeps everyone in the family more relaxed.
Other things we do to make things fun during a delay are:  ride the airport train, explore the art (or even advertisements) throughout the airport, or look for a children’s play area if they have one.

Girl Smiling Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids

Photo Credit Beth Henry

What are your best strategies to lessen kids’ anxieties on flights?

 We always bring a plush blanket, plush stuffed toy, headphones with a  music player, chewing gum and chewy candy to help maintain a calm feeling on the aircraft.
As Ella has been on over 200 flights, she doesn’t experience anxiety over flying, but if she is having an “off” day, the sensory overload can make the flight challenging.
Distraction works best for her if she starts to get upset, so I always bring a large variety of snacks and toys. Bubbles are my “emergency” tool to help her relax. I always pack a tiny bottle of bubbles.

What would be your ideal hotel room?

Mmm, that would be a  two-bedroom suite with kitchenette and black out curtains.
Ella doesn’t eat much, but it would be helpful to be able to keep the basic foods I know she’ll eat in the hotel room. Until she was four and a half, she would wake at the first hint of light, which was hard to us as parents. Luckily, she now will sleep past dawn if she’s still tired.

On your trips do you go or avoid ‘touristy’ attractions?

I love to explore ‘touristy’ attractions!
But since my daughter enjoys a visit to the pet store nearly as much as Disney World (okay, not quite that much, but maybe as much as the zoo), I don’t rush to experience everything all at once.
I remind myself there is plenty of time in the future to do things like NYC Times Square at night, which would be way too much sensory input for her right now.

How do you keep memories alive for your kids after the trip is over?

Photographs are the best since they keep us talking about our adventures year after year. I try to put them into photo books but haven’t since my son was born 2.5 years ago.

Beth Henry, a busy mom and flight attendant shares her best tips how to help kids with sensory disorders enjoy their travels better.

Photo credit Beth Henry

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups

When and how did you start traveling?

I grew up in a family where travel wasn’t a priority, so I never really knew the joy of travel until I was married with children.
My husband had a job that required him to travel, so we packed up our little one and went along with him.

It was a trip to England-my first overseas trip with a one-year-old in tow that made me realize how much of the world is out there to explore.

Why is it important for you to travel?

There are so many great reasons to travel, but the reason I love travel the most is because it challenges you.
Travel forces us out of our comfort zone, teaches us to be flexible, and builds skills for problems solving.
As the parent of a child with autism, these are skills that we need to work on every day.
Travel gives us a chance to do that, with the bonus of making great family memories.

What is your biggest challenge?

In the early years of traveling with a child on the spectrum, the meltdowns (real or possible) were, hands-down) the most significant problem.
If we were to get on an airplane, I would have to spend every minute of that flight talking softly in my son’s ear to keep his anxiety under control and warn him about what would happen next so he wouldn’t be caught off guard. Now that he is older, we still spend a lot of time managing expectations to prevent frustration and blowups, although it certainly has changed from when he was little.
We have to find a balance between forcing him to try new things in new environments and making, sure enough, things are expected and similar to home so that he stays calm.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups desert

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

How has travel with special needs changed you?

Traveling with special needs has taught me to marvel at the existence of ordinary miracles.
Everything that my son does takes effort for both of us.
Things like swimming, snorkeling, or trying new foods that are a mundane task for typically developing kids are a major accomplishment for him. It can take days or month or years of failures for him to achieve, but once he does the joy and celebration is compounded by all of the effort that it took to get to that point.
Traveling with him has given us so many opportunities to find those ordinary miracles to celebrate.

What would be your bucket list when traveling with your family?

I hate the ‘bucket list” questions because I truly want to see and do it all.
I am sure that I will run out of life before I run out of a list.
Mostly I want to make sure that my kids have had enough experiences that they feel comfortable in any situation. If I were pressed to make a list, I would say that I want to visit all 50 states, go on an African safari, and see the Seven Wonders of the World.

