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.
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.
Do your kids enjoy trying new dishes?
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!!
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.