Debbie and 11-year-old Asher on Successful Vacations for Neurodivergent Kids

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In this special kid’s POV edition of the podcast, Asher and I share our best tips and strategies for making travel run more smoothly and having successful vacations with neurodivergent kids. As much as many families and their children may love going on vacation, the change in routine, different foods, shifting expectations, and new stimuli can even turn a trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” (Disneyland) into one full of stress, anxiety, meltdowns, and other challenges. And while we know this rings true for pretty much any and every family, for parents raising differently wired kids, the extremes highs and lows can bigger.

In this episode, Asher and I share what we’ve learned over the years when it comes to making sure everyone’s needs and expectations on any given vacation are met, or at the very least, addressed, and walk listeners through the different schedules and planners we’ve we incorporated into our vacation prep. (We also share our planning templates below for free download!). We hope you take away a tip or two to make your next family holiday a more peaceful experience for the whole family!


About Debbie & Asher

Debbie Ash MiniDebbie Reber is the founder and CEO of Tilt Parenting and the host of the TiLT Parenting Podcast. 11-year-old Asher is Debbie’s child and is regularly featured on the podcast. Find out more by visiting the About Page.



Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • The benefits of talking through and getting clear on expectations (for all members of the family) prior to leaving for a vacation
  • A strategy for using the collaborative problem solving approach to identify, address, and pre-solve concerns ahead of time
  • How to make departure day go more smoothly
  • The benefits of exploring and researching aspects of a vacation time well in advance of the trip (including accommodations, activities, etc.)
  • A strategy for using written schedules coupled with frequent reviews during a vacation keeps everyone’s expectations in check
  • The benefits of bringing a child into the planning process (and letting them determine some of what will happen on vacation)
  • Why it’s useful to work with your child to discover what they need most on vacation and then incorporating it into your daily plan (ie: rest, chill time, etc.)


Resources mentioned for successful vacations with neurodivergent kids


Episode Transcript

Debbie Reber  0:00

What do you think has worked the best for you? Because I’m sure you’ve noticed vacations are different for you now to what has helped you the most.

Asher  0:08

I think the all the planning it’s very helpful to know what’s going to happen.

Debbie Reber  0:13

Why is that so helpful for you?

Asher  0:15

I just like knowing what’s going to happen, because it means I can prepare for it ahead of time. I can like set my all my expectations and not be wrong.

Debbie Reber 0:28 

Welcome to the Tilt Parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber and today’s episode features another conversation with my 11-year-old son Asher. We know that a lot of families are traveling this summer and going on holidays, whether to the beach, camping, national parks trips abroad. And we also know that vacations can be equal parts awesome and difficult for families with differently wired kids. So today, Asher and I are going to tell you about the many different strategies we’ve tried and tweaked over the years to help make our vacations go more smoothly. Of course, life is life. And we’re not looking for happily ever after here. But we have come up with some strategies that have absolutely allowed our family to not only enjoy the vacations much more than before, but also grow closer together in the process. So we’re going to get into that in just a moment. To learn more about this podcast and tilt the revolution for parents raising a typical kids visit WWW dot till My husband and I love to travel, it’s one of our favorite things to do. And when my husband’s work asked us to move abroad for an indefinite amount of time we leapt at the opportunity because we knew it meant we’d get to travel a ton and explore Europe, a place we really hadn’t spent much time and before moving to Amsterdam three years ago. We did travel a fair bit in the US when Asher was younger. But the majority of these trips were either to Pennsylvania and Maryland to see my family or California and Oregon to visit Derin’s family scattered with a few family vacations to places like Orlando, Phoenix, New York and the Jersey Shore. But we realized pretty early on that we had a problem. And maybe it’s a problem you’ve experienced to see. Well, we loved to travel, it didn’t necessarily bring out the best in Asher. In fact, it often ratcheted up the intensity level from highly discombobulating to flat out catastrophic, new routines, busier schedules, strange beds, different foods. For a highly inflexible little person with sensory issues. vacations were the perfect storm. It was the Fall before we moved that I had my first aha moment about the Asher vacation conundrum. So I actually wanted to start by talking about what happened. I don’t know if you remember this actually, you’re showing me Mickerson for those of you are listening is Asher’s. How would you describe Mickerson? He’s Asher’s friend. He’s a one of a kind, stuffy, for lack of a better word, but he’s a monster. And

Asher  3:05

Because monsters need friends too?

