Autie Friendly Holiday Planning: 2. The Journey Itself

Part Two of our useful guide

Stalybridge Station and Class 185
Stalybridge railway station, and a midday train to Scarborough.

In the previous part, we looked at how to book your holiday, and arrangements for meeting up with the train, ferry, coach, aeroplane or bus.

Now for the fun bit: the holiday itself.

For me, the holiday begins properIy when the first bus, ferry, coach, flight or train arrives. The prompt running of my chosen mode of transport tends to shape the holiday. I’ve had a few bad experiences by rail, but the elements of farce have made the holiday more memorable. Many of these were on a train to Scarborough, like the one seen above at my local railway station.

On public transport, we hope our chosen mode of transport arrives on time, but unexpected delays or cancellations can occur. To avoid falling foul of such issues, always check before you go:

  • Any changes to flights and ferry schedules on the internet or on BBCi – flights and ferry crossings can be affected by bad weather. With the former for example, fog and thunderstorms, and stormy waters on the latter. BBCi’s Teletext service still has information on flight departures and arrivals, as well as any changes to ferry crossings;
  • Check the operators’ websites for service changes – a more dependable source should be the operators’ websites. For scheduled railway services in the UK (except Northern Ireland), the National Rail website is a useful source, as well as each rail operators’ individual pages;
  • Check for roadworks – important if you’re on a coach holiday or wise to drive to your favoured destination. The BBC’s website is another useful source, but you can also listen to your local radio station for any announcements.

Luggage and Packing

Most transport and tour operators have a weight limit for luggage other than hand luggage. This can vary from 18 – 22kg depending on the operator. Excess baggage charges often apply. Before you leave:

  • Place fragile items (i.e. cameras or electric razors) at the bottom of your suitcase;
  • Mark your suitcase with something that can be seen in the distance. Ideally something unique to yourself which would stand out on the Baggage Reclaim conveyor belt;
  • Add on the luggage tag your first name and surname. You may add a telephone number to your tag, ideally your mobile phone number if you have one;
  • Weigh your suitcase on a set of bathroom scales to see if it’s within your transport or tour operators’ weight limit. If over the limit, take some heavier items out: for example, replace thicker T-shirts with thinner ones or leave one of your coats at home;
  • Place toiletries and (where required) prescription medicines in your hand luggage. If in the unlikely event you’re delayed for a long time and need to take medicine, you wont miss your dosage time;
  • Place in your hand luggage anything you need to pass the time en route to your destination. Try not to take too many items, especially if you have to carry your toilet requisites, or any medication as well as digital devices, newspapers, puzzle books or food.

There are restrictions on the carriage of certain items into UK airports. This is described in great detail on GOV.UK‘s website.

Clothing Choices:

Based on a week’s holiday, I recommend packing in your suitcase:

  • Seven pairs of underwear;
  • Seven pairs of socks and/or tights;
  • A pair of pyjamas or a nightie;
  • Seven T-Shirts and/or sweaters for daytime wear;
  • Seven smart shirts or blouses;
  • Four pairs of smart trousers, dresses or skirts;
  • Four pairs of trousers, dresses or skirts for daytime wear;
  • Swimwear (if required);
  • A pair of smart shoes;
  • Any belts, ties or braces;
  • Any chargers for your mobile phone, electric toothbrush, camera or other digital device;
  • A ‘Travel Plug’ (if abroad).

A pair of pyjamas could be improvised by means of a pair of underpants and an eighth t-shirt. Owing to the lightness of the material and ability to regain its shape on arrival, football shirts are good for packing and unpacking.

If you need to take a suit, buy a suit bag to avoid creasing. Today, you can pick up one from discount stores or supermarkets quite cheaply.

To save space, put socks inside your shoes. Furthermore, your shoes retain their normal shape in transit.

If abroad, take a Travel Plug. This is an adaptor which enables you to charge your mobile phone, electric toothbrush or other device abroad. Different adaptors are available for mains sockets in America, Australasia and Mainland Europe. Some gadgets have adaptors which could fit into an American or Australian socket as well as a British one.

