Sometimes there’s an offer that is just too good to pass up. Or in our case, it was a combination that was too affordable to pass up.
Because of a lack of funds, we never took a family vacation this past summer. Dylan got to attend the usual round of interesting summer camps, but RockStar and I just slogged away at our respective jobs. And because of a lot of internal changes at my office, it was a summer of a lot of really intense work for me.
At least I had our annual convention to look forward to. One of my job responsibilities is coordinating our exhibit booth, so every year I attend the convention to set-up, help staff, and tear-down the booth in whatever city it’s in. This year, it was in Washington, D.C.
The wheels began to churn.
My trip would include airfare, a hotel room close to the convention center, and a per diem. After all that, adding a couple of additional airfares and meals seemed like a vacation deal even Living Social couldn’t match.
I’ve never taken the family to a previous convention destination, but D.C. seemed to offer the ideal mix of kid-friendly history and interesting attractions. Besides that, it’s a walkable city, so they wouldn’t be stuck somewhere while I was working. As an added bonus, we have friends who live in the District.
There was that pesky little detail known as school to deal with, but I figured a trip to Washington was like an extended field trip that would back up what Dylan learned in social studies, maybe even science, considering some of the Smithsonian museums.
We were all excited, but I was nervous, too. Would we be able to get Dylan to work on his required homework when we were not actually at home? Would Dylan cooperate with RockStar while I was working the show?
Realizing our worst fears, we did start off badly. On our first morning in Washington, we tried to go to the International Spy Museum. A budding secret operative himself, Dylan had been talking about it for months. It seemed like an easy place to start the trip; an easy win.
Keep in mind that here we were traveling just before Halloween. The entrance to the museum was draped in cobwebs. We approached the ticket desk and I requested our tickets, but also asked about Operation Spy, a separate experience where you are the spy, pursued by double agents.
The first words out of the ticket agent’s mouth were: “It’s too scary for kids under 12.”
Never mind that he was talking about something other than what we were purchasing. Dylan heard scary and now he was putting on the breaks. I had just spent $56.00 on tickets and he didn’t want to use them.
Thankfully, the museum was understanding and said we could come back the next day to use them. But the damage to our collective psyche was done. Over the next few hours, Dylan spiraled completely out of control, and I wasn’t too far behind him in reaction to it. Admittedly, he hadn’t had medication that morning (okay, that was the first mistake). And he was out of his normal routines, sleeping in a new place, having new experiences. All of that combined to form a veritable hurricane of a meltdown. An epic meltdown (and epic is not a word I throw out lightly.) With me having the extra pressure of work responsibilities…well, let’s just say I didn’t have the most cool and calm reaction to his meltdown.
I honestly feared that our entire week would be a nightmare and that I had made a horrible, horrible mistake combining a business trip with a family vacation.
Thankfully, that first day was a bump in the road. The rest of the journey progressed more-or-less unscathed.
I think we did learn a few things about traveling during that week. Prior to this, our only similar vacation was a trip to Disney World when Dylan was 7, before he was diagnosed. Our other vacations were mainly beach vacations, which are, by definition, a whole lot more relaxed and not dependent on visiting places. These are tips I’ll remember for future vacations.
- Establish a routine. Yes, sticking to your regular at-home routine is ideal, but if you can’t do that, establish a new, short-term routine. For us, the 8:00pm bedtime went out the window, but we kept the order of the bedtime routine similar to what we have at home. We even kept my schedule routine – most days I worked at the booth until mid-day, giving me the afternoon to spend with family. Dylan knew what to expect, when. There’s comfort in routine.
- Continue any medications. We were really successful with taking the summer off from ADHD meds. When we forgot to give Dylan medication on our first day, we figured we would see how it went and hoped we would have a similar experience. Well, we found out it didn’t go well, and we didn’t make that mistake again. For summertime, the pressure was off. But with an action-packed vacation in a hotel, the pressure was just different and the meds helped him handle it.
- Allow for downtime. I will admit that on this type of vacation I like to see everything and make the very most of my time. But Dylan doesn’t need to see everything. And he does need time to decompress, even watch TV, which is (unfortunately) a familiar activity. We allowed for at least some downtime every day, including a relaxing visit to the hotel swimming pool.
- Bring familiar items. Even though it was tough to travel on planes with them, we made sure we took Dylan’s favorite stuffed animals. They helped him feel secure on the plane and made the hotel seem more like home. We also brought familiar small toys and games to entertain him throughout trip, another comfort factor.
- Keep active. D.C. really is a walking city. I think we walked a minimum of three miles a day, usually much more than that. Although Dylan is not used to such intense walking, it kept him busy and the activity helped keep symptoms at bay. I was always afraid that he was going to start complaining about the walking, but he never did.
- If at all possible, stay in a suite! This was such a bonus! I chose the hotel based on location, but it ended up being an all-suites hotel. We had a spacious 2-room suite, with a large bathroom, and a separate kitchenette, complete with sink, fridge, and microwave. If Dylan did feel a bit ornery, he could go in the other room and calm himself down. We could also put him to bed, and still stay up ourselves in the next room. We were able to keep food cold, and reheat that lunch that went uneaten during the height of the medication’s effect. It really did make the hotel a home away from home.
It ended up being a great vacation, even with the business thrown in. We saw the monuments and some of the Smithsonian museums, and visited with friends. We didn’t let our initial bump throw us off completely, and as a result we all enjoyed a fun, educational trip that we all look forward to repeating.