Tawanna Browne Smith is the editor of MomsGuideToTravel.com, 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 TravelChannel.com.We 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.
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.
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.