Exploring the Travel Show
After promising to publish an e-book travel guide to Portugal this year, I spent most of last weekend at The New York Times Travel Expo at the Javits Center in Manhattan. I’d hoped to get ideas for how to organize the book as well as for new destinations to explore when I’m in Portugal this spring and afterward. (I’ve already made one family heritage trip, so I have three more sides of the family to cover.) I came home with two backpacks full of swag (one for each day) as well as notes and contact information for a new direction in my travel writing.
Along with hundreds of exhibits, the expo featured cooking demonstrations, traditional music and dance, presentations by New York Times travel writers, and one-on-one meetings with travel specialists. The presentations were useful for those who don’t read the Times travel section or other online resources religiously, which meant that I could move on to the one-on-one events.
On Saturday, I met with Marco Fernandes of Sagres Vacations, located in Fall River, Massachusetts, but with an office opening in Porto, Portugal. Sagres Travel organizes guided tours throughout Portugal and Spain and has a variety of options for standard and personalized tours. Guided group tours are usually pricier than going it alone, and they tend to focus on the typical and folkloric fare for dining, shopping, and entertainment. However, one doesn’t have the hassle of booking hotels or homestays, getting around via taxis or public transportation, making restaurant reservations when one doesn’t know the language, etc. And many people enjoy the camaraderie of a group tour. In fact, while waiting in line to buy my two-day pass, I read this highly entertaining article about guided group tours to war zones such as North Korea, Chechnya, and South Ossetia. (One of those cases where the author went there, so we don’t have to.)
For my Sunday one-on-one I met Nicole Thibault, the owner of Magical Storybook Travels, a specialized travel agency for families with disabled children. Thibault, who has a son on the autism spectrum, works with the Disney Resorts, other family resorts, and cruise lines to facilitate services and prepare all family members for the challenges of an unfamiliar environment. We talked at length, at times incorporating other visitors to the table, and in a few weeks I’ll run an interview with Thibault in which she offers specific advice to parents. In the meantime, you can check out both her site and that of Autismtravel.com, a site geared to parents of autistic children.
I noticed that a lot of the specialized travel sites geared to disabled travelers focus on family travel and travel to all-inclusive resorts. While this makes sense, what about the adult traveler or the independent-minded with unusual and highly focused interests? The unusual, out of the way experiences can be very rewarding, as I discovered when I took the train from Vienna to Bratislava by myself last summer and spent the day in a place where I didn’t know the language (though I picked up a lot quickly) and which isn’t geared to mass tourism. This is a direction I’d like to explore further in my blog, and one thing I was looking for when I visited the various expo booths and collected my brochures.
I’m still sifting through the information I collected and thinking about future posts focused on autistic travelers. One thing that came to mind is friendly places to visit versus places where people are more reserved toward strangers. I noticed some of that in the booths, without even traveling to the state or country. For instance, the people in the United States travel sections were friendly to the point, in some cases, of being intrusive — like the representative from the New Jersey resort who kept talking even though I needed to get to a session.
In contrast, the booth staff of three Central European countries that will go unmentioned (one a heavy tourist destination nonetheless, the other two not, for different reasons) took long breaks and/or did not seem happy to be there. Perhaps, though, these are good places to go if you like to be left alone. Another topic to explore is the group tour — welcome structure or forced conviviality? Most of the exhibits were sponsored by travel agencies that focus on group tours, including a number of ocean and river cruise lines. I have never taken a cruise — or anything bigger than a several-hour canal or river tour through a city — but I know they’re popular, and there are big differences between the ocean liner “floating cities” and river cruise boats capped at 160 passengers.
If there’s anything you’d like me to write about in terms of travel for people with disabilities, or specialized travel in general, please leave your questions and ideas in the comments.
It’s been ages since I booked a trip through a travel agency. I’d like to do so again. Thanks for another informative post, Lyn.
We almost never book trips through travel agencies. The only time we’ve done it is if that’s the only way we can access a given site, like the time we took a nature tour in Argentina.
here is a resource I saw before I thought about your words about family resorts and friendly places for children [for in one way they are the future of travel and taking advantage of a growth market]:
This is how Logan and Madison went to Nashville.
“Not everyone wants to do things designed for children or families, autism or not. If you want some more adult activities to do, there are a few options you might explore. Some autism-friendly events can offer some options. For example, a recent screening of Star Wars The Last Jedi by Autism Tennessee offered fun for everyone. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts offers quiet areas should you need a break. Like Nashville Zoo, Cheekwood Estate and Gardens has partnered with Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s TRIAD organization to make it an autism-friendly location. You can find a visual schedule card and other useful materials to prepare for your visit on their website. You are in Music City so the Grand Ole Opry is a fun choice although noise canceling headphones are a must for your sensory child.”
Logan is a very independent-minded traveller. I may also have seen information on Vegas as well.
And the author also points out that leaving a location is important.
I might have a few questions about legalities and securities on travel.
I am one who uses online resources when she can like Traveller.com.au and Telegraph and Guardian. And Trekksoft has some good stuff.
I thought the nature/Argentina connection was interesting. There is an agency a few suburbs away from me which does South America in particular.
And there is a woman based in Israel who writes Globetrotting with Autism. Or Autistic Globetrotters.
Thank you for these resources, Adelaide! I will have to check into them, because I’m planning many more posts on autistic travelers, both adult travelers and families with children on the spectrum.