Choosing Your Station Wisely

For coach holidays, flights and ferry crossings, the most obvious thing to do is find your nearest bus or coach station, airport or ferry terminal. With railway stations, I suggest being a bit more picky.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an urban area like Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire or Greater London, you have more choice. I prefer to choose my railway station on the following factors:

  • Frequency of service;
  • Staffing levels;
  • Station layout (i.e, where the platforms are situated);
  • Connectivity with other modes of transport.

If my chosen railway station has a direct service to my desired destination, I’m all the more happier thanks to convenience. I recommend – first and foremost – a staffed railway station, ideally one with toilets and a café (a vending machine may do just as well sometimes). All the more so if you need to ask station staff for any help with connections, if a train is extremely late or cancelled.

With ferry terminals, some ferry services may be passenger-only, which means you cannot drive your car onto the boat. Make sure on booking that you’ve chosen one suitable for either yourself or yourself and your car.

The layout of my chosen railway station is a main factor. National Rail has in their timetables a recommended connection time between trains. It recommends 10 minutes between trains at Manchester Piccadilly or 20 at London Euston for example. From my experience, it doesn’t allow for local knowledge of the station (quicker transfers from one platform to another), or long queues at the ticket barriers (sometimes making for slower transfers).

Away from the station itself, it is also true of concourse design. Using Manchester Piccadilly as my example again, it is possible to transfer from a 219 bus, a Metrolink tram or a taxi to any of Piccadilly’s fourteen platforms within five minutes. One other thing about staffed railway stations is they tend to have a forecourt for passing cars, or close to bus stops.

Delays and Cancellations

For persons on the autism spectrum, there can be nothing more overloading than a missing or late running service. I can testify myself both as a commuter and a holidaymaker. This is why I prefer to buy an off-peak ‘bought-on-the-day’ ticket, which may allow me to continue my journey another way.

On the railways, a fair number of delays and cancellations are caused by operational problems (like signal failures or broken down trains). Sometimes, a replacement bus or coach may replace part of the section affected by the signal failure, or service may continue to a revised timetable. If a train is cancelled and you’ve bought an Advance Purchase ticket, station staff may be able to let you catch the next train.

If a ferry crossing is affected by bad weather, it is likely to be cancelled. In some cases, there may be poor weather conditions in one terminal, though good conditions on another nearby one. Some passengers may be able to get a coach from the affected terminal to the other one. Refunds may be available from the operator. Rail passengers can gain a refund if their journey had been delayed for longer than, for example, 30 minutes. This is mentioned in the operators’ Terms and Conditions (also known as the ‘Conditions of Carriage’).

Overcoming Transport Worries

This further explains why I choose my termini carefully. If my next train is half an hour late, or more, I could call in the café for a quick coffee (I tend to avoid alcoholic beverages in such situations). I always recommend taking something to do on the journey, like a favourite book or an iPad. As well as aboard, they are useful for the departure lounge or waiting room.

Coping Measures:

  • If not too far away (and subject to availability), call in to a café for a drink. Or, if the delay may be slight, ask for a ‘take-out’ hot drink or a bottled soft drink which could be finished aboard your train, bus or coach;
  • If possible, go for the next available bus, coach, train or ferry. Go for one less likely to be busy;
  • Read a favourite book or newspaper, or play with your iPad (other digital tablets like the Google Nexus 7 are available);
  • With the digital device, set your alarm to the time five minutes before the revised time of your train, ferry, bus or coach. Also, listen to verbal announcements and check information displays. Your digital device can also be used to check travel times;
  • Take a picture or some other object you like from the home. It could be anything from a picture of your cat to a model bus.

