It is very common for autistic people like myself to crave routine and predictability. My autistic brain thrives when basically every day looks exactly the same, or if there needs to be a change, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Along those lines, it makes sense that travel is really hard for some people with autism, but then there’s me: I love to travel! Now, inherent in travel is a complete lack of routine and predictability: planes get delayed, there’s traffic, new place to sleep, different food, and more. It can be a lot even for someone who’s neurotypical. So, how do I make travel as an autistic person not only something I can handle, but fun too? Read on!
Disclaimer/Back Story (for COVID-19 times)
So, as I am writing this post (for readers in the future), the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging on. As someone who’s been following all the regulations and recommendations, you might wonder why a blog post on travel right now? Doesn’t travel spread this virus? Well, two things: yes it does, and this travel is essential. Ok, so next question: Steph, I didn’t know you had a job that required essential travel? Well, I don’t, so here’s why I’m traveling and writing this post now.
Back in March of this year, I left my PNW home to spend a few weeks in Chicago taking care of my parents’ pups. Well, then the pandemic hit right after I got here, and six months later, I’m finally going home before the mountain passes are covered with snow. There’s a lot more to the story which I promise to dive into later, especially how this all has impacted me as an autistic person.
For now, that’s the story of why I’m writing a post on travel in the middle of the pandemic. I am leaving for my trip in just a few short days.
Make sense now? Great, let’s move on!
Creating Routine From Chaos
As I mentioned in the intro, travel is basically the lack of routine. You are in new places, there are delays, and basically everything that I typically crave as an autistic person is thrown out the window. So, how do I make it work for me and truly enjoy my journey? The first step is creating a routine.
Now, that routine may look different than it usually does when I am at home, but it actually starts before I even leave home. First, I make myself an itinerary, usually hand-written in a notebook somewhere, just the way I want it. This is my big routine, showing when I have to be certain places, how long travel will take, where I am staying, etc.
Then, I make a food itinerary of what meals I’m going to have when. I also figure out groceries, especially if I am road-tripping/camping. Hey, I’m a foodie and have sensory issues and am vegan, so this is an important step especially for me!
Last, I plan out each day as much as I can. I figure out what activities I’ll be doing and what I may need so I can pack correctly. And since part of a vacation is being spontaneous and discovering something you didn’t know was there, I plan for that too! Yes, you read that correctly: I plan to be spontaneous.
Plan To Be Spontaneous
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” While this takes on a lot of different meanings, travel as an autistic person adds to it as well. If I am flying, I include potential delays into my plan, such as what can be removed from the day if I’m late. If I am going to have a day of just going with the flow, I need to plan for that. Otherwise, the “not knowing” what I’m going to do will be so stressful that I’ll either freeze and do nothing or not enjoy myself.
Autistic Travel + Loving It!
So, I’ve done all I can do to establish a routine and plan during a trip. How do I actually enjoy such a drastic change in my routine? To me, it’s simple: I take a full spectrum view.
Ah, so your blog name isn’t an accident? Yup, that’s right!
See, I grew up traveling, taking trips to go see grandparents or even just into the city. All of this happened before I knew I was autistic. I enjoyed seeing all the world had to offer beyond my limited suburban landscape, so even though it was stressful for reasons I didn’t yet understand, it was worth it. I knew if I didn’t travel, I’d be missing out on so much that the world has to offer: adventure, cuisine, new perspectives, and, when I’m feeling social, cool people.
So, as a kid, I created travel routines, even without realizing I was doing it. I had to wear my favorite shirt (which was my comfiest one—sensory difficulties removed!), had my music or video games (stimming), and I asked a lot of questions to get the detailed answers I needed.
Now, as an adult, I do a lot of the same things, but since I obviously know about my autism now, they make sense and I can do what I need to do. Plus, I have Monty, my service dog with me, so that always makes things easier! Since the pandemic, I haven’t traveled and it’s been really hard as I think travel is a special interest of mine. But, with my cross-country road trip coming up, I get to enjoy my passion again!
While travel lover may not be the first thing you think of when you think of someone with autism, I hope this blog post helps you see that traveling as an autistic person can be enjoyable and give you a chance to see the world!
Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!
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