One of the best ways to experience a new location is through a group guided tour, especially with a limited time and budget. However, not all tours are created equal. Some trips can end up too tiring for kids with autism.
Just like anything else, a little pre-planning can help make a day trip just as successful as a big family adventure. For parents who have never tried guided tours before here are our tips to ensure a smooth and pleasant experience.
The first thing that parents should consider when booking a tour is the size of said tour. The difference between a tour group with ten and fifty people is huge, especially for kids with autism. Parents should also ask about the duration of the trip. If the journey is too long, kids can get bored or antsy. The best tours are free walking tours where families can leave at any time.
Web sites such as Viator and Grayline display tour itineraries that parents can compare and contrast. Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Cruise Critic can also act as excellent sources for reviews by other families. Parents can also use these websites to weight the pros and cons of a private versus group tour. Private tours are more customizable but are also more expensive on average. Those wishing to take a private tour but want to stick to a budget can split the cost of a trip with other families.
Some tours include activities for kids. Parents should determine which activities their children can handle. In the case where they can customize their experience, parents can also try to incorporate their activities into the tour.
Though it may be tempting, families should never book a tour before a flight home. The only except to this is if the tour company guarantees a trip to the airport at the end.
Questions for the Tour Organizer
While all the previously mentioned websites can provide a lot of information, the best and most accurate source is always the tour organizer. It is important that parents, especially those with children with autism, ask the organizer lots of questions about specific details that can’t always be found online.
Parents should ask if the tour includes free time and lunchtime. If the tour does include lunch, they should ask what is available on the menu, and if one can order items off the menu. Sometimes when tours include lunch the time allocated for eating is short, and the menu is limited, which can stress out a child with autism.
Parents should also ask about locations the tour specifically stops versus places it passes over. No parent wants their kid to be heartbroken because they only went by a spot they wanted to see in detail.
It is important for families to know how far the tour will wander from the hotel or car in case of an emergency. In situations where the tour wanders far, parents should ask if the tour company can provide transportation back if needed.
If the tour involves a bus ride, parents should ask if the buses feature air conditioning. This feature is especially important for kids with temperature sensitivities. They should also ask if the buses have bathrooms, and if not, how many bathroom trips the bus will stop for on the way.
Finally, parents should ask if the tour company offers disability rates. Some companies will extend a discount for family members with autism or other conditions.
What to Pack
Knowing what essentials to pack for a tour can help create a better experience for everyone in the household. Of course, what to pack often depends on the trip duration and location.
The most important thing to pack is a mini first aid kit for scrapes and bruises. Parents should also include headache/diarrhea medication just in case as well as an extra pair of underwear. For family members who wear glasses or contacts, parents should pack an extra pair in case the first pair breaks or the contacts are lost.
Parents should pack entertainment like an iPad, iPod or handheld gaming device in the event of a delay. They should also pack a camera with an extra card and battery. We recommend bringing an external charger for any devices needing charging.
Regarding food, parents should pack their own snacks and water in case anyone gets hungry before the scheduled lunch time. We recommend packing napkins and plastic utensils in case the tour stops in a restaurant that doesn’t offer them, especially in Asia. Also, bringing a change of clothes in case there are any food or drink spills is a good idea.
For outdoor tours, sunblock and insect repellent are essential. Parents should also pack a jacket for potentially colder tours as well as a poncho or umbrella if there is a risk of rain. For tours in bright locations, parents should pack sunglasses. Regarding bus trips, parents should pack a mini fan to ensure comfort. We also recommend a cap or hat to protect against the elements.
Other nicknacks to bring include toilet paper and a trash bag in case the restroom does not have it. Finally, parents should make sure always to bring cash as well as a credit card.
There is some amount of etiquette that parents need to make sure their children keep in mind during a tour. Parents should remind their child not to talk to, interrupt, or bombard the guide with questions, as it may bother the tour guide or others on tour.
They should also remind their child to move at a decent pace and not stand in one spot for too long.
Finally, it is important for children to know that lunch may not be at a fixed time, so they need to eat a proper breakfast and pack a snack.
During the Tour
During the tour itself, there are still aspects to consider.
As soon as possible, parents should notify the company and tour guide of their child’s condition. Parents should then arrive a half hour before the start of the tour so they can get settled.
Parents of children with temperature sensitivities can ask the tour guide for a bus tour what side the sun will be on so they can sit on the opposite side. They can also ask the guide to mention that seats shouldn’t change during the day as a common courtesy (our kid had a meltdown when someone took his place on tour).
For driven tours, parents of younger children should never have their child sit next to the driver, as they might touch the buttons or otherwise interfere. However, if the child wants to listen and can behave, they might be okay sitting near the driver. Parents of children with motion sickness or smell sensitivities shouldn’t sit near the restrooms or in the back of the bus.
Parents should keep the company’s business card with the guide’s cell phone number in case they get lost.
Overall, we’ve gone on hundreds of group tours over the years and have had a great time. Everyone should remember that guides are human and some are better at their jobs than others. Parents who encounter an issue shouldn’t hesitate to call the company and give feedback. Most companies will be happy to fix any problems encountered when given a chance.
Have you taken your child with autism on a guided tour? What tips do you have for families?