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Boarding Your Train, Ferry, Aeroplane, Bus or Coach

This is where the fun really starts:

  • Ferry Crossings: operators have a minimum check-in time for passengers, dependent on whether he or she is driving or not. Drivers tend to have a longer check-in time than car-free passengers. This can vary according to the journey itself, whether it is a domestic (in our case within the UK) or overseas crossing. Boarding passes must be produced on checking-in;
  • Scheduled Flights: airlines and tour operators have minimum check-in times,. This depends on the flight, his/her baggage requirements and according to airports. Sometimes, he or she can have a faster check-in if they only have a bag or by using a mobile phone. Again, boarding passes must be produced on checking-in;
  • Passports: if you’re a UK citizen, you need to show photographic identification on domestic and Republic of Ireland bound flights and ferry crossings. This can include a passport, a Driving Licence or a Concessionary Travel Pass. For travel outside the UK and the Republic of Ireland, a passport is needed. The IATA Travel Centre website tells you everything about Passport validity and visas;
  • Rail Services: tickets must be purchased prior to travel, either from a staffed railway station, National Rail Appointed Travel Agent, online via the operators’ website (or TheTrainline.com), or from a ticket machine on the railway station. Where such facilities don’t exist, you can buy one from the conductor-guard or at the manned barrier of a mainline station. Tickets must be shown to the guard;
  • Coach Services: again, prior to travel, though from the operator’s ticket office, ticket machines, travel agencies and online via the operators’ website. Tickets must be shown to the driver.

Aboard Your Chosen Form of Transport

The holiday begins properly now… you’ve done the hard bit leading up to your journey. So, how do you pass the time?

On a train journey, I always enjoy looking through the window – especially if aboard an unfamiliar route. If it’s a route I’m familiar with, to the point of tedium, a newspaper, magazine or my smartphone is a good way of passing the time. On the train, bus or coach, I can relax, but on the first two modes I need to keep an eye on my suitcase. One advantage of coach travel is that heavy luggage is conveyed underneath your seats, and that you never see your suitcase till your destination. On the local bus service or any train, I need to keep a semi-continuous eye on my suitcase in case nobody runs off with it.

That along with delays and overcrowding, is one issue I find a little overloading. Which explains why some passengers allow their suitcases to occupy another seat, or use the high level luggage racks above the window. In the UK, today’s trains no longer have dedicated luggage carriages. Luggage racks near entrances or halfway through the carriage offer an inadequate replacement. That too has also made taking your bicycle on the train less attractive.

By aeroplane or ferry, you last see your luggage at the check-in point and retrieve them at the Arrivals point at the airport or terminal from the Baggage Reclaim carousel. Unless of course somebody steals your case halfway across the Atlantic Ocean or Irish Sea (and I pretty much doubt that).

Relaxing Along The Way

En route, additional noises and interruptions in pattern may be disorientating. The engine noise could make us scream. The waves could make us jumpy, and the bus or coach making too many stops for our liking could wind us up. A pair of earphones and a digital device of some description could be a great help.

Entertainment ideas

  • On your iPad (again, other digital tablet devices are available), download a few of your favourite films or songs for the journey;
  • After switching on your digital device, check the volume of your earphones. If you cannot hear any sound from a few centimetres away, though able to hear them whilst in your ears, you have set the volume to a level which won’t be audible to other passengers;
  • If you prefer non-technological entertainment and have children on the autism spectrum, why not play ISpy or something similar. Take colouring books, pens and pencils.

Eating on Board

If you travel by train, aeroplane or ferry, you can enjoy a meal on board. But (and this is huge but), the food can be expensive. There may be no alternative for auties on a restricted diet (i.e. Gluten Free, Casein Free, etc).

I always prefer to take a packed lunch on train, coach or ferry journeys. You can avoid paying their high prices by doing, or having had done by your carer, your packed lunch. This is best made on the night before your depart. Or, you could call in a nearby sandwich shop or a convenience store (like a Spar, The Cooperative or Costcutter shop). Some may do ‘Meal Deals’ where you can buy a sandwich then add a drink and some crisps at a reduced price. If you choose to buy your packed lunch on the day of departure, allow extra time to avoid missing your train, ferry, coach or aeroplane.

Breaking Your Journey

If you are driving, the Motorway Services may be tempting but prices are often expensive. In many cases, more expensive than the restaurant aboard your ferry or the buffet trolley aboard the 1224 to Scarborough. Even so, it is important to take regular breaks en route to your destination. Again, you can take your own packed lunch, and you can park for up to two hours free of charge. Any money you’ve saved avoiding an expensive sandwich at Hartshead Moor or Burtonwood service stations could go towards a coffee or a magazine.

