Eva Bronstein-Greenwald is the owner of Best Cruises and Travel Now, founder at WE BELONG: Inclusion program in Fairfield County as well as a mother of two daughters, one with autism.
Why is travel important for families with autism?
I am a very passionate traveler as are my family members. We love trying various foods, meeting new people and visiting unknown sites. Naturally, because my younger daughter has autism, she is more resistant to novel experiences, which make it, even more, important for us to expose her to what’s different. When she samples a new food or sees a new place, she always compares it with what she already knows, so Venice, for example, reminded her of her beloved Cape Cod because of the water and boats. Personally, I think it is great that she can draw from her previous experience and generalize to a new one. Travel is important to our family because we get to spend quality time making beautiful memories.
We are removed from our daily routine, more relaxed, more communicative, more creative and way more fun. I’ve noticed that Hilary’s speech and language improve when we go on vacation. I don’t know if it is because we are always talking rather than sitting in front of the TV/computer at home, or it is because we’re talking as we’re exploring what’s new and different. It’s a special time that creates those everlasting memories and continued discussions. Hilary, my daughter with autism, will always bring up, “Remember when we went to Mykonos and saw those windmills or the activity we did in the London Museum..?”. We take copious photographs and pick up brochures every place we visit which help stimulate discussion that Hilary often initiates days and months after our trip is over.
As a professional travel agent and mother, please share your best tip to eliminate stress during travel.
Whether you go with typical children or children with special needs, don’t plan too much and plan naps and rest breaks. The desire to “pack it all in” creates a lot of stress, fatigue, exhaustion, irritability — not what you want on vacation. Plan less, rest more, have fun. Enjoy what you are experiencing and make everything a teaching moment.
In today’s digital age, many might question the logic of using travel agents. What would you tell them to convince them otherwise?
There are many benefits to working with a particular agent like me, let me count a few;
#Saves you time since all the research.
#You get the best value since agents like me have access to special pricing and amenities not available to the public online.
#Access to expert travel advice.
#You can save money through our affiliation with Cruise Planners and American Express, since we get our client ‘group volume ‘ discount pricing and even by using your Amex points. As more and more people are getting ‘burned’ when booking travel online on their own, they are coming back to travel agents. We get paid commission from the travel suppliers, so there is absolutely no cost to our clients.
How does travel fit into our lifestyle?
Travel is a vital part of our lives. We lead very busy lives as professionals, as parents and as members of our community. We need travel to de-stress, recharge and reconnect with our family. This winter’s weather on the East Coast has been brutal. What helped us get through it was knowing that we were going to get away to be someplace warm, beautiful and tropical.
Even before getting into the travel business we would go at least twice a year — in the winter and the summer. We’d also try to take weekend trips, which are a nice way to add some spice to our lives. Now that we are in the travel business we must travel more– for the job and ourselves. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
Many families are very discouraged by the prospect of traveling with autism. What are your thoughts?
I feel that not traveling with your autistic child is as absurd as not taking your child out into the community to go shopping, to the park, to the beach, etc. Hiding your child is criminal.
True, it is more work but with patience and a sense of humor, you can take our kids out to our local and world communities. It is imperative to expose our children to the world and to expose the world to our children. It is critical to spend quality family time doing things that are exciting, fun and novel. We should not deny our child with autism, our typical children and ourselves the pleasures and benefits of travel.
Describe your family’s perfect vacation spot
We don’t have one particular favorite place. We do have two best types of vacations — cruises and all-inclusive resorts. Both are great because they include everything – food to meet everyone’s taste, all different kinds of entertainment, the wonderful kids programs, the variety of exotic locales, the unbelievable pampering, and service, and the fabulous way they treat my daughter with autism.It is the most stress-free vacation. We don’t rule out land tours, but they do tend to be less inclusive and more tiring.There is so much to see and do, and everyone has to compromise. For instance, I love museums and can spend an entire day in one, but Hilary has limited patience in most museums, so we do visit them but my time has to be cut short, and there has to be a reward for Hilary’s patience, so we calculate that in. When people ask me, in general, what is my favorite vacation, I say that my next vacation is my favorite. We always try to go to new places and do different things, which is always exciting.
What distinguishes Best Cruises and Travel from other travel agencies?
Throughout the years, many families with kids with special needs as well as and some adults with disabilities have asked for our help in planning their vacations and have expressed the wish to have the assistance of a skilled nurse or trained aide. As a result, we are in the process of interviewing licensed nursing care providers to see who we can team up with to provide children and adults with disabilities with the support, they require during their travel.
We will be announcing our partnerships shortly and then will be able to start booking aided travel on the cruises, all-inclusive resorts and land tours that are most accessible. Our clients will cover the aide’s/nurse’s travel expenses travel and will only be charged a ‘per diem’ fee to the outside agency supplying the assistant or nurse. Unlike other travel agents who deal with disability travel, we will not charge a separate fee for this service, since we consider it our privilege to assist families and individuals that have disabilities who wish to enjoy travel and explore their world.