How to go on Stay-cations with your autistic child

Last month, someone posted a comment on my blog criticizing me for encouraging readers to 'travel' during the current difficult economic times. I realized that she like many other people regarded 'travel' as an expensive affair that involved long haul flights, distant locations, and extended hotel stays. Although that might be the definition for some, there other ways you can 'travel' closer to home quite inexpensively, and still enjoy a great time. In fact, the way I see it, there are many advantages to having 'stay-cations' like reduced planning, minimal packing (day bag) and a more affordable price tag. Moreover, they enable you to achieve the benefits of exposing your child to new experiences at a slower, more manageable pace.



Planning stage


You should research local newspapers, magazines, and the internet for places within a fifty mile radius that you know will hold your child's attention for at least an hour or two.

Next, check the place's operating hours if there is the possibility of booking ahead and whether any accommodations for persons with special needs can be arranged. Be sure to allocate extra arrival and departure time in your plan for unforeseen meltdowns or mishaps.

Prepare a day bag that includes a first aid kit, insect repellent, sun protection gear, snack, and extra set of clothes.


Remember to take a regular camera and/or video camera to record your trip memories. Pictures and videos not only make for inexpensive memorable souvenirs but serve as an educational reminder for your kid's adventures. If your child is high functioning and older, you might want to consider teaching them how to take pictures that can later be shared with classmates.


Pick up as many colorful brochures and maps as you can prior and during your visit to your chosen destination as they can be tools to start a collection or to create a scrap book with your child.



Where to go and what to do





             Art Appreciation


Organize a few neighbor parents and kids to go to a local art museum. Nowadays, Many places have hands on sections in which young patrons can experiment making their own Art or even try on period costumes like the Getty Center in Los Angeles Then have an BBQ /Art block party with the kids painting or sculpting and exhibiting their masterpieces for the entire neighborhood.




           

            
          Animal Lovers


Consider buying a yearly pass to local aquarium/zoo as that will not only support a good cause but allow you multiple free visits and access to special events that are not always shared with the public. Unknown to many, some yearly Zoo and Aquarium member ships offer reciprocity and can be used in other cities too, which is an extra bonus. When they were younger, my kids loved watching the feeding time at the local zoo followed by our own picnic in the nearby park.

        

               History Buffs


Visit a local historic home/preserved building or cemetery and learn about its unique story. Most places have retired people that volunteer as docents who are thrilled to share their stories with any visitors. Around Halloween time many places share stories of ghost sighting and other paranormal activities with the public.







    
      
              Food appreciation
Walk around an ethnic neighborhood exploring the diverse goods and foods, followed by a lunch stop at a local restaurant. If you are not acquainted with the items on the menu ask the server for personal recommendations or proceed to order several appetizers to share. Some 'mom and pop' places might even agree to give you the grand tour of the kitchen if you ask to politely so you can learn how the food is prepared. One of our all-time favorite Sunday pass times is to go and have Dim Sum in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.




       
               Water activities

Make good use of your nearby beaches, lakes or pools - you might need to join the YMCA or pay a small set fee to enter, but then you can spend as long as you wish and practice your swim moves. Some beach areas will even permit camping for the night so you can get to witness a sunrise or sunset. If your child is both a thrill seeker and water lover, you might want to consider getting a season's pass to the local water park since multiple visits are bound to cost more.



             Treasure Hunting

The new Geo caching while hiking in the mountains is so much better than our childhood version of searching grandma's dusty attic. Talk about multi-tasking; you get to hike the great outdoors, teach your kid basic navigation skills and find a treasure before returning home for dinner. Those less physically active still wishing to participate can go to alternate places with a more friendlier terrain as long as you remember to bring your GPS instrument along.

            Transportation Connoisseurs


Declare a transportation adventure day; ride that metro line you've been curious about, or climb aboard that ferry boat you've been watching in the harbor. Pretend to be a tourist for a day and hop on a bus that drives around the main attractions or travels to a nearby town. Nowadays, with many kids raised in suburban areas, riding the city bus might seem exotic to some. I still remember the first time my own kids took their first  bus ride and were utterly surprised to find out that unlike private vehicles, there were no seat belts.



          Local Celebrations


Visit a fair or festival and participate in every possible activity, no matter how childish and embarrassing it sounds. Some County Fairs are so elaborate you might find out that need more than just one day to explore all the booths and activities .If you and your family are food lovers; bear in mind that fairs are the place to find the newest and strangest ones-anyone care for a serving of deep fried coke?




              How do they do that?



Take a backstage tour in an area factory or media provider building such as a TV station, radio or local newspaper. Many businesses encourage the locals to visit their facilities’ by providing free guided tours or holding 'Open House' events. For a travel theme tour visit a nearby famous hotel or airport and watch the planes taking off or landing. To this day, my kids remember visiting the Jelly Belly in Fairfield, Northern California and sampling their colorful products.




             

             Old fashioned theme Parks
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Find local old fashioned 'Luna Parks' and theme parks. They usually offer milder natured rides than today's stomach churning variety, plenty of vintage charm and tend to be cheaper. Some charge an entrance with a separate fee for each ride while others sell a discounted ticket for a set number of rides. Many places still feature wooden carousels that are a marvel to examine and photograph, especially with giggling little kids riding. Best of all, even, in the worst case, scenario the crowds are bound to be smaller than in their newer fancier counterparts.
                Last but not least


Be flexible and don't despair if the day does not go exactly as planned ,it seldom does

*Margalit Francus lives in sunny Southern California and has traveled around the world extensively.She writes about the two topics closest to her heart :Travel and Autism.

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