Your most useful planning tip would be?

The most useful planning tip for travel is just to do it.
There will always be excuses and reasons why you should put off going. Ignore those reasons and find a way to make it happen.
Also, bring wipes, even if you don’t have a baby. There is always a use for wipes.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups firemen

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

Have you managed to go anywhere without kids and why do you find it important?

Traveling without the kids, even if it is just for a weekend, is so important, but we have made the dire mistake of ignoring this in the past.
When our son was at his most challenging, we had a hard time finding babysitters that would work for him, so we stopped making time to connect as a couple.
As a result of not connecting as adults, coupled with the stress of raising a special needs child, we almost ruined our marriage. It took a long time to repair the damage done from the years of neglect.
From my experience, I can strongly encourage couples to take time for their marriage, especially when caring for your child seems hardest.

Your Favorite Travel Memory is?

Asking a serial traveler to choose one particular memory is almost impossible. There are so many places and experiences that have left footprints on my heart.
If I had to pick one memory without thinking too hard, it would be when my son conquered his fear of the ocean to snuba dive for the first time. He had always been afraid to even get in the water, but the sensory issues of using scuba equipment made the experience even harder. We were determined to succeed and he worked so hard to overcome his fears.
Afterward, he was standing taller than I had ever seen him. It was worth the effort.

Do you tell people or not about your child’s disability?

It varies from situation to situation. If we are in a hotel or location where I know we are going to need special accommodations, I am always upfront about his diagnosis and needs.
On the other hand, I try to be sensitive to the fact that he doesn’t want details about his life displayed to everyone. I am always assessing the situation to attempt to decide if telling or not telling will create the most freedom and acceptance for him.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups ocean

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

How do you help tackle sensory overload for your son?

I always, always have tissue or cotton in my purse for makeshift ear plugs in case things get too loud.
I also try to bring along food that I know he will like and will feel comfortable.
Before one trip, I bought him a collapsible bowl and a box of rice Krispies (his favorite) to put in his suitcase. It gave him such comfort to know that he had something familiar to pull out every morning.

What item can’t you travel without?

I-pad, without a doubt.
I know that parents are supposed to be anti-electronics, but handheld devices make transitions and long travel days so much easier, especially with sensory issues.

How can you enhance learning while traveling?

Because we homeschool, I am always looking for ways to incorporate learning into travel.
Fortunately, there are so many things we can learn while we are exploring, but I have to do my homework as the teacher to make it all work.
I like to research prior to traveling and make sure I know the details of the places we will visit, so I can casually work those into a conversation. It’s my sneaky little way of making sure they are learning without letting them know they are actually learning.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups ski

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

Your preferred method of transportation is.

My favorite mode of transportation is by car.
Road trips offer so much flexibility, as well as the capability to bring more of the things that make us comfortable. Plus, you never know what might be around the bend on a road trip. The next town on the map could be your next favorite place. I love that possibility.

What souvenirs does your family collect?

I am such a minimalist at heart that I like to avoid souvenirs at all costs. In fact, going into the souvenir shop is like a special kind of torture for me.
However, I want to have opportunities to remember the places we have visited, so I collect a magnet at each location. We keep them on our refrigerator and that allows us to talk about travel memories when we are cooking and eating meals.

Jessica and her family can be described in one word—average. They are a middle-class family living in Middle America right smack in the midst of the suburbs with three bedroom 2 1/2 baths and a minivan. To take a break from the ordinary, they travel the world looking for extraordinary adventures. The family’s travels are chronicled at  www.Suitcases and Sippy , and on FB where you can find travel tips and travel inspiration with a healthy dose of ‘keeping it real.’

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special

When did you think of creating your organization?