Debbie Reber 3:07  

Because they do. And we got Mickelson in Victoria. And we were on holiday with Asher’s dad. My husband Derin particularly mentioned him in this episode, isn’t it? So? Do you remember that vacation much? It was probably four years ago when you were about seven?

Asher  3:25

Yeah, kind of. I remember the part where I saw Mickerson.

Debbie Reber  3:28

Yeah. It was love at first sight.

Asher  3:31

I had to like do charts for a month. Yes. To pay for him. 

Debbie Reber  

That’s true. 

Asher  3:37

It was so worth it.

Debbie Reber  3:39

So the reason I wanted to talk about Victoria was we took your dad’s parents, grandma and grandpa to Victoria for a weekend. It was a really short trip. We were living in Seattle at the time. And we took them to Victoria for a weekend and they had a lot of things they wanted to see. And we had a lot of things we wanted to do. And you were one at a lot of time to just chill out in the hotel.

Asher  4:05

With Mickerson. 

Debbie Reber  4:56

No, this is even before you got Mickerson. But I remember we went out to dinner in the stone age, we went out to dinner at a really nice restaurant. And you just kind of had a bit of a meltdown. You were done. Over the weekend, it was just too much. And so I took you from the restaurant and we went and we found a bench outside. And you were still small enough that you sat on my lap. And we had a long talk and we kind of realized that there’s something you really need when you’re on holiday. So do you remember what it was we discovered when we were talking on that bench in terms of what you need and that we

Asher  4:45

We need at least a day of just chilling out? wherever we were? I can’t just like go everywhere and do everything every single day.

Debbie Reber  4:56

Yeah, and specifically like you can go everywhere and do everything. Nearly every single day, right? But it’s that first day, that was the big aha moment that the day we arrived, you wanted to just chill, you wanted to get to the hotel or whatever, and just chill. And that was good to know. And it was also like, Well, gosh, how do we make that work off for only going away for a weekend, right? Because if you chill the first day, you’ve only really got one day. But we’ve tried to incorporate that. I remember that conversation. So clearly, I think it was the first time Asher and I had a mature conversation, where he told me exactly what he needed. I remember thinking, Ah, this is a person who knows what he needs, that’s going to be super helpful, I’m going to need to access that insight more. But while I had this aha moment, we still had a long way to go to get to a point where vacations didn’t involve one or more breakdowns, and pretty much all of our parts, power struggles, heaps of frustration and the occasional public blowout. Our first trip post Amsterdam move was to a small island off the coast of Holland called Texel. Where we went for a weekend. I still have nightmares about that trip. Rough one. Do you remember that trip? Kind of Yeah, that was a dark time for our family. And then we did a trip to Barcelona, which was pretty eye opening. Because I think it was the first time we really realized that… 

Asher  6:25

I like steak.

Debbie Reber  6:27

We did discover that the meat in Barcelona is quite tasty. And, you know, I’m someone who wants to see and do everything, especially in a city like Barcelona, where there’s so many cool museums and the shopping and the food and, and you really wanted to make sure that we built in time to just chill in the apartment. And we learned that when we pushed you too far. And we didn’t give you that. 

Asher  6:52

That I got kind of annoyed. 

Debbie Reber  6:53

Yeah, that’s a serious understatement, 

Asher  6:56

kind of annoyed. 

Debbie Reber  6:58

We had some pretty rough days during that trip, frustrated, slightly more than slightly frustrated. So what we did for our next really big trip, which was probably a year later that we really started to get our act together, we started incorporating some of the things we’ve done in homeschool in terms of coming up with a plan and talking with you about what your expectations were because what is one of your biggest kind of triggers things that throws you off?

Asher  7:27

Yeah, when my expectations aren’t being met. Right?

Debbie Reber  7:31

When you have something in mind, and then it doesn’t work out that way. 

