Autie Friendly Holiday Planning: 3. Enjoying Your Holiday

Part Three of our useful guide

Scarborough Harbour, July 2012
Scarborough harbour, looking towards South Bay and The Spa.

We’ve made it to our temporary home for the week, carried the cases up to our room, caravan or living room, and had our first coffee on arrival. In the hotel or guest house, you may see a desk or table beside your bed. Along with the kettle, two cups, teabags, coffee and milk cartons would be a folder.

In each folder are details about your hotel, guest house, caravan or holiday flat. In hotels, there is reference to Breakfast and Evening Meal times, as well as telephone numbers for room service and fire safety precautions. Though the folder may tell you that breakfast starts at 8 am, it doesn’t tell you how long it lasts, and as to how it is served. Nor does it tell you how to dress for the evening meal.

Evening Meals

In the UK at least, it is traditional to dress smartly for the evening meal (which explains why I suggested packing seven items of smart shirts in the previous part of this article). As well as being smart for dinner, the same smart clothes are suitable for the hotel bar, nearby pub or theatre.

Typically, the evening meal would comprise of three courses: the starter, main meal, and a dessert. Sometimes, Cheese and Biscuits may be a fourth course along with tea or coffee. The starter would usually comprise of two light dishes (like a slice of Melon) and a soup of the day. On the menu, there would be at least five different main meals. One would have meat. A second one may have fish, a third may be a vegetarian meal, whereas a fourth one would be a seasonal salad. A fifth one may be a Chef’s Special, different to the usual meals, either meat or fish based, vegetarian, or salad. All of which would be served with seasonal vegetables, usually one or two potato based portions (i.e. mashed potato, chips, Rosti or sautéd potatoes), carrots and green vegetables.

On the dessert menu, you may find a warm dessert (like Rhubarb Crumble with Custard) and two cold desserts (for example, Eton Mess along with the usual choice of ice creams). Fresh fruit or cheese and biscuits may be offered as alternatives.

Breakfast

At breakfast time, you would see about five or six different cereals from Bran Flakes to Weetabix. There would also be porridge, yoghurt, fresh fruit, prunes, and fruit juices. This would often be followed by a cooked breakfast and toast.

Being Served at Mealtimes

The folder in your room will list the meal times. Breakfast would often be served from 7.30am to 9.00am with evening meals between 6.00pm to 7.30pm. On your first night, it is best to walk to the dining room as early as possible. This is equally true on the day of your first breakfast. I suggest doing this on the first evening meal and first breakfast so as to get an idea as to how long it takes, from the first glass of water to the last morsel of cheesecake.

Evening Meal Routine

Here’s how I’ve often prepared for evening meals:

  • Choose suitable clothes for your evening meal;
  • Have a wash one hour prior to going to the dining room;
  • Spray deodorant and have a shave;
  • Take wallet and key (or room card).

Afterwards, I would…

  • Finish my evening meal off with a cup of coffee (sometimes in the hotel bar rather than the dining room);
  • (If going out) Return to my room and get my coat;
  • (If staying in the hotel) Relax with a newspaper or smartphone in the bar with a drink before a live act comes on;
  • (If going out) Go towards my favoured theatre, pub or cinema then return at a sensible time;
  • Brush teeth and go to bed.

Breakfast Time Routine

I’m often the first to rise and use my smartphone as my alarm clock. Each morning…

  • I try to wake up within two minutes of my alarm ringing (which is the roar of a Class 40 diesel locomotive leaving York);
  • Have a wash, then brush teeth;
  • Spray deodorant;
  • Choose clothes;
  • Take wallet and room card, then hope there’s enough Corn Flakes.

Afterwards…

  • Back to my room;
  • Collect bag and cameras for trip out;
  • (With keys) Leave keys with Hotel Reception then collect them whilst on return;
  • (With room card) Keep room card in a safe place close to me.

Sometimes, you can either choose your own table, or you may be directed to a suitable table. You may need to share a table with other guests. Hotels and guest houses have different ways of serving your breakfast and/or evening meal. One hotel may offer waiter service, whereas another one may be self-service where guests decide how much meat, potatoes or ice cream they want.

