She has been a tireless advocate for people on the autism spectrum, particularly Aspies like her son, since his diagnosis five years ago. She has worked in publishing for over ten years, from business-to-business publications to newsstand publications that celebrate travel, history, arts and culture in North Carolina.
“Different, not less” is the cornerstone of her philosophy.
Jackie looks forward to her next travel adventure with her family, and to traveling with the growing Aspie Travel community!
When and why did you decide to start your business?
It suddenly occurred to us that this was a calling for us to do with our lives. It seemed like a “win-win” to us: enhancing our own children’s lives and then being able to improve other peoples’ lives. We officially launched in December 2010.
There are many travel agencies what makes your company unique?
We’ve created a two-fold business that I think sets us apart from other travel agencies focused on special needs.
Aspie Travel is a curated travel site, in that we select specific travel packages to feature on our website that we think are suited to people on the autism spectrum and their families. We have a booking engine on Aspie Travel through which people can book air, hotel, and rental cars.
Travel that is booked through Aspie Travel benefits from our pledge to donate a portion of our proceeds to autism-related charities. Aspie Travel is our information portal, where we are compiling resources for people to access, and we have a blog there as well. Facilitated Tours is Aspie Travel’s group tour division.
We have carefully created three different types of group tours at Facilitated Tours: tours for families that have a member on the autism spectrum; tours for adults that are high-functioning and tours for students (ages 16-25)
Our tours are facilitated by caring staff members that understand the needs of the autism community. Our facilitators are a part of every one of our tours, and they are there in addition to tour guides.
How did you come up with the concept of hosted trips for special needs travelers ?
Facilitated Tours was our original plan, based on being in groups on our independent travels that made us tenser because of insensitive neurotypical fellow travelers.
We are about to announce our upcoming trips on www.facilitatedtours.com, and we are so excited about it! Some of our upcoming destinations include Williamsburg, VA, Walt Disney World, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Washington, DC and more!
How do you deal with the unexpected on these hosted trips?
We agree 100% with you on having to have a plan A and plan B while traveling!
Our staff is there to assist in case of the unexpected. Additionally, we carefully plan out every itinerary to allow for what we call an “escape hatch” for our travelers.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as a quiet room where our passengers can go. We try not to “over program” as well. We build in decompression time so that our travelers don’t feel like they’ve been rushed all day.
What is your vision for your company five years from now?
Our goal is to be embraced by the autism community as a positive, enriching experience. We want to develop a community in which our travelers feel like extended family.
In 5 years, we want to be able to offer a family trip, an adult trip, and a student trip every week of the year. As a family business, we are also mindful of creating something that our children can be a part of now, and as adults.
Our Aspie son and our neurotypical daughter could one day run our business, which would make us very happy!