On a ferry or aeroplane, you can only break your journey if you need to change at airports or ferry terminals. On some rail tickets, you can not only break your journey at stations where you need to change trains, but en route if you need to pause for lunch (or if overloaded after being aboard one train).

Using Manchester Piccadilly as my example again, you could travel from Altrincham to Scarborough, and pause at Manchester Piccadilly for lunch. This is possible as the passenger can change from the local service via Stockport, or the more frequent Metrolink tram. Supposing he or she wanted to see a friend at The Sportsman in Huddersfield, he or she could catch any of First/Keolis Transpennine Express’ frequent Leeds bound trains and change at Huddersfield. From Huddersfield, he or she could catch the Scarborough train they could have caught on the often packed Platform 13 at Piccadilly.

Coach companies always have a ‘comfort stop’ on long distance routes. This allows the driver sufficient rest time whilst giving passengers a break. The term Comfort Stop means passengers could go to the toilet or have a cup of coffee. The driver would state how long the stop is for. This is mentioned in timetables of scheduled coach services.

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On Arrival

You’ve done it! Several miles and hours later, you’ve reached the nearest airport, ferry terminal, bus, coach or railway station of your desired destination. Or you’ve reached the car park of your hotel, holiday flat, guest house or caravan site.

At the ferry terminal, coach station or airport, the journey isn’t really complete till you’ve reclaimed your luggage. On a coach holiday, your suitcase is waiting by your hotel room, once you’ve received your keys or card for your room.

From the airport, ferry terminal, bus, coach or railway station, your temporary home for the week may be a short distance away. If it is greater than five miles, local public transport could be a suitable alternative to the taxi, especially so if you know the area. Other than that, I would go with getting a taxi. There is nothing worse than arriving at your hotel, guest house or caravan site flustered and tired after a long journey, carrying a heavy suitcase and hand luggage.

If you’re travelling within the UK, I recommend once again, the YourTaxiMeter.com website for fare estimates. They publish the highest fare instead of the cheapest, so if you budget for their estimates and it happens to be lower than expected, why not give your driver a tip? In this context, using a Social Story:

After travelling from Stalybridge to Scarborough, Maria gets a taxi from outside Scarborough railway station to the Grand Hotel. She thinks the fare would be £4.50, but it came to £4.20 on the taxi meter. She says to her driver ‘Call it a fiver’ after paying with a £5.00 note.

In doing so, she saves the driver from having to find 80p in change, with our driver happy with the extra amount and his or her ability at trying to find ten, twenty and fifty pence pieces. Sometimes, our idea of giving the driver a tip could be:

“Could you move on a bit, please…”

If none too impressed with the driver’s driving ability, in spite of traffic on Westborough being busy around August at 3 pm. This would make the driver a little cross. However, if Maria suggested that…

“Number 13, Witchy Woman in the 2pm at Ripon’s a Dead Cert…”

Her driver would either laugh and be amazed at her knowledge of horse racing. They might call into William Hill’s bookmakers nearby after her journey for a bet. Or, horse racing or gambling wouldn’t be their favoured topic, with our driver uninterested to say the least.

Much as I would like to say or do the last two statements myself, I would go for the first one of the above three.

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Reaching The Hotel/Guest House/Caravan Site/Holiday Flat

At that point you can start to relax. Within moments a friendly receptionist may hand you the keys or a card after you’ve introduced yourself. They would usually ask for a print-out of your booking details (posted, or emailed to your PC) and sometimes your credit or debit card. This is used for verification purposes to not only prove your identity, but also for billing purposes in the hotel. From there, your credit or debit card could be used to access extra facilities like meals, drinks and subscription television services.

Then you will be guided to your room. You will be pointed towards a lift or staircase.

Then you can relax after the long journey, familiarise yourself with the place, its routines, find the shower, wardrobe and (always – in my case on arrival) find the kettle.

Then enjoy a coffee, spend a few minutes relaxing before the holiday really starts.

Mine’s a coffee as they tend not to have my favourite tea bags wherever I stay…

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Coming Soon in Part Three

We will talk about enjoying the holiday itself! This will cover the hidden rules of enjoying your break, staying in hotels and other cues like dressing for dinner.

S.V., 19 July 2013.

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