I began traveling with families early on in my career, as a respite provider.I was attracted to supporting  ‘real-world’ experiences for children and families, outside of the educational settings.
Then in 2007, I accompanied a student on a family vacation. I had been managing his home-based educational program and consulting with his school district, and was moved by how much more connected and motivated he was in the natural environments of the beach and restaurants.
As part of our service plan, I continued to provide the individual instruction of his home-based program, as well as opportunities to practice these skill in the new environments.
It was through this experience that I realized that the world is our classroom and that the more we are willing to step out with our students, with the right supports, the more we gain and discover what else we need to learn and teach.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special beach

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What are some of the greatest gaps in travel that need to be covered?

Honestly, fear is the main adversity, for travel, positive change, or any new opportunity.
The travel industry has become much more accommodating over the twenty years I’ve been in the field, mostly due to pressure to adjust to who’s traveling. Many things are possible, if we step past fear, for information and understanding.
I say fear because if families hold onto to the fear of what won’t be in place, or how others will respond, they will not take the first step to traveling. Conversely, if travel entities operate on fear, based on misconceptions of individuals with disabilities, they will not embrace more inclusive practices, or openly share their willingness to accommodate.

What tools do you rely on when traveling?

There is a reason for the common expression, “a picture tells a thousand words,” and travel is most about showing and experiencing, not so much telling.
I have found photographs to be a very useful tool. They serve as a preview to individuals of where they will go, an informative sequence of events, as well as a means for building conversation and learning.

The other greatest tool is flexibility. Plans will change, as they do for all of us, with or without a disability, and to resist or try to avoid this is self-defeating.
The willing to adjust, let go and move on will make all the difference between a “successful” vacation or a total disaster.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special teacups

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What steps in planning would you recommend to someone with disabilities?

  • Choose a travel experience based on interest; you will be more motivated and engaged to make it work (same is true for careers.)
  • Know your limits and needs, a host location cannot know these for you; for example, what is a reasonable time for walking, waiting, being engaged, processing information.
  • Once you know what you want, and what you will need, reach out to the travel destination and begin to build a relationship.
  • Avoid initial emphasis on their policy, and instead, create a conversation about your individual story.
  • Allow them the time and space to get to know you and your needs, and then note what and how they can do to meet those.
  • A final email, summarizing the specific expectations and agreed upon accommodations is useful.

What is your preferred kind of travel?

My favorite kind of travel is that of when I’m helping others.
I’ve visited five continents, explored and lived in areas with beaches, mountains, and have become immersed in incredibly varying cultures. They have all been beautiful experiences and enriched me by supporting individuals with disabilities.

Travel has opened me to knowledge, practice and gifts in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I want to provide those opportunities for others.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special girl

Photo Credit Meghan Mulvenna

What would you recommend for family and friends traveling with autism?

Let go of fear.
Continue any systems, routines, adaptive equipment that are used in everyday life; vacation should not be a break from what’s working, but a continuation of what’s working in a new environment, perhaps even an expansion of new strategies and tools.
Be optimistic.
Develop a relationship with the host entity where you will visit.
Know everyone’s interests and limits, and seek to balance them.
Be flexible.
Recognize that there are some things you do not control, and allow this to focus you, and improve, what you can. Enjoy.

Q&A with Tawanna Browne Smith, of MomsGuide to Travel

Tawanna Browne Smith is the editor of, a site that provides parents with strategies to help reduce the stress of family travel while also promoting destinations for them to explore . Originally from Brooklyn, NY she now resides in Maryland with her husband and two boys, and is a contributor to USA TODAY and  the were fortunate to catch her for a brief Q&A between her trips and ask her as a parent to a child with autism about the challenges facing  families with autism.


Q&A with Tawanna Browne Smith editor of MomsGuide to disney

photo credit Tawanna Browne Smith


Why is it important for you to introduce your child to traveling?

I want my children to know and understand the world in 3D. It’s not enough for them to read about it or see it on television, I want them to experience it from a young age and realize that it’s much bigger than what they see.

It’s just as much a part of their education as the formal classroom. In addition, I wasn’t fortunate enough to travel as much as my children have at their age so I also want to give them what I didn’t have.

