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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cups.com , and on FB where you can find travel tips and travel inspiration with a healthy dose of ‘keeping it real.’