Asher  7:34

It’s like me thinking, okay, so this is gonna happen to this, this is going to happen. That’s great. I like that. And it’s like, wait, what I thought that was supposed to happen. Like, no, we changed it.

Debbie Reber  7:45

Yeah. And that doesn’t fly with you. Right? That’s tough. I decided that I was going to meltdown proof. Our next trip, I figured that if we got clear on our expectations ahead of time, and then came up with a plan for how those expectations could be met, then we’d be golden, our first smooth sailing vacation, I started creating printouts. The first one is that I came up with this family goals worksheet, I’m really big into worksheets, right? There’s a lot, there’s a lot of worksheets, worksheeting and paperwork in this house. But I thought it was important that we filled this out before we went in. Actually, we’re looking at a copy of it right here. And it only has my mind filled out I don’t know, when you and dad got around to it. But the plan was that we would each write down our goals for the trip. And so I wrote have a peaceful trip where we all work well as a family, no yelling, etc. See a lot of beautiful architecture and spend a little alone time because I need some of that too when we’re on vacation. So this was the first thing we did was fill out our family goals. In case you’re interested, I will share the template on the show notes if you want to check it out. But while the vacation goal worksheet was good information to have, the one I was really excited about was called the Asher concerns worksheet. I based it on the collaborative problem-solving model that we use in which we try to identify ahead of time what might be hard in a situation, and then brainstorm solutions. That way he doesn’t perseverate on it and get anxious and bring that stressful energy into the situation, which in this case is our holiday. Can you walk us through if you can read my writing what some of your concerns were and what our solutions were?

Asher  Well, we had a concern that we’d be jet lagged. 

Debbie Reber  

Yeah. And that was one of your concerns. Jet lag. And so as I explained to you it’s a super short trip. And then I said that we would be staying on our regular time schedule. But that was a good one to know. Because I wouldn’t have known that was an issue for you or that that was something you were concerned about until you said it. And then as soon as I said, oh, there is no time difference. We won’t be jet lagged. 

Asher  9:54

I was like, oh, yeah, 

Debbie Reber  9:55

Yeah, that was instant relief. So what’s another one of your concerns that you had for this trip?

Asher  10:00

I’d be really cold while we’re there. Because it was kind of cold.

Debbie Reber 10:03  

More specifically, it says, butt frozen on day trips, walking around, 

Asher  10:09

freeze my butt off

Debbie Reber  10:10

Right? And you really are someone who does not like to be cold. Yeah, I’m with you on that. So I totally get that. And the solution we wrote down was, well, first, I let you know that it was warmer as

Asher  10:22

Nobody who isn’t warm is going to like to be cold.

Debbie Reber  10:25

That’s true. Some people dislike it more than others, right? I know that for you, walking around is already hard. But if you add that extra piece of discomfort of being too cold, then it can kind of ruin a day. So what we talked about was I explained that it’s warmer, so it shouldn’t be a problem, then I wrote down layers will leave. I can’t read my writing either, but we would have a lot of layers on and will shed them if we get too warm. And then if we’re feeling cold, we would get some hot chocolate. So we kind of dealt with that concern. But there’s two more on here. Let’s go through them.

Asher  11:03

So I wouldn’t have enough time to chill.

Debbie Reber 11:07  

To chill in the pool specifically. Yeah, yeah.

Asher  11:10

We had a one hour long swim guaranteed. 

Debbie Reber  11:17

Right? We said 

Asher  11:19

ideally 30 minutes, right? 

Debbie Reber  11:21

So we said if we’re staying in a place with a pool, we guarantee you an hour of pool time each day that were there, 

Asher  11:28

Which is awesome,

Debbie Reber  11:29  

Which was awesome. And that totally worked. And then your last concern was that you wouldn’t have enough time hanging out with your dad. Yeah, who at the time was working a lot and didn’t have a lot of free time. So our solution we talked about that dad would not be working. And that the two of you will be guaranteed some screen time together. Because that’s how you guys like to bond a lot is doing screen time. So you are guaranteed some screen time.