I abhor the latter method with a passion. My reasons being the overloading (personal sensory issues with hot kitchenware), industrial nature, and the principle of ‘Look, I’m on holiday, I want to relax and keep people in work’ (see also my hatred of self-service tills in supermarkets). If you’re sat on your own and leave your table for second helpings or desserts, hoping nobody would steal your place at the table is a worry. Unless the hotel allocates numbered tables for each guest.

However, some people might favour the impersonal approach of self-service dining. It may be less overloading for some people on the autism spectrum who are less at ease with talking to waiters, and trying to decide what to eat each day. If on a restricted diet, it gives you control over what to and what not to eat. Where hotels and guest houses have waiters, please tell him or her you’re on a restricted diet. Sometimes, menus may tell you as to whether any meal, for example, has nuts, is Gluten Free or vegetarian.

At caravan sites and holiday camps, your site may have more than one dining room. They are likely to be bars or restaurants selling traditional food like a typical hotel menu. On bigger sites, there may be traditional fish and chip shops, burger bars or cafeterias, and open at more flexible times. As caravan sites and holiday camps have self-catering options, along with holiday flats, there is likely to be a small supermarket on the site.

Self Catering Holidays

If you’re on a severely restricted diet and find hotel or guest house dining rooms overloading, a self-catering holiday may be a better option. It is sometimes cheaper, but the price of food – especially Gluten Free and Casein Free can be expensive. A hotel or guest house which caters for special diets could be a cheaper and convenient option.

Going on a self-catering holiday gives you more flexibility: you can plan your own meal times, try food from local markets and treat yourself to the odd takeaway. One downside to this is spending part of your holiday in local supermarkets or convenience stores. On caravan sites, holiday camps and holiday flats, you might need to pay for your own electricity. You may see a prepaid meter which takes smart cards or cash. With the former, you need to be more careful with electricity usage. This may give you more incentive to visit the pub, theatre or cinema at night time, or another place during the day.

And this could be one reason why the late Sir Billy Butlin wanted you to enjoy yourself in Pwllheli, Barry Island, Skegness, Minehead, Ayr, Filey, Clacton or Bognor Regis…

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Stepping Out – Enjoying Yourself

You’ve enjoyed your first breakfast of your stay. Whether you’ve had a big portion of Corn Flakes in the dining room, or burnt the sausages in your caravan, there’s every chance you want to explore the rest of the area.

If you chose a holiday which includes excursions, I always recommend being outside the hotel and ready to board the coach fifteen minutes before its departure. If you’re exploring the area yourself, I recommend:

  • Calling into a Tourist Information Centre or staffed bus or rail station for timetables and suitable places to visit;
  • Looking at ‘Rover Tickets’, which enable you to make more than one journey on one or more modes of public transport;
  • Checking your smartphone or digital device for local bus, train or tram times, and possible attractions.

Your hotel, guest house or camp site might have a selection of leaflets. Some supermarkets, public houses and restaurants have a small selection too. Before you go…

  • Take a smaller bag for carrying your camera, any newspapers or magazines, or items you may purchase;
  • Leave your key at the hotel or guest house reception, or keep it close to yourself (i.e. in a front jeans pocket, instead of a back one). Hotel key cards are best kept in wallets or purses;
  • Remember your Concessionary Travel Card.

Concessionary Travel Cards

If you’re holidaying in the UK, you can travel freely under the National Bus Concessionary Travel Scheme. Part of the 2000 Transport Act, it allows free off-peak travel in the resident’s home country within the UK. For example, if you live in Stalybridge, you can travel freely after 9.30am by bus anywhere in England (but you need to pay if you’re staying in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales). Greater Manchester’s scheme also offers free off-peak travel on trains and trams within the Transport for Greater Manchester boundaries.

Using Scarborough as my example, you could use your National Concessionary Travel Pass or National Concessionary (Concession Plus) Travel Pass on the 93 to visit Whitby. Or the 121 for a trip to Filey or Bridlington. If you wish to explore more by rail, don’t forget your Railcard. A 34% reduction is available on rail based Rover tickets as well as single and return fares £10 and upwards (or on all fares between July and August).

