Five Tips for Summer Travel

Ron Sandison traveling

By Ron Sandison

In March, my family was interviewed by Netflix for a new reality show Travel on the Spectrum. The show will feature three families who have a family member with autism as they travel to Myrtle Beach for week vacation. Netflix decided to produce the show when they learned that 80% of families with a child with autism don’t travel or go on a family vacations.

The producer Tommy informed me, “You’re the only person with autism we’ve interviewed with a ton of traveling experience.” I have traveled to twelve countries and almost every State in the U.S. I like to say, “I have traveled everywhere from Madagascar to Israel. I have swam in the Mediterranean Sea and climbed trees with lemurs.”

Although we made it to the final cut, my family was not chosen, instead of going to Myrtle Beach, the third week in August, my family will travel to St. Paul, Minnesota and go to Mall of America. While on vacation, I will speak at a few churches in the St. Paul area.

Ron in Africa
Ron in Africa

I began traveling the world, while in college at Oral Roberts University every summer I went to a different country for a one to two-months mission trip. In Cameroon and Madagascar, I lived in the jungles for two weeks and was able to see amazing wildlife like monkeys/apes and taste exotic foods like spicy Toucan and baboon gumbo.

For our second honeymoon, my wife Kristen and I traveled to Israel for two weeks. My wife and I swam in the Jordan River, rode a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, and visited the birthplace of Jesus.

Ron in Tampa
Ron in Tampa

As a child with autism, travel was not easy for my family because I experienced meltdowns due to a change in my routine and sensory issues. By traveling the world, I have learned five tips for travel.

1. Prepare for the trip by making a book of the locations you will visit.

When my family traveled Out West for a month, my mom who is professional artist created a picture book of the places we would travel. My special interests was animals, in the travel book, she drew pictures of the animals we would see in their natural habitat and interesting facts. She also had a second book with a map and the miles for each travel destinations so I would not keep asking, “How much longer till we get there?”

I prepare mentally for travel by reading a travel guide and checking out DVDs from the library on the locations I will be visiting. Two weeks before my trip I begin to daydream what it will be like to travel to that country or State.

2. When traveling by airplane always pre-board.

The only thing I don’t like about traveling is airports. For me an airport is noisy and confusing and boarding an airplane gives me extreme anxiety. I hate being surrounded by strange people while battling for an overhead compartment to place my luggage. I avoid this scenario by pre-boarding. I tell the check-in flight attendant, “I have autism, and due to anxiety and sensory issues, I need to pre-board.” If a flight attendant exclaims, “You don’t look like you have autism or act like it.” I put on my funny beach hat with palm trees. Then the flight attendant states, “Oh, I see! We will pre-board you immediately.”

3. Be prepared for sensory issues with smells and sounds.

Some of my favorite travel smells include Belgium—the chocolate shops and Cameroon with its fresh bananas and mangos. In France and Bulgaria, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and in Madagascar the seafood and fruit in the market! Just thinking about these smells fills me with joy and makes me want to travel there again.

I have learned ways to deal with less pleasant smells. Some travel scents I detest include pygmies’ bad breath—strong enough to kill a horse. In Cameroon and Madagascar, the odor of buses filled with locals who don’t use deodorant, bath, and are dripping with sweat from the heat.

My coping skills to handle offensive odors is placing candies near my nose when the scent becomes too much for me to bear. One of the best candies is Cracker Barrel’s old fashion candy sticks. I also try to set next to an open window when riding a bus or taxicab.

Sounds I hate while traveling are bass and drivers honking their horns in a traffic jam. I prevent sensory overload to sound by wearing headphones and listening to music.

4. Bring something comfortable to lessen anxiety.

Haley Moss, a lawyer and author with autism shares, “Travel naturally is a disruption in routine, so bring a little piece of home to minimize homesickness or anxiety about the routine change. This can be an activity, a stuffed animal, or stim toys – anything that helps reduce anxiety and brings comfort.” My comfort with travel is bringing my stuffed prairie dog “Prairie Pup” and stuffed Honey Badger. I take pictures of these animals and post them on Facebook.

5. Don’t cut corners to save a little money on travel expenses.

My family traveled to South Bend, Indiana where I was a featured speaker for the University of Notre Dame’s “Play like a Champion Today” conference. To save a little money, we decided to use Expedia and stay at a cheap hotel for only seventy dollars a night. Little did we know what a mistake it would be! As we entered the room, we noticed a horrible stench—rotting fish mixed with feet fungus—seeping from the restroom. Peering into the tub, I saw a towel with brown streak marks. I also noticed the cleaning staff left no shampoo or soap.

The honey badger was about to make a guest appearance in South Bend. Furious, I rode the elevator back down to the service desk and blurted out, “My room has a strange fish-feet odor, and there is no shampoo!”

“Oh, I see,” the receptionist responded. “We had a busy night with many people coming and going, so we weren’t able to clean all the rooms. Also, we don’t supply shampoo for our guests anymore, but you can purchase a small container from the vending machine for only $2.99.”

To top everything off, the toilet made a squeaky rodent noise all night. As we checked out, the receptionist asked, “How was your stay?” Holding my tongue in cheek to avoid blurting out a comment I would later regret, I smiled and simply replied, “I wouldn’t keep the lights on!”

Travel is a big part of my life. I speak and travel to seventy plus events each year. I firmly believe that travel has contributed to my life by enabling me to see amazing sights and experience different cultures. I have eaten many different foods overseas; the only food I don’t like is cassava- a root vegetable in Africa.

People with autism should travel to better understand the world and to experience life. As more people with autism travel, they will learn new social skills and develop better coping skills for handling sensory issues and anxiety. Exposure to different environments in travel has helped tame my sensory issues and enabled me to adapt to a change in my routines and enjoy life.

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. Ron has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.

Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.

You can contact Ron at his website or email him at

One reply on “Five Tips for Summer Travel”
  1. And Myrtle Beach was officially certified as an autism-friendly city.

    So were several other Floridian cities – like Jacksonville.

    Looking forward to seeing AUTISM AND TRAVEL on Netflix.

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