Back in 2018, I wrote a post about travelling as an autistic person and my personal tips for making it smoother and less stressful and anxiety-inducing. In that post, I included:
Speak to a travel agent
Choose your accommodation carefully
Write a list of everything you’ll need and have someone check it
Pack an emergency kit in your carry on baggage
Bring your own food
Prepare specifically for the flight
Build in time out and don’t feel guilty for it
I still stand by all of these strategies but since then, having travelled more and gained more experience (apart from the lockdown and pandemic times – the latter of which we are arguably still in but obviously travel is now more possible for many, many people), I have more thoughts that I thought might be helpful to share.
FIND A GOOD TRAVEL AGENT – I wrote about talking to a travel agent last time but I wanted to share my personal experience with our travel agent, a guy we first met when we travelled to the US in 2016. Since then, we’ve booked every trip we’ve taken with his help – we go to him for everything – and developed a solid relationship. It really helps, I think, that he has a working knowledge and understanding of Autism so, even though he didn’t know me and my struggles personally, he picked up what I could and couldn’t handle very quickly, which has made things so much smoother than they might’ve been otherwise. He always goes above and beyond for us, something I would attribute to the working relationship we’ve built with him, and I so, so appreciate it.
TAKE INSPIRATION FROM YOUR MOST EXTREME NEEDS WHEN YOU PACK – It’s easy to optimistically assume that you’ll have a normal day every day you’re away but that’s not only unlikely because our minds and bodies don’t cooperate just because we want them to but also because the stress and anxiety of travelling and being in a new, unfamiliar place can do a number on us. I always find being away from home for more than a few days incredibly stressful, which can screw up my energy, my pain, my anxiety, my sensory issues… So packing with bad days in mind is probably a good idea; I’ve started carrying my heat pad (for pain), my joint supports (which I don’t always need but, of course, always seem to need when I’ve left them at home), a number of different fidget toys, medication for migraines (not a super common occurrence but debilitating when they do happen) and so on…
LEARN SOME BASIC PHRASES – If you’re planning to go somewhere where the language is different to that of your home country, it’s definitely worth learning at least a few common phrases. I know this is often considered to be common courtesy and I don’t disagree but when you have a lot of health stuff to deal with or get really overwhelmed in new environments, it’s not that simple; with all of your other preparations, it can just slip down the priority list and then off the list altogether. I recently went to Germany and between the ridiculously long hours trying to get everything done before I left and then the total overwhelm when I got there, I somehow didn’t clock that I didn’t speak any German until a couple of days in. How bizarre is that?! Then, of course, I panicked and did my best to speed learn words and phrases like, “Yes, please,” “No, thank you,” “English please,” “Excuse me,” and “I’m sorry.” Fortunately for me, German isn’t completely alien and the spellings and pronunciations – at least for the simple stuff – are relatively close, or at least they felt that way in my brain. So I picked those up easily, which was a relief. I think that having some language can really reduce your anxiety because you don’t feel so lost (and potentially helpless) and it makes moving around and engaging with where you are a little easier.
ASSISTANCE SERVICES AT THE AIRPORT – I’ve now done multiple trips through airports where we’ve arranged for the assistance services to help us out. So now I get wheeled (in a wheelchair or one of those electric buggies) from check out to not just the gate but down the gangplank to the actual plane. Because I struggle with standing and walking for extended periods of time, this has not only reduced both my pain and fatigue, it’s also reduced my anxiety about the time it takes and the recovery time I’ll need later. Apart from a few mix ups (uncommon but it has happened), they’ve been super efficient and very nice. I’ve found a couple of them to be a bit intimidating but I think that’s just because they’re utterly focussed on the job (and the next one and the next one); no one has ever been anything but polite and even funny. On my recent trip to Germany, one of the women was really, really nice and we had a good laugh despite the language hurdles to navigate. The one confusion that I’ve experienced is that, at some airports (and always in the US), they operate on a tip system but no one’s ever told us that one way or the other. Maybe it’s the straightforward, autistic approach to things but, to me, a service provided by the airport implies that the airport pays them for the work they’re doing but clearly not. So that did take me by surprise and I haven’t always been prepared for that, financially or emotionally.
IF YOU’RE TRAVELLING FOR A SPECIFIC EVENT, FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH WHERE YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU NEED TO BE – If you’re travelling for an event like a wedding or a birthday, it’s well worth doing things like checking out and practising the route (or routes you’ll have to travel) so that you know how to get where you’re going and how long it will take. You don’t want to be stressing about being late or getting lost on the important day itself. And if you have to let go of everything else just to make sure that you can attend and engage with the event you’re there for, then that’s what you need to do; it’s hard not to feel guilty or upset about not ‘taking advantage’ of the opportunities that travelling has presented you with but most likely, if you’ve travelled for a particular event, it’s really important to you and has to be your priority. Chances are that you’ll feel better for putting it first.
HYDRATE – If I have learned anything over the last few years, it is how important it is to stay hydrated. We all know this, of course – we’re told often enough that none of us are drinking enough water – but autistic individuals often struggle with it specifically due to problems with our interoception (plus, thirst signals are generally weaker than other internal signals, making them harder to recognise). Being dehydrated can make everything so much harder, causing headaches and exhaustion to name a few, and when you’re away in an unfamiliar place, that’s the last thing you want.
IF YOU HAVE TO GO HOME EARLY, THAT’S OKAY – Sometimes shit happens and plans have to change. And that has to be okay. Whether it’s your physical health, your mental health, something going on at home, sometimes you just have to figure out how to accept the need for change and go home. Sometimes it’s a case of choosing the ‘lesser of two evils’ – staying is hard but so is leaving – and making the choice that feels the most right, even if both of them feel wrong to a certain extent. I usually need some time to come to terms with what the right decision is but then, once I know what I need to do, I just have to figure out how to make it happen.
Friedrichshafen in Germany: Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German) and some gorgeous flowers I saw. (x)
As always, I feel sure that I’ve missed some. But hopefully these will be somewhat helpful to somebody. If any of you guys have any tips you’d like to share, please stick them in the comments!