If you chose to drive to your holiday flat, guest house or hotel, and have any of the above passes, why not take a break from the driving. If you’re lucky enough to be in a location with good bus routes, why not give them a try and save yourself some money on petrol costs?

Planning a Good Day Trip

You’ve sorted the bus or train times out, or you’re on a coach with 41 other holidaymakers. On a coaching holiday, you don’t have the hassle of hoping bus connections work out, nor worry about being back in time for the evening meal. Though good for being back in time for the main meal of the day, stopping times on each excursion might not be long enough for you to explore the place properly. Even more so if there’s good public transport.

When visiting museums or other attractions, your concessionary pass could be accepted as proof for discounted entry fees.

Lunch

If you’re staying in somewhere besides self-catering accommodation, the bigger breakfasts and evening meals means one thing: smaller lunches. After a full breakfast, a modest lunch, such as a filled baguette with salad or two pies would do, with a drink. Both the salad filled baguette or the two pies are easy to eat on the go in pleasant weather.

To save money and add variety, try to go to shops more popular with local customers rather than those more popular with tourists (for example, Boyes’ store if in North Yorkshire). To defray costs:

  • Go for any Meal Deal options, for example, where you can get a sandwich, crisps and a drink for a reduced price;
  • Visit discount shops for crisps, chocolate, bottled water or canned drinks;
  • (If self catering) Make your own, or let your partner or carer make your own sandwiches. This is a lot cheaper than going in to sandwich shops, plus you can use your own ingredients, like Gluten Free bread.

Nights Out

We may choose to spend our nights in the hotel or guest house room watching Coronation Street, or watch the live band or singer on in the residents’ bar. Or we could go to another bar within the holiday camp or in the town.

If travelling alone, personal safety is a major issue. When walking to the theatre, cinema or pub, it is best to walk on well lit streets and avoid dimly lit footpaths. A taxi to and from the venue may be better than walking the streets. If you need to get a bus, sit in a seat nearest to the driver and, if on a quiet route with a double decker bus, sit downstairs. Before you consider getting the bus, make sure you are familiar with the times of the last journeys. Make allowances for early running on your return trip; some drivers may prefer to reach the depot as soon as possible after their last journey.

If you’re going to a theatre or concert hall, there’s a likelihood that the show or concert would begin at 7.30pm. Given that a hotel’s evening meal would often begin at 6pm, have it at the earliest possible time. If you’re only doing Bed and Breakfast or Self-Catering, why not go to a nearby restaurant, pub or café?

Unless you’re really familiar with the area, choose your pub carefully. Websites like BeerintheEvening.com and the Campaign for Real Ale’s smartphone app are useful sources. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, some parts of the UK have pubs owned by a chain like J.D Wetherspoon. Their safer environment is more friendly to people unfamiliar with the area. They are also more family-friendly and (most importantly for cost-conscious real ale loving fellows on the autism spectrum like myself) offer cheap food and drink. The menus may be predictable, but for some people including myself, it is possible to know the items from memory. (And I can do just that with the Wetherspoons menu myself).

Theatre and Concert Tickets

If you’ve planned your holiday around a concert or theatrical production, make sure you booked your ticket well in advance. Then, as soon as you receive your tickets, book the hotel/guest house/holiday flat/caravan shortly afterwards. Then travel arrangements to and from your destination.

Supposing you chose to holiday in Scarborough, Blackpool, Brighton, Torquay or Weymouth, you will find plenty of shows and concerts. Not only theatres and concert halls but also cabaret bars, music-orientated pubs and possibly the odd church. You can be more spontaneous and book a day or two before the performance. Sometimes you could even book on the same night if there’s enough seats left.

You can either:

  • Use your digital device to book your ticket(s) from the venue’s website, paying with a debit or credit card;
  • Call in to the theatre’s box office or the Tourist Information Centre to book your tickets in person. You can use your credit or debit card, or pay with cash.

If you choose to pay with credit or debit card, either online or in person, you may need to pay a booking fee on top of your ticket price. To avoid booking fees, pay by cash.

If you wish to save more money, there might be cheaper afternoon performances (matinees). Or you could use your Concessionary Pass to claim discounted tickets.