 Five items you never leave home without 

1. My travel packing list cards (a product that I created to help traveling families stay organized).

2. My cell phone

3. Hand cream

4. A camera

5. An open mind and patience for the unexpected!

What has been your personal travel challenges so far?

Besides mastering the art of packing light, it would probably be food.
For me personally, I don’t have a complete willingness to try new foods. I’m probably the antithesis to an Andrew Zimmern.
I’ll try some things but if it’s not even remotely identifiable or I find it even slightly visually unappealing, my sense of adventure is trumped by my need to stay in a culinary comfort zone. This is echoed with my boys.
They are picky eaters, especially my youngest who has autism. There aren’t that many things that he likes to eat when it comes to protein, so it’s always a challenge to find turkey bacon or turkey sausage for him when we’re out and about.

 Do you ask for particular accommodations on flights or hotels?

When it comes to flights, I may request early boarding so that I can get my youngest situated without the hustle of general boarding.
When it comes to hotels, I ask a refrigerator so that I can keep my son’s particular foods in there.

What hotel amenity makes a difference in your stay when traveling with your kid?

As I said earlier, a refrigerator makes a huge difference for us but a pool and large rooms for my kids to expel that all that extra energy.

 What would you never do when vacationing with your child?

My oldest son has a sense of adventure, so there’s not much I wouldn’t do with him if he expressed interest and I believed it were appropriate and safe for his age.
As far as my youngest, that’s a different story. There are limitations to adventure and physical activities we can do with him.
More importantly, I don’t think I’d leave my son with a caretaker that I didn’t know.

, Q&A with Tawanna Browne Smith editor of MomsGuide to carts

Photo credit Tawanna Browne Smith

Best vacation with your child was…

The Cayman Islands. Lots of beach, sun, beautiful accommodations with tons of space, safe environment and not overly crowded for the time of year that we traveled there.

 What was the worst travel experience and what did you take away from the experience?

The worst was probably a weekend trip we took up to the Pocono Mountains in February. It was so doggone cold and my youngest son was still heavily in the midst of treatments.
We went dog sledding but by the time we were done and got back to our cabin, he got sick and ended up getting a fever. We were 4 hours away from his doctors so had to travel to the nearest local hospital to get some antibiotics into his system. Turns out the hospital wasn’t that close once you factored in the falling snow and the dark mountain roads. The hospital staff was another story but what I realized was that I was happy with who I am as a person and a mother, vocal and super protective.
What I took away was that my youngest probably does better with warmer vacations than colder ones. And although I don’t want to rule out anymore ski vacations for the family, the next time we take one, I’ll limit his activities to indoor ones or allow him to only be outdoors for 30 minutes at a time.

 Where are you traveling to next?

I always have solo traveled lined up, just because of work, but I’d like to take the kids on a cruise next. We always have plenty of opportunities to do local travel, and we’ll probably hit the Pocono Mountains again next month as a do-over, but I’d also like to take them on a cruise (with their grandmother in tow).

 How has your traveling style changed since you started traveling with your child?

There’s a lot more strategic planning involved. I can’t just get up and go and deal with the chips as they fall. I’m always thinking of contingency plans.




Q&A with Samantha Burns, Founder of Unboundedtravel


 Sam Burns is a senior at Lely High School in Naples, Florida.
Last summer, she attended MIT’s Launch program entrepreneurship program and designed a travel program tailored to the needs of families affected by autism.
Her wish is to revolutionize the way families affected with autism see the world, and the way the world sees them. She believes people with autism deserve to explore and discover new opportunities and would like her program to be able to fulfill the needs of families who currently do not travel because of autism.

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel water

 What is your personal connection to autism?

