Q&A with Karen Bower of ‘Railman’ Blog

Our guest this month is Karen Bower from the UK.
Karen is an industrial chemist by background, married and busy stay at home mom to Harry and Imogen and steps mom to Hannah and Issy.

When did you start traveling with your kids?

We began quite early; Harry was two, and a half and Imogen was barely eight months.

What was your first trip?

Our first adventure was to EuroDisney.
In hindsight, I already knew that Harry was not neurotypical.
Even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, travelling with Harry and Imogen was such an enjoyable experience.
There were no meltdowns. No tantrums. No screaming fits because we’d done something terrible like turned right instead of left!
However, the first time where I understood that I could use trains to connect with Harry and facilitate his learning was during our Lands End to John O’Groats  trip in 2012.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog chair

What is your favourite type of trip?

For us, sleeper trains work brilliantly.
The children sleep very well on trains, and Harry adores both waking up in a train station and also being somewhere new. For Harry, the thrill is traveling, and I like the fact that sleeper trains provide time to explore our destination.
I tend to do quite a bit of research on our destinations and will have a planned activity – to see a zoo or a park or a museum and, again, that seems to work for us. I try to make sure that we do something relevant to the city we are in and also something the children haven’t done before. While in America, we will take a tour of the White House, see whales and even take a tour of a submarine.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SIGN

Do your kids enjoy trying new dishes?

Um, no!!
Food is a massive issue.
Harry will only eat a very limited number of foods. His first line of taste buds, I am sure, are in his fingers. Food is rejected for a vast number of issues. Too hot, too cold, too hard, too soft or simply (his favourite excuse!) too yucky.
I bring pre-packed pureed fruit with me. Buying it en route is not acceptable to Harry, it must the brand he likes otherwise he won’t touch it.
Other than that, Harry can survive solely on bread, pasta, pizza and diet coke!!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog HARRY

What made you plan your long train trip?

This trip comes at a special moment for our family.
It is the last summer where all the kids are at home. Or, more accurately, on the road. And it is the first summer when we aren’t scared of autism.
Plus there is the flight issue. The one part of the trip which will be stressful will be the flight so it made sense that, once we were out there, we might as well stay for the summer!

Who is going on that trip?

I will be taking Hannah (18), Issy (15), Harry (5) and Imogen (4)  to NYC, Washington and Denver.
My husband Richard will join us in San Francisco. Then, Richard will take the elder girls to Las Vegas while I will be head to Canada with the little ones.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SKI

Do you make your travel arrangements?

We have used Ted Blishak, who has recommended suitable layovers and hotels and made sure we have the right tickets and documentation, like a letter of authority for Issy, who is a minor and for whom I do not have parental responsibility.

Do you typically ask for special accommodations anywhere?

Only on the plane.
I have informed them of Harry’s disability so that we can get bulkhead seats (at least for myself and Harry.) This is because Harry WILL kick the seat in front of him and any attempt to stop him will increase his stress making it even more likely he will kick the seat in front of him!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SAIL

How do you travel- light or with everything but the kitchen sink?

I’d like to answer light, but I have a feeling Hannah and Issy won’t agree.
One thing that I am clear on, though:  ‘If  YOU want to bring it, YOU have to carry it !’

What items do you pack to entertain your kids on the long train rides?

I understand that there is an enormous debate over whether children should be allowed to have I-pads, but honestly, I couldn’t rate them more highly.
If there is one benefit of having a child with autism, it’s that debates like this no longer apply to me. I do what is right for my family.

How are you preparing your kids for the trip?

We talk a lot about the places we will be visiting and what we will be doing in each city.
I try to make it relevant to the movies they watch.
So, when we visit  New York, we won’t be touring Central Park Zoo but the Madagascar zoo!!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog TRAIN

Have you sorted out the travel logistics yet-laundry, food, places to see?

We have a reasonable plan.
We will buy clothes as souvenirs on the way.
When Richard flies out, he will bring extra food for Harry and take home any souvenirs we’ve accumulated but don’t want to take with us.

Will anyone else be joining to help you on the way?

Because the elder girls are flying home from Las Vegas, my sister is flying out to accompany us on the return flight.
During the trip, I need someone to care for Imogen as Harry will need my absolute attention.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog BOAT

 What souvenirs will you be bringing home?

