RV Camping in the Chippewa National Forest

Why RV Camping is Perfect for Kids with Autism

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RV camping at the Cut Foot Horse campground in Chippewa National Forest

Why RV Camping is Perfect for Kids with Autism

By Sheletta Brundidge

A Minnesota mom and her family pivot from flying to RV travel after three of her kids were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I used to love flying.

On any given weekend, I might pack my bags for a girls weekend in some faraway city I’d seen on television or read about in a travel magazine, or for a visit with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Traveling filled me with a joyful sense of adventure and satisfied my desire to understand the world like nothing else.

Airplane MSP Airport Minneapolis skyline

Delta airplane on tarmak at MSP Airport / Emmanuel Canaan

Why Flying is Too Stressful for Our Family

After I married my husband and we had four wonderful kids together, we figured flying would be a bit more complicated but still manageable with a bit of forethought. But when three of our children were diagnosed with ASD, we quickly realized we would have to adapt our vacation plans to be more accessible.

Kids with ASD can quickly get overwhelmed in unfamiliar spaces, and I knew the long TSA lines, loud airport noises and cramped airplane seats would make flying an anxiety-ridden nightmare for them and for me.

We did try flying with the kids a couple times. But the stress they picked up on the flight meant it took a few days before they began enjoying our vacation, and by then, it was nearly time to get back on the plane and head home.

Still, despite all the complications, I was determined my children would see and travel the world, and that we would share the journey joyfully. I was determined to pass my love for travel on to my kids.

The Brundidge family poses for a photo inside their RV

The Brundidge family poses for a photo inside their spacious RV / Sheletta Brundidge

RV Camping Makes Travel Fun Again

One day, my children’s therapist suggested renting an RV. That advice changed our lives. Our worry and anxiety about going on vacation disappeared when we stepped into the RV and it never returned.

There was never a question of seat assignments; my children could sit next to me, no questions asked! We weren’t rushed. We could stop whenever we wanted or needed. And with all the storage in the RV, I could bring along all the sensory tools that keep them calm: their favorite toys, games, crafts and electronic devices.

With their stress levels lowered, so were mine. Vacations became enjoyable again. In fact, my children often have a better time inside the RV than they do at our destination!

A statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji

A statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji / Lisa Crayford

Minnesota Destinations for Our Upcoming RV Trips

Prior to the pandemic, we mostly used our RV for out-of-state trips. But during our year cooped up together under one roof, we spent a lot of time talking about the spots we wanted to visit right here in Minnesota.

My third grader, Brandon, had been learning all about Paul Bunyan in his virtual classroom. Being from Texas, I knew all the tall tales about Pecos Bill, but not so much about Minnesota's legendary lumberjack

First, we’ll set up for a few days at one of the RV campgrounds near Bemidji in northwest Minnesota to see the giant statues of Paul and Babe overlooking the lake. Once we’re done there, we’ll swing down to Brainerd to visit Paul Bunyan Land—a combination Bunyan-themed amusement park, petting zoo, pioneer village and campground. I can't wait to get some pictures of my kids posed under the giant statues—I can almost see my Christmas card photo already!

A paddleboat tour on the St. Croix River in early fall

Take a paddleboat tour for unbeatable views of the St. Croix River / Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours

Of course, we won’t stop with just Paul Bunyan trips. We're also excited to take an overnight at Taylors Falls to walk the trails and check out the St. Croix River, and to drive down to Wabasha to look for eagles soaring over the Mississippi.

I'm also excited for the kids to spend some time on the North Shore, where we'll stick a toe into Lake Superior while we look for agates. They can’t wait to see Gooseberry Falls and tour Split Rock Lighthouse.

My anxiety about these activities is low because I know we can always pop into the RV for a nap, a book, a snack or to just chill if the trip suddenly feels overwhelming.

RV trips have opened the world to my kids and given them a major confidence boost. My heart bursts with pride watching them experience the joys of travel. They get to see the world through new eyes, broaden their horizons and soak up the knowledge other cultures can teach.

And I’m right there with them.

Sheletta Brundidge

Sheletta Brundidge is an Emmy Award-winning comedian, radio host, podcast entrepreneur, community activist and picture book author. She's the founder and CEO of SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com, a podcasting platform that celebrates Black culture, and has co-authored two books: "Cameron Goes To School" and "Daniel Finds His Voice."