My brother, Peter, is 19 years old and has autism.
He enjoys his daily routine, yet he is always eager to go on to the next event or adventure. Peter is sandwiched between my older sister Katie, who is 21 and myself- and while he sometimes has rough days, I admire his ability to tolerate his two noisy, dramatic, and crazy teenage sisters.
In 2007, my family moved from northeastern Pennsylvania to Naples, Florida, after having traveled there often to visit our grandparents. We were amazed by how good everyone felt, especially Peter, from sensory walks in the sand and the therapeutic feel of the waves.  We decided, why wait for the next trip to be happy?
Traveling opened our eyes to finding a place that we all love to call home.

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel fishing


Why do you think travel is beneficial for families with autism?

When Peter discovers a new interest or skill, it has pivotal effects on our lives.
Sometimes it can be as small as learning how to load and play DVDs by himself; other times, it can be as powerful as learning how to paddleboard. With these significant discoveries comes the stress and anxiety of venturing out of our comfort zones. To see if we can do something new, we first have to try.
I love traveling because it enables our families to see ourselves in a new context. We can escape the familiar boundaries we see every day.
For example, Peter does not like dogs, and will immediately start planning his escape if he sees one walking down the sidewalk with its owner.
We were so used to seeing this, that we assumed Peter just did not like animals. It wasn’t until we brought Peter to the zoo that we found that he loves staring into the majestic face of a lion and challenging him to a roar-off.
Traveling outside of our comfort zones enables us to challenge our assumptions and make exciting discoveries about ourselves.

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel kayaking

What accommodations do you ask for when you travel?

For our family, traveling is about exploration.
When we reach every destination, we are on our feet, seeing how far we can walk and what we will find on our path.
Because Peter is active, air travel was a challenge for many years.
He would rock back and forth and sometimes hum out loud to compensate for the sedentary nature of taking a flight. And of course, we would get comments after the trip from the person sitting in front of Peter, asking us to “control” him on the plane- but we didn’t stop flying, we just adjusted.
We fly on airlines that let us pick our seats, and I always sit in front of Peter on the plane. I never mind him bouncing off the back of the chair- it is sort of like having one of those massage seats from La-Z-Boy.

Traveling with the gluten-free, dairy-free diet can be a challenge as well.
Before traveling, we always research to find accommodating restaurants that would be fun for the whole family.
The “Burger and Fries with no Bun” is a staple, and so if we can find a laid-back atmosphere, we can recharge and refuel.


In what ways has travel helped your brother?

For Peter, our major breakthroughs came through experiences away from home.
My family grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. With little to no sidewalks and the hilly terrain, we never thought Peter would ever be able to ride a bike.
However, one day we were visiting our grandparents in Naples, Florida, and we stumbled into a bike shop. Perusing through the racks, my sister and I were fascinated by the blue tandem bicycle, having never seen one in real life before. Peter could never ride a bike because he would not steer or brake- but neither of these skills is used from the back seat of the tandem.
We decided to give it a try: my dad jumped in front, and Peter got set up in the back. My mom, sister and I each grabbed a bike, and we all set off on the first family bike ride we never imagined we would ever have.
Peter loved the bike, and from that one afternoon, we uncovered Peter’s passion.

Later that year, we decided to move to Naples, and Peter now bikes with my dad every weekend. They have become icons of our town as they pedal over ten-mile treks, checking out the alligators and eagles along the way.

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel surfing

Your best vacation memory is

One of the greatest vacations my family has ever taken was hiking the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island.
Walking along a thin trail of crashing waves and magnificent Victorian mansions, you feel as if you are in a different universe.
Disney World similarly presents visitors with a way to jump out of current reality, but there is a very distinct difference between going somewhere magical and going somewhere that is both extraordinary and real.
In Boston, we walked the trail and then meandered through the sites in town, finally accumulating about 10 miles of on-foot exploration that day. We had no idea how much we had traveled until we were sitting at the table that night, looking at the map over dinner.
When we were able to take ourselves out of the context of our daily lives, we were able to exceed our expectations. That is truly exhilarating.

