Book Review: Traveling Different – Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse, by Dawn M. Barclay

I recently had the pleasure of reading Traveling Different – Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse by Dawn M. Barclay and my first impression was, will be an incredibly useful book for our neurodiverse family’s adventures.

Traveling Different starts with the premise that every family deserves to travel, and from there, offers tips to help it open the world up to every parent and child. The author seeks to make the book helpful to parents who want to travel with neurodiverse children, but that’s not her only audience. She says as she researched the book, she discovered that tips for families on the autism spectrum would often work for neurotypical families, and points out that any child can be anxious when they travel. So, she sought to create a book that is useful for parents of “challenging children“.

According to her research, there are significant numbers of families who could benefit from reading her book. She says that according to the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) families on the autism spectrum have a higher interest in traveling. In fact, 87 percent of parents surveyed in an IBCCES study say they have never traveled with their child, yet 93 percent of those who have not traveled said they would travel if there were more autism-friendly places to go.

Ms. Barclay is the perfect person to write a book like this, because, in addition to having two (in her words) ‘challenging’ children, she has spent her life in or around the travel industry. Her parents owned a prominent travel agency in New York, and dawn cut her teeth working as an agent at their business, then she transitioned into roles as a travel trade reporter and editor roles with various travel publications.

The structure of the book makes it easy to read and valuable for parents who have a serious interest in traveling – it is divided into sections that help parents understand how to travel differently, and hopefully more easily if they have experienced challenges in the past.

She melds together her own travel recommendations from her experiences helping others understand how to travel more easily with their children, with suggestions and experiences- often in the form of what she calls Spotlight sections – of Certified Autism Travel ProfessionalsTM (CATPs), and other kinds of travel advisors, mental health experts, and parents who have learned along the way as they’ve taken their children on travel experiences in and outside the US.

She also divides Travel Differently into sections pertinent to travel for families. Sections I found particularly interesting include:

  • Travel using different modes of travel, e.g.. airline, car, RV, bus, train, cruise, and even houseboat travel. I’ve never thought about houseboat travel, but I was intrigued!
  • Different phases of travel including researching everything in advance, planning the trip as a family through discussions and involving your child in the process, developing backup plans, creating safety protocols, best packing methods, previewing the adventure for your kids, considering the use of travel specialists, and developing and seeking social stories.
  • Planning – The need to plan and preplan for the trip, plan for each day, and plan in the event things don’t go exactly as planned.
  • Resources – In reading this book, it became clear that there are many resources out there about which I was not aware – resources through airlines, and TSA, resources through different nonprofit organizations and websites, and through different types of travel professionals, and destinations.
    Aspects of travel that can present, or prevent, problems include changes in sleep patterns, modes of travel, and different types of lodging.
  • What to pack in a go-to bag for families, including noise-canceling headphones, Ziploc bags, small inexpensive gifts to pull out in a pinch, change of clothes Band-Aids, and manipulatives.
  • Smart safety tips, such as taking pictures of your child in the clothing they’re wearing in the morning, just in case you get separated from them, and holding hands with your child until you and they feel comfortable enough to venture forward without that. And well not exactly a safety tip Barclay also covers motion sickness and things that can be done to possibly prevent it or alleviate it.
  • The importance of adding visual schedules to your travel, which include pictures illustrating the sequence of events and activities that are planned.
  • Action steps at the end of each chapter, which are summarized lists of what she covered throughout the chapter.
  • Travel destinations that are autism-certified or autism-friendly, but she makes it clear that this is not an exhaustive list, and details and certification situations can change, so she stresses that it’s best to look on the IBCCES website or other websites that list autism-certified and friendly destinations.
  • Involving animals in travel can help a family in numerous ways – this resonated with me, obviously, since our site is called Rocket Around, and it got its name in part from our family dog Rocket. Barclay talks about involving animals in travel both by bringing a service animal with you and engaging in travel activities that involve animals, such as going to the zoo, visiting a shelter while you’re traveling, and seeking out horseback riding or equine therapy.
  • Seeking out travel destinations and activities to help indulge your child’s passion – whether it be trains, rocks, math, animals, or anything else. In fact, Barclay dedicates pages in the latter part of the book to venues that might be enjoyed by children who have particular passions.
  • Restaurant dining and considerations, such as asking for a quieter room, previewing the experience for your kid, dealing with picky eaters, and if possible, bringing in “safe“ foods turn sure that everybody has a good experience.