Cinemas

If your desired destination has a nearby multiplex cinema, you’re in luck (unless you’re awkward like me and prefer a traditional cinema, ideally of 1930s origin). For most popular films, times are more flexible, and it’s up to you as to whether you prefer the late showing or a daytime one (a good idea if raining).

Some cinemas have ‘Autism Friendly’ screenings. Three multiplex chains in the UK (ODEON, Cineworld and Vue) allocate a certain day and time for their autism friendly films at each of their cinemas. My nearest one (the Cineworld in Ashton-under-Lyne) has its autism friendly screenings on the first Sunday in the month at 11am.

Unlike most film presentations, the lighting is low, and the volume is set to a less distracting level. You can also take your own sandwiches and (best of all, for film purists as well as fellow people on the autism spectrum) there are no adverts before the film! Plus you can move around the auditorium if you need the toilet, or prefer to sit elsewhere. Such showings may be available at reduced prices.

The only drawback of the autism friendly films is limited choice. There doesn’t seem to be any suitable films for adults on the autism spectrum, who might prefer an autie-friendly showing of Man of Steel.

Enjoying Your Film or Show

  • Avoid paying theatre or cinema prices for sweets or popcorn: to avoid this, why not go to the theatre, concert hall or cinema shortly after your lunch or evening meal?
  • If the sound can get a bit too much, take some earplugs: earplugs could make the sound more manageable. Instead of being too loud, you’ll be able to hear your favourite band, comedian or film better;
  • To ease the transition between your film or show and returning to your hotel, caravan, guest house or holiday flat, have a quiet drink: the quiet drink doesn’t have to be alcoholic or in the nearby pub, it could be in the venue itself. Or the place you’re staying at.

On the beach or by the open-air swimming pool

If you’ve chosen a seaside holiday, you may be tempted to go on the beach. Extra to the items I have suggested you should pack in the previous part, you may need:

  • Flip flops or beach sandals (I prefer the latter – Flip Flops are most uncomfortable for long term wear);
  • Sun tan lotion and sun block;
  • A beach towel and a second towel for drying yourself;
  • A packed lunch;
  • Sunglasses;
  • A good book or newspaper;
  • A windbreaker;
  • A deckchair or two (maybe more).

With the last two items, you can hire them on the beach for a small price (and it saves you having to carry them back with you). If you prefer to take your own, I would only do so if you’re driving to and from your holiday resort.

Sandwiches and other snacks can be bought by the beach, or you can make your own. If your hotel or guest house offers packed lunches, why not try one of their packed lunches to save trailing from shop to shop?

Whilst on the beach:

  • Pay close attention to the beachside warning flags: details of which are on the RoSPA website;
  • Be careful when playing or paddling on the seashore: though aimed at young people and children, RoSPA have released an excellent guide to water safety which is equally suitable for carers and parents;
  • Refrain from taking inflatable items onto the seashore: save them for the nearest swimming pool, which is a safer environment.

For some, the highlight of a holiday is the beach, whether you prefer the packed sandy beaches of Blackpool or Scarborough, or the guaranteed sunshine abroad. The busier beaches may a little overloading and noisy, but you can be sure of the fact they’ll be well patrolled by lifeguards or use beach flags. If you need to dry or wash yourself, showering facilities may be available.

Then we can return to our temporary home for a week, in a semi-clean state. Then have a wash, shower, shave or bath before we change for our evening meal.

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Dirty Laundry

In the next part of this series, we will find out why packing our clothes is a lot easier at the end of the holiday than the day before we begin our stay. By the end of our stay, most of our clothes will be dirty, meaning a mammoth amount of washing to do at home.

Some hotels offer laundry services at a small charge. Caravan sites and holiday camps may have laundrettes and drying rooms. If you have wet clothes you don’t need to wear again, let them air off in the en suite bathroom, then put them in a plastic carrier bag.

Once you’ve worn your t-shirt once, or the pair of trousers twice, put them back in your suitcase. This will save you time for when you pack your case on the eve of your return home.

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Coming Soon in Part Four

Part Four will be the final part of our Autie Friendly Holiday Planning article. We will talk about the journey back.

S.V., 21 July 2013.

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