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel jump


Worse vacation story 

 While my family loves the spontaneity of adventure, there is always a risk in trying something new. We learned to do our research before trying new attractions.
When my sister turned nine years old, we traveled to New York City. She was ecstatic to be able to hold up her “Today I’m nine and feeling beautiful” sign in the crowds of the Today show.
Our family had a blast in the city, but we did not think to research the New York Sky Ride attraction at The Empire State Building before we decided to go on.
Peter walked into the theater expecting to watch a Disney movie- but he was not expecting the seats to move and simulate a haywire plane ride. The ride threw Peter off guard, to say the least. But one bad experience can often lead to challenges down the line when powerful associations are made. So, it took our family years to get Peter to trust sitting in a movie theater without having extreme anxiety.

We learned from that experience to research different attractions and consider the possible consequences of negative connections that could be drawn.
But similarly, powerful active connections can be made when we introduce Peter to new experiences in a strategic manner.
(Note: There is now a video clip on the Sky Ride’s website providing a preview of the experience for families who may want to try the virtual tour of NYC).

Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel sand

What does your travel bucket list look like?

Our family has yet to travel abroad together.
My one bucket list adventure that I would love to share with my family is visiting Germany. I want to visit our family and enjoy hiking in the Alps.
My dad would love to play golf in Scotland with Peter as his caddy.
My sister would like to take Peter to London to see Harry Potter’s world.
My mom wants to recreate her childhood cross country trip and take the family from Maine to California, stopping for adventures along the way.


Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel pool

How could  Unbounded Travel help travelers with autism?

Travel has become a source of empowerment for my family, but for many other families, this is not the case.
I have friends with autism who were asked to leave the hotel pool for being too noisy and received harsh looks for acting out in public. So many families are afraid to vacation because of the anxiety of traveling with autism.
This summer, I joined a team at MIT’s Launch Entrepreneurship program to create a traveling service that would tailor to the needs of families affected by autism.

Our business, Unbounded Travel, is developing a program that would provide behavioral and recreational support services for these families to alleviate the stress of new environments while enhancing the benefits of new opportunities.

Parents deserve a chance to travel, and people with autism deserve to be introduced to empowering and exciting experiences outside of their home environments. We want to create a program that would allow families to try paddle boarding in Florida, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, or experiencing theater in New York.

 Q &A with Samantha Burns Founder of Unboundedtravel stadium

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Unbounded Travel will provide the services to overcome the difficulties that prevent families from experiencing those pivotal, empowering moments of travel.
Travel is not about diversions. It is about growth. Families deserve to return from a vacation recharged and motivated to expand upon these new interests discovered, not weary from traveling stress.

We plan to begin in a few select locations, where we provide our services for 5-10 families. We will provide behavioral support to help individuals with autism transition to new settings.

We will also have activities throughout the day designed and run by recreational therapists. In these activities we want to provide opportunities for people with autism to try something new, we want to expose them to new interests.

For example, a family from New York may discover that their son has a passion for kayaking when they come to our program in Sarasota, FL. Or perhaps through performances and activities in our Nashville location, a family may discover their daughter’s love for music.

By partnering with a national hotel company, we will be able to grow our program throughout time, increasingly adding more programs throughout the year, more locations to explore, and more families to join our movement. Our ultimate goal is to use travel as a way to catalyze integration, inspiration, and growth for families affected by autism. 


Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ plane

Please introduce us to  your family

I live with my husband Brett and our sons Bryce ( 13) and Dorian ( 10) in Burlington, Ontario in Canada. Brett works in transportation and loves jamming with the “Kanuck” band while I’m an entrepreneur working from home. My passions include advocating for autism, writing, singing, and performing puppet shows.
Bryce, our son, loves acting and wants to follow in my family’s footsteps.
My mom Hazel Gorin is Maynard’s original ‘Sour Granny’; my dad is Ken Gorin; a church singer (Sacrifice); my sister Stephanie Gorin; a Toronto Casting Director and my brother-in-law is Joe Bostick; Fight Director/Actor. My two nephews are also in the ‘biz’ Devon Bostick who played Rodrick in ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ and Jesse Bostick who was Antonello in ‘The Borgias’.
Dorian also has the ‘showbiz’ bug and dreams of being a rock star one day, and music teacher working with autistic children.