Asher  11:56

Really cool mod that I won’t mentioned because we’re anonymous, okay posted it,

Debbie Reber  12:01

We will not discuss the anonymous, awesome mod that you guys created,

Asher  12:05

I will just say that we recommend redacted mod Minecraft. 

Debbie Reber  12:10

We’ll talk about that in another episode if you want to come out and share that. So alright, so that’s the second piece. So before the trip, we went through all your concerns. And that was a really great conversation, because I would have had no idea that these were things that could have caused you stress or anxiety during the trip. And because we came up with a solution ahead of time, they were not an issue on the trip. Do you remember this really smoothly. This worksheet definitely made a difference on this trip and for future trips. Because one of the things I’ve learned about Asher over the years, and I’m sure this is true about your own kids as well, is that no matter how strange or irrational or unexpected or in our mind nonsensical his negative reaction or difficult behavior might be, there is always an underlying reason. He’s not just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. There’s always something else going on that’s triggering that response. So the Asher concerns worksheet helped problem solve around a lot of those underlying reasons and solved them before they even became an issue, mostly. So the last thing that we had that we actually used on the trip every day was like a daily planner. And so every night, we would fill this out together and the top part and I will post this on the website for people to see the top part has a big section for our plan for the day. So whether we were doing a tour or we were going to go to a market for lunch or whatever we were doing, that would be written down so that you knew the night before what we were doing. And then doing a walk us through what these other parts are.

Asher  13:51

So first we write down the time we leave our hotel.

Debbie Reber  13:56

Right? So you knew what time we had to be out the door, because sometimes it’s time sensitive, right? What we’re doing, we can’t miss a train or something.

Asher  14:03

Then we also wrote down the time that we were trying to return.

Debbie Reber  14:10

Right, so you knew about when we would be back. So how long in total, we’d be out for the day. Yep. What’s next? 

Asher  14:16

And we had when I would have my screen time with dad.

Debbie Reber  14:20

That’s right, we wanted you to know that that was definitely going to happen. And not only was it definitely going to happen, but here’s around when it’s going to happen.

Asher  14:16

And then we also have one I’ll get to swim. And then we also have any special requests or comments.

Debbie Reber  14:36

That’s correct. We would go through this every night and then we would all actually sign it. So we’d like to put things not only in writing, but we seal it with a signature

Asher  14:47

Alice fast in the third.

Debbie Reber  14:49

So here’s what I will say about this trip. I was because we did all this prep work. I was convinced that we were going to go on this vacation and it was going to be smooth with not one meltdown, no problems. Easy peasy lemon squeezy the whole time you melt them. Yeah, it didn’t work out that way, we did have a few meltdowns and not just you by the way. But not as many as usual, it definitely was a much smoother trip. And I feel it was like the start of a new era of vacations, right?

Asher  15:20

The vacation era. 

Debbie Reber  15:22

Ah, yes, the vacation era. So we use those forms for the next year or so. But as time has gone by, and Azure has matured, and we’ve shifted the types of vacations we were doing, from city museums, sightseeing kind of things to family nature adventure kinds of things. We’ve gotten kind of into a new phase of, dare I say, peace and tranquility on our family trips. But though we don’t do the problem solving worksheets anymore, we still do a lot of work around schedules and planning. I think one of the biggest game changers is our day of departure, planner or schedule that we make, because even first of all, you’re excited to travel now, like in the mornings, if we have an early flight, you get up and you’re ready. Yeah. However, there’s always stress at that last minute, because we can’t miss a flight. So whenever we have that,

Asher  16:16

like the Amazing Race.

Debbie Reber  16:18

It is like the Amazing Race, whenever we have that added stressor of time, I get more anxious, your dad gets more anxious, and then you I think you feed off of our energy, and then all of a sudden you decide you need something in that moment, and that taxis there and it just becomes this it becomes really stressful. And I don’t know that we left for the airport, in years without a lot of just, you know, some yelling, some stress, some really kind of not great energy going on. So you would explain what we do now in terms of our whiteboard.

Asher  16:59

Yeah, we take a whiteboard, and we write down our departure schedule. So we usually include when we wake up, when we get ready to go, when we depart, when we arrive at the airport, when we have to get on the flight. And then when we arrive at our destination.

