Is a staycation with autistic kids the key to peaceful holidays?

Holiday travel with autistic kids can be stressful. The long car journeys, the new routines and schedules, the strange foods and beds. Is a staycation the solution to stress-free holidays with autistic kids? There’s less travel, more of what’s familiar, and it can be a great way to explore special interests.

A story of long car travel

We are very slow to learn from our mistakes. We have some terrible car travel stories, but we keep putting our autistic kids in the car for long travel journeys. There was the journey with multiple episodes of projectile vomit. There was another journey where one of our kids got stuck in a loop of “there’s nothing to do, I’m bored”. This made driving a frustrating task and it didn’t end well.

Our most recent 6 hour drive featured an early morning departure (to get as many kilometres behind us while the kids were still sleepy). It had rest stops in playgrounds every hour. Frequent toilet breaks, lucky dips, snacks, car games, unseen puzzles… and lots of screen time in the car. The holiday also featured lots of outdoor time, playing in playgrounds, going for walks, and moving around. It had some tricky bed times where, because sleep routines where a bit out of normal routine, the kids took ages to get to sleep. It begs the question of if travel holidays are worth it for a break.

To travel or not to travel?

Many times, if we want a relaxing break, the best holiday travel with autistic kids is not traveling on holidays. Hello staycation.

Staycation is a portmanteau of stay and vacation. It means a stay-at-home holiday where you do activities within a day trip distance of home. They can be a cheap or expensive as you like. We often take the opportunity to do slightly more expensive activities than we normally would, since we’re saving on accommodation. For example, we might pay to see a special exhibit at the museum rather than just seeing the free exhibits.

On a staycation, we can stay in our own house. This means more familiarity. Having familiar things around, and feeling a sense of comfort and control over the environment, can be more restful for autistic kids. They then have:

  • the same bed, with the same smells, feel, toys and blankets. This gives better sleep at day’s end.
  • the same kitchen, with the same brands of food, types of dinners cooked, and familiar tastes.
  • closer to a similar routine, so a child can feel a greater sense of control over the day.
  • access to all amenities such as bath/shower, washing machine, entertainment.

What do you do on a staycation?

On a staycation, we stay in our own house. If we’re really daring, we’ll go to a hotel in our own city within close distance to our house. Staying in our own house allows the comforting sameness of bed, sleep routines and evening meals. Going to a hotel means we can practice ‘holiday skills’ (like sleeping in a different bed) with the benefit of being able to return home quickly.

We do activities that don’t require much travel in the car, or are within public transport or riding distance of home.

We explore activities and places that support our kids current interests. For example, the Museum because our kids love history. This supports our kids because they do have obsessive, dedicated interests that they love to dive deep in. Or we might go to a fancy playground or go trampolining for physical activity to help with regulation. Many of the items on the 100 things to do list are activities in your city that are perfect for staycations.

We eat out for one meal – normally lunch. This allows a good balance of new food experiences and comfortable eating at home.

We might schedule our days with a bingo card of activities, or use a daily schedule to maintain some routine. One day might be a ‘yes day’ where the kids can plan out whatever they want to do and we’ll say yes to it.

Conclusion: staycation with autistic kids

A staycation, the opposite of holiday travel, can be very supportive of autistic kids. It gives the feeling of a holiday break, with all the familiarity of home. Just don’t forget to schedule your days.

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