Why do you like to travel

Living with an autistic child is challenging since public awareness, and acceptance is lacking.
Venturing out causes “anxiety” for our family.
Travelling takes more preparation and a lot more time to ease our child into the journey though it is a welcome escape from the “norm”.

How would you describe your preferred family travel style?

We love travelling by car.
Going on “ adventure rides”, we stop periodically; meeting new people along the way. Landscapes engage my children in something other than “electronics” which is wonderful. By the way, our favorite travel game is ‘Punch Buggy’.

How has travel helped your family? 

When you live with autism, the family dynamic can be strained. Bryce’s need for “alone time” hurts Dorian’s feelings; causing some of his meltdowns. During our car travels, both brothers find ways to co-exist amicably, so it’s “quality time” for the entire family.

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ carousel

What is your best vacation memory?

My favourite vacation was our honeymoon to Myrtle Beach.
Brett and I left before sunrise.Without planning a route or knowing where we would sleep along the way, we played it by ear. We also took turns driving throughout the night.  It felt quite adventurous.


What was your worst vacation story?

Our family vacationed at a Collingwood resort offering a kids’ summer camp. Needing a break from the everyday chaos, we enrolled Dorian in their half-day camp. After a couple of hours, they requested we pick Dorian up. Apparently, after he was ordered to leave the pool, by the lifeguard, Dorian screamed, “No!”  Then, flailing his arms, Dorian accidentally fractured the nose of the counselor coming to console him.
Though Dorian apologized the next day, his camp participation was terminated.

What has your son learnt from traveling?

We haven’t ventured outside of Ontario yet, so Dorian has learned very little about the outside world.
We’re hoping that will change this year when we take our first big trip to Orlando, Florida.

What does your family travel bucket list look like?

Bryce dreams of travelling by air.
I’d love to enjoy an early morning latté at an outdoor Paris café; Dorian wants to visit Egypt and Brett dreams of visiting somewhere exotic.

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ plane

How did you come up with the concept of your project?

My friend Karen Ellis shared the story of a little girl with cancer who wanted to travel but couldn’t.

So, she sent her teddy bear to travel around the world instead of her. She saw the world through the bear’s eyes; and from postcards she received.
It was a lovely story, and when I shared it with Dorian, he responded, “Mommy, I want to send TIKKO™ (Dorian’s GANZ Webkinz Polar Bear) into the world to raise autism awareness!

 I don’t want people to keep TIKKO™; I’d miss him too much.”  I replied, “Why don’t we ask our friends to take TIKKO™ on vacation and bring him back when the trip is over? ”  Dorian loved the idea.
And that’s how Travelling Tikko™”  started!

As TIKKO™ travels, I research local autism organizations where he visits, AND posT links on Facebook’s Travelling Tikko™ page.
By taking TIKKO™ on vacation, families help raise autism awareness and their vacation photos are shared on Facebook.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I avoid “five-year plans.
My angels will guide me where I’m meant to go.
I would love to see more people advocating for autism; understanding ASD with love and compassion.
Ultimately, this is Dorian’s legacy.  For now, I am his voice, helping Dorian realize his dream of making the world a better place.



Q&A with Graeme Phillips Train Travel Aficionado


How do you plan a trip?

I research the places I want to travel to and see how accessible they regard transportation.
If I still want to go, I  create my itinerary, book the trips and then my lodgings.

Do you travel alone or with a group?

I travel solo unless there is someone who shares my interest in the places I wish to visit and what I want to do there, which does not happen often.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado roof

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

What is your favorite form of lodging?

I prefer Bed and Breakfast or half-board lodging -depending on the price and availability in this particular region.

Where do you usually travel to?

Mainly cities as I  don’t like renting a car and feeling bound to use it because “the meter is running.”