Debbie Reber  17:21

Yeah, we always start with the time our flight leaves, we write that on the bottom of the whiteboard, and then we backtrack if our flight leaves at this time, what time do we need to be at the airport? If we need to be at the airport by then what time do we have to leave the apartment? If we have to leave the apartment? What time do we need to be putting shoes on and we’ve learned to leave like 15 minutes for shoes and coats. Because that’s where things can get really sluggish. I think I’m not going to be alone here and people listening to the podcast too, who feel that sometimes it’s that putting on shoes and coats can sometimes take like an hour. So having this schedule has really helped and building in a lot of time. And I will also show a picture of one of our whiteboards because, but that changed everything we

Asher  18:08

Nobody listening to this podcast can imagine a whiteboard,

Debbie Reber  18:09

I will share the whiteboard with our departure plan. We also before we go, I know now to really kind of show you lots of websites or pictures of the kinds of things that we’re going to be doing. 

Asher  18:24

Yeah, like for example, we went ziplining so I went to like the planning website and watched videos of people ziplining until we got really jealous.

Debbie Reber  18:36

Yeah, I did show you those videos. And they got you very excited too, which I knew was gonna be motivating for you to have a good trip. But for you to even see images of this is this is the room this is the hotel we’re staying in. This is the AirBNB apartment we’re renting, you will have your own room like as much as I can do to provide you with information ahead of time. So there aren’t a lot of surprises. And that’s another thing that’s really helpful, just kind of walk through it ahead of time. I also am someone who makes pretty detailed schedules. Maybe listeners are starting to realize that about me, I like my charts and graphs and schedules and color-coded things. But I make a detailed schedule of the entire trip. And I walk through that with you ahead of time, generally more than once, so that you start getting in your head. This is what we’re going to be doing. We’re going to these places. These are going to be long days in the car. These are going to be really packed days. And these are days that we’re going to chill out so that you can set your expectations. So then what’s the last thing that we do that really helped us especially on this most recent trip

Asher  19:53

Well over dinner, we usually talk through what we’re going to do the next day so we all know what we’re going to do once we wake up, kind of like the whiteboard thing.

Debbie Reber  20:03

So I’m curious to know because there are a lot of families have the same kind of challenges and travel can be stressful for many, many families and for kids whose routines are thrown off. So I’m wondering, what do you think has worked the best for you? Because I’m sure you’ve noticed vacations are different for you now to what has helped you the most.

Asher  20:26

I think that all the planning, it’s very helpful to know what’s going to happen. 

Debbie Reber  20:29

Why is that so helpful for you? 

Asher  20:29

I just like knowing what’s gonna happen, because it means I can prepare for it ahead of time. I can set my all my expectations and not be wrong.

Debbie Reber  20:44

Do you think about it, that when you go to bed that night, do you imagine what’s going to happen or like,

Asher  20:50

I kind of think about what, what it’s going to be like and set my expectations.

Debbie Reber  20:54

There was one day in our last trip where I really ran you guys ragad. I walked you all over?

Asher  21:02

Because? Oh, yeah, the one where we did the wall tour,

Debbie Reber  20:05

We did the wall tour, and then I made you take a boat to an island,

Asher  21:09

and walk all over the island, we had to circumnavigate the whole planet.

Debbie Reber  21:13

And then we took a cable car up to the top of a mountain, and I made you guys hike down the mountain.

Asher  21:21

It was terrible. But it was so satisfying once we finished it.

Debbie Reber  21:25

But how did you get through that day? Because that was not an Asher kind of a day. 

Asher  21:30

Not sure. 

Debbie Reber  21:32

Was it because you knew it was really important to me or because I told you the night before, so you just kind of bucked up and went with it.

Asher  21:39

It was because I knew that. That was the plan. We just had to get through climbing and then the next day it would be on a nice, gentle boat tour or not moving a muscle. 

Debbie Reber  21:52

We moved a few muscles, but only a few. I’m thinking of something else that we do that helps. It’s a little ice cream treat that we indulged in. 

Asher  22:02

Yeah. gelato. 