I’m planning to collect cloth patches and t-shirts from the various places we travel and then make them up into a throw which we can keep.
We will also take millions of photos, and I’ll make them up into a photo book when we get back.

Where do you see yourself travelling with your kids five years from now?

I don’t think I’ll ever put a timescale on it.
Much to my mother’s dismay, she never knows where we are going to go next!!
We will travel while it works for our family.I like to capitalise on Harry’s interests.And I find that the more we explore, the more things we find we want to do.
I’ve learned not to make assumptions when it comes to Harry.
I have started to plan a couple of adventures for later this year.
This Christmas, I’m planning to take the kids to Rovaniemi by train. We will take the sleeper from Helsinki. Personally, I think this is a much nicer way to meet Santa Claus – our very own real life Polar Express.
The only thing I know for sure is that we do what’s right for Harry and us as a family. Where ever and whatever that happens to be.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog BOY



Debunking Autism Travel Myths

I regularly meet parents with kids on the autism spectrum who have serious misconceptions about traveling with traveling with autism.

I can relate to those who have tried to travel with their child and encountered mishaps, but what I find most alarming is the high percentage of parents that base their decisions on other people’s stories or even Internet misinformation.

Since our website, AutisticGlobetrotting, is about to celebrate its third year of existence, I thought it would be helpful to debunk some of these misconceptions once and for all in the hope this might inspire or even encourage some of you to go ahead and finally plan that summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths globe


Planning travel with an autistic child is time -consuming and expensive.

The essential element in the planning stages is notifying the airlines, cruise lines and hotels of your child’s disability, and decide what accommodations you might what to request.
You can usually ask for most accommodations by e-mail, which makes it cheaper and faster, particularly if you should need to contact people overseas. From my experience, most companies in the travel industry will try and provide the necessary accommodations at no extra charge.

Always remember to store your correspondence in a file on your computer, and then send a gentle reminder to all the people you’ve contacted a week before your day of departure, in case they forgot about you.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths florence

The TSA treats autistic travelers and family badly.

Over the years, the TSA has come under fire for causing unnecessary stress to many families; especially those traveling with special needs kids.
We’ve flown over 200 flights in the last decade without an incident; simply by letting the agent know upon arrival at the airport that our son was autistic and that I would be accompanying him to the checkpoint.

This month the TSA has come out with new guidelines for autistic travelers that include allowing kids to stay with parents during the check, and that parents or caregivers may advise the agent on how to proceed with the security check depending on the child’s particular disability.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths christchurch

Flying with a child on the autism spectrum is a nightmare.

No, not usually.
Although flights may not as traveler-friendly as they used to be, it is still doable. All you need is to notify the airline in advance of any accommodations like bulk or aisle seating, pre-boarding( so that you can get your family settled faster) and wheelchair assistance if you have to navigate between terminals in the larger airports.

Remember to pack a snack or two for the flight and keep your kid busy with movies, video games, books on tape, or coloring books just like you would do at home or on a long car ride.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths paris

My child will not be comfortable in a hotel room.

Since most kids with autism thrive on routine and familiarity, the best choice for hotels would be sticking with one or two chains such as Starwood, IHG, or Marriott because they tend to design their layout the same way in each hotel worldwide.When booking a hotel room, you should ask for a quiet room away from noisy areas like elevators,
restaurants, and conference rooms and on a high floor if you are staying on a busy street.

Some hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms and pillows, too.If you know that your family won’t feel comfortable in a hotel setting there are alternative lodging options like apartment hotels or private home rentals from companies like Airbnb you can book that are even more budget friendly.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths italy

I hate it when my child acts up and everybody stares.

Now this issue is one that we can probably all relate to and understand; however, it shouldn’t deter you.
I remember my public speaking professor telling our class at the beginning of his course that the trick to speaking in front of a large crowd was envisioning everyone in their underwear.

You should keep in mind that most if not all people watching you and your kid don’t  actually ‘know’ you, so you shouldn’t care much what they think about your parenting skills or your child’s behavior.And the silver lining is that mastering the art of ignoring disparaging remarks or looks from strangers will not only make you a better parent but is bound to teach your kid a much-needed life skill as well.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths london

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