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado ocean

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Do you ask for any particular accommodations in airports/lodging?

No, nothing in particular.I plan ahead and make sure I have what I need with me.

Do you join guided tours or venture on your own?

I  prefer to make my timetable and wander on my own.I might consider taking a  guided tour if it is offered at a reasonable price though in some instances like hot weather group tours with fixed itineraries would make concentrating difficult.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado bridge

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite place you’ve been so far?

Seville, Spain! That’s why I’ve bought a flat there. My close second would be Cartagena de Indias.

What place you would never go back to?

I can’t  think of anywhere.I once spent a month in Syria, and  I guess it wouldn’t be an excellent idea to visit at present.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lights

photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Personal Travel pet peeve?

I’d have to say that would be assistants who cannot answer questions unless the answer comes from a list of pre-memorized responses.

This happened a lot in Malaysia when I asked about books about trains: the shop assistants looked pained when I asked questions about this, as it was outside their usual repertoire of questions.
Another pet peeve is transportation to the airport being late.
Recently had an experience where I traveled by bus to a city center, where I was catching an onward coach, but my flight was delayed, and it took forever to get to the city center’s coach station in rush-hour traffic, making me about hour-and-a-half late for the bus. Luckily, I was put on the next one.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lake

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite method of transportation while traveling and why?.


Traveling by train in comparison to the bus is a good idea since trains don’t interact with rush-hour traffic except at level crossings.
I think that choosing transportation modes with a high degree of predictability are better for people with autism, particularly if they are traveling alone.
I will often plan holidays in countries with extensive networks like Spain and China just to experience their high-speed trains. I like Spain’s AVE service that promises on the Madrid-Seville line that if the train is more than 5 minutes late, you get all of your money back.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado station

Photo Credit GraemePhillips

The German and Swiss rail systems with their reliable timetables provide sound traveling choices for people on the autistic spectrum, and I like the fact that most of the times, the platforms the trains leave from are announced well in advance.
The Swiss railway system prides itself on punctuality and interconnectivity.
As far as I know, it was among the first to adopt the clock face timetabling method (trains departing at the same number of minutes past the hour) and to produce a timetable map of the country.

The system is designed so that it is easy to interchange, with many major cities having trains arrive five minutes before the hour and departing five minutes after the time. The numbers closest to the station show how many minutes past the hour a train arrives at a station and the number on the other side slightly further away shows how many minutes past the hour the train leaves the station.
Would I trade the Swiss system for the British system?
Probably not, because the punctuality of the Swiss seems to be achieved by leaving extremely generous allowances. The system of timing nodes around the half and whole hours can be fairly wasteful and reduces the number of destinations reachable within a day’s travel.
Nevertheless, the system is easy to navigate when you are in a country you don’t know, and you don’t want to struggle to learn a new regime.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado train

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Over the years, I’ve heard some complaints about the appearance of the Chinese metro system, but I don’t personally have a problem with it since for me predictability trumps appearance, especially in a city, I’m not acquainted with.

Though I know a lot about high-speed trains around the world, my real specialty (and day job) involves metro trains.
Metro systems are in many ways my favorite method of getting around, as they offer the best of both worlds- spontaneity and predictability.

Spontaneity in that you can just turn up and, in most systems, a train will arrive in a matter of minutes (generally no need to find out times in advance).

Predictability in that you can look up the location of the station, and you know exactly where you are going, unlike by bus where you might not know where to get off and possibly overshoot your spot.
However, as much as I do like seeing other metro systems, I have to confess I often don’t bother using the systems if the distances are short enough to walk since as a tourist I want to get to explore the city as much as possible.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado rainbow

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Graeme lives in the United Kingdom and works in the railway industry. In his spare time, he enjoys participating in his Reformed Baptist Church, learning foreign languages and finding out about railway systems across the world. To learn more train travel tips, you are invited to join his  ‘Fans of High-Speed Trains’ Facebook group.


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