Debbie Reber  22:05

Yeah, it’s amazing how a little gelato can be motivated, 

Asher  22:08

Strong motivator.

Debbie Reber  22:10

At the right time.

Asher  22:12

It’s like you do want power of the entire planet. Or gelato? gelato? Oh,

Debbie Reber 22:20  

No, but that is something that we I don’t know that I would call it bribery, but a little dangling a little gelato as a reward at the end of a long hike or a long walk or something. Yeah. For You is a big motivator. Can you think of any other strategies that have helped? Because you’re such a good traveler. Now you like your fantastic traveler? Like what are some things that you do personally, that you think make travel fun for you?

Asher  22:51

Well, I help decide on what we’re gonna do.

Debbie Reber  22:54

Yeah, you’re bringing a good point we loop you into?

Asher  22:58

Yeah, it’s not like, Okay, today we’re doing this. And then tomorrow, we’ll do this. And then the day after that, we’re doing that. But I don’t want to do that too bad. Because this is vacation.

Debbie Reber  23:10

You will have fun. 

Asher  23:11

Yeah. And you’ll like it. 

Debbie Reber  23:14

Yeah, we definitely. We loop you in, we try to give you options, not all the time. And some days are more days where your dad or I get to call the shots. And some days are more focused on your interests. And that has really helped because then when you have those things that really engage you, it makes you more flexible, and more easygoing about the things that your dad and I really want to do, even if they’re not so very interesting to you. Right? 

Asher  23:43

Right. Everyone gets to do what they want. Partially,

Debbie Reber  23:47

Partially, it’s a lot of compromise. Yeah. What else has really helped you survive or get through vacations with 

Asher  23:54


Debbie Reber 23:56  

Say more?

Asher  23:56

Well, we usually go to new restaurants and eat loads of food. Yeah, mistakes.

Debbie Reber  24:02

So you get excited about the culinary experience. 

Asher  24:05


Debbie Reber  24:06

You know, what else we did on this trip was, which was interesting. We went for a run every morning. 

Asher  24:11

Yeah, that was loads of fun. 

Debbie Reber  24:13

Do you think that that helped? 

Asher  24”14

Yeah, it’s awesome. 

Debbie Reber  24:17

Why do you think that helped for the vacation to go smoother?

Asher  24:20

kind of calming.

Debbie Reber 24:24  

You also got to see things you wouldn’t have normally seen. And what’s the most important thing for you when you’re traveling that you need to have that help? That kind of helps keep you happy?

Asher  24:35

Well, rest time we need to. Yeah, we usually just need to chill for a bit.

Debbie Reber  24:35

And what do you do during your chill time?

Asher  24:42

I don’t know. Play things on the iPad we need but only for a bit. I mean, the iPad. I read for a while. Sometimes I rest with Mickerson.

Debbie Reber  24:59

So all those Things You think help us go more smoothly? Okay. All right, well, any other thoughts about vacation? Any, any advice for other parents or for me for that matter on things that could help vacations go even more smoothly?

Asher  25:16

Use some sandpaper.

Debbie Reber  25:18

Oh my. So there you have it, a potpourri of travel strategies that have transformed our vacations from stressful to not quite as stressful to mostly awesome and connecting for our family. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Tilt Parenting podcast. Hopefully you took away something from our conversation that you can use in your own world to help family holidays go more smoothly. And if you want to get a closer look at all the worksheets we mentioned, I’ll include downloadable PDFs of everything on the show notes for this episode, which you can find online at 15. For a list of all the podcast episodes, visit Also, we’ve recently begun posting edited transcriptions of previous episodes on the Tilt blog after hearing from members of the tilt community that they’d like to read the interviews and conversations. We haven’t gotten everything up there yet, but we are adding to it every week. To check out our new blog visit Lastly, if you liked this episode, and if you haven’t already subscribed on iTunes, I invite you to do that. And if you are subscribed, but haven’t left us an honest review, I invite you to do that as well. Getting more reviews and subscribers is the best way for us to grow and connect with our audience of parents raising differently wired kids. Thanks again for tuning in. And for more information on the Tilt revolution to sign up for our community and learn more, visit


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