And here are a few tips from Traveling Different that I found particularly helpful relating to air travel, which can be particularly challenging:  Bring familiar food with you, be aware of the Wings for Autism program which is now at 69 US airports to help children with autism and other disabilities practice how to navigate the airport, look for sensory rooms in airports, book a direct flight whenever possible, let airline attendants know at the time of boarding if your child has a needs or habits that could be accommodated, think through what your plan is for delayed flights, call beforehand to make sure the airline knows you have a passenger who is neurodiverse,  and call the TSA Cares line to note that you’re traveling with someone who is neurodiverse and they can let you know what accommodations can be offered.

Through the words of those she quotes in her book, Ms. Barclay also gives a little bit of a pep talk to the parents of “challenging children“ – through focusing on things like stimming, outbursts and meltdowns, and other things that can happen to families during travel and can result in embarrassment. For example, one Parent Spotlight quotes Michael Sokol as saying:

“Don’t be embarrassed because your kid is “stimming” [stimming usually refers to specific behavior by a person with autism that includes hand-flapping, rocking, spinning or repetition of words and phrases’, or your special needs child is having a meltdown. There are plenty of “typical” children and some adults I have witnessed having meltdowns ten times worse than my son with autism.”

Ms. Barclay provides guidance on things we have discovered along the way, such as the importance of taking breaks, rather than just pursuing an adult-type travel schedule (see our previous unsuccessful attempts at the forced march), as well as starting small – doing local trips and trial runs with your child to increase their, and your comfort level.

I’ve traveled a fair amount in my lifetime, and we’ve been a neurodiverse family for almost 15 years. Yet through this book, Barclay opened my eyes to things I had no idea existed, such as CATPs – or travel professionals who have an extra certification offered by the combined forces of the Family Travel Association and the IBCCES. To receive this certification travel professionals must study 10 competencies relating to neurodiversity and travel. I was vaguely familiar with certified autism centersTM (CACs), which, according to the ICBBES website, are “facilities or organizations in which at least 80% of their staff is highly trained, fully equipped and certified in the field of autism,” but I didn’t realize that some of the destinations and travel services we have used in the past, including venues, hotels, and cruise lines, are actually designated as certified autism centers, or autism friendly centers, and that we just needed to ask either in-person or online, to receive additional support.

Things I plan to do a better job on as a result of Traveling Different include planning, and involving my kids in that process; helping them dress and pack for success for the trip; engaging my kids in preparing picture-based materials that explain our destination and activities; calling or online chatting with venues and hotels to understand what kinds of neurodiverse support services they may have in place, and engaging temporary sitters if the venue provides them and we think they would be helpful.

If I were sitting down with Ms. Barclay, I would offer just a few suggestions to (IMHO) improve on Traveling Different:

  • The text can be a little small, especially for the eyes of a slightly older parent…but as Ms. Barclay pointed out in a comment, font size is the decision of a publisher;
  • Many of the recommendations felt like they might add significant costs to traveling, which for us at least, can make travel too expensive to pursue, and
  • While she does include helpful lists at the end of each chapter, being a list person, I felt like it might be helpful if even more of Ms. Barclay’s content was put into bulleted lists – maybe something like a workbook at the end, or one you could buy as a companion.

But I have to give Ms. Barclay an A+ for effort – or a 10 out of 10 on Yelp, as my daughter would say – for the tremendous insights she provides, and I will use suggestions from Traveling Different probably every time we travel.

2 Comments to Book Review: Traveling Different – Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse, by Dawn M. Barclay

  1. Thanks for your wonderful review. I would add that the font size is the decision of my publisher (not mine) and also, I did include bulleted lists at the end of each chapter because like you, I agree they are helpful to summarize the information contained in that chapter. Happy travels!

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