Asperger’s / autism and traveling

I probably should have written this before, since if we had to travel for the holidays, we’re pretty much done with that now, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that.  As a consolation prize, I’ll simply tell myself that this post will be useful in the future. 🙂

I have indeed traveled since finding out that I’m autistic/an Aspie, but I hadn’t thought to write about it yet.

Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  After all, we’re deviating (big-time) from our usual routine.  We’re going somewhere that is not our normal environment.  We might be seeing people we’re not used to seeing, and if you’re recently-diagnosed like myself, those people may not be aware of all the new information we’ve amassed and discoveries we’ve made about ourselves, and they may not know how to accommodate them.  We’ll most likely be offered foods that we’re not used to eating, with or without our allergies and sensitivities or preferences for taste and texture in mind.  We might be subject to different indoor and outdoor climates, different beds, adhering to different sleep-wake schedules, and following different daily activities or to-do lists.

Yikes!  That’s a lot to deal with.

In this post, I’ll write, through my newfound Aspie lens, about the challenges I’ve faced while traveling and the solutions I’ve found.

Packing:

It never fails; any time I go somewhere (which has averaged three to four times a year), I end up forgetting something.  I think only exception is the trip from which I just returned.  Over time, I’ve developed a Pack List, which I’ve saved on my mobile; I have an iPhone, so I use its Notes app.  I’ll share my full list here (it’s rather long, but organized lol)…

General – clothing:

  • Jeans/pants
  • Shirts
  • Undershirts
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Jammies (including shirt)
  • Scarves if needed/desired
  • Necklace/pendant if needed/desired

Bathroom:

  • Essential oils (I use these as a natural, effective deodorant)
  • Hair iron
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Scrunchies
  • Barrettes
  • Pick/comb/brush
  • Travel size lotions, as desired

Electronics – General:

  • Cell/mobile phone
  • Wall charger for mobile phone
  • Vehicle charger for mobile phone
  • Earphones for mobile phone
  • Laptop
  • Laptop cord
  • Kindle (optional)
  • Removable hard drive (optional)
  • Thumb drive (optional)

Important items:

  • ID (driver’s license or state-issued ID card)
  • Passport (even on domestic flights)
  • Cash (about $100-200 US dollars)
  • Credit card
  • Checkbook
  • Book or 2 for airport and night time reading
  • Umbrella

Pantry:

  • Benadryl (for histamine/allergies)
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Supplements

The above items are universal; obviously, they’re needed on every type of trip I go on.  Because I go on several different types of trips, however, I have other lists for other types of trips.  Within the past year, I’ve gone on a family-and-friend trip for Christmas, two educational training conferences, and a funeral (all by air); this has been a normal year for me for the past three years.  Before that, I had gone on many more road trips to many places around my (large) state (Texas) and I had grown up traveling frequently by road over long distances, so I’m relatively experienced at that, too. 🙂

If I’m flying, I’m sure to pack the following additional items:

  • Flight itinerary
  • Car rental printout
  • Cab printout
  • Snacks for the airport

If I’m going to a cold-climate place in the wintertime, I also pack the following:

  • Jacket (or my down (duck-feather) winter coat, if it will be exceptionally cold)
  • Hiking boots
  • Gloves
  • Knit hat/ski cap
  • Scarf
  • Lip balm (chapped lips)
  • Electric blanket that plugs into a vehicle’s outlet

Conversely, if I’m going to a warmer climate during warm weather (like the beach or a swimming pool), I’ll also include the following:

  • Sandals (for sand and water)
  • Swim suit (if going in water)
  • T-shirt (extra)
  • Citronella oil (to repel mosquitoes and other bugs)
  • Oxicell cream/Vit E oil (after getting lots of sun)
  • Razor
  • Roll-up pants (not jeans) (if going in water)
  • Towels (at least 2) (if going in water)
  • Plastic bag for wet/damp laundry (if going in water)
  • Lip balm (for chapped lips, if going to a dry climate)

If I’m traveling for a formal occasion (such as a wedding, funeral, graduation, family reunion, wedding anniversary, high school/university reunion, etc, or if I’ll be subjected to a church service), I’ll be sure to pack the following:

  • Good shoes
  • Nice pants (black or dark gray for funerals)
  • Dressy shirt
  • Black jacket as needed
  • Dressy scarf (decorative)
  • Necklace or pendant
  • Formal barrettes or hair bands

If I’m traveling for a class, I add the following to my smaller carry-on-sized bag:

  • Notebook (with plenty of space)
  • Pens – plenty (I always run about two or three of them dry in a three-day conference)
  • ID badge (if needed)
  • Chapter printouts (for pre-studying on the plane)
  • Restaurant printouts
  • Hearing aids
  • Hearing aid batteries
  • Gum
  • Blanket (conference rooms can be cold)
  • Chair cushion, especially for “low-budget” conferences (sometimes the chairs can be hard plastic)

If I’m traveling for the holidays (such as Christmas), I’ll also bring:

  • Christmas presents
  • Girl gift (Christmas) (our family has an interesting tradition)

If I’ll be renting a vehicle while I’m away, I’ll also include the following items:

  • Documentation with reservation information
  • Music CDs
  • Vehicle mobile charger

When I pack these items, I pack them in groups, according to the list, trying to pack in the order of the list.  I usually carry two bags; one is a larger suitcase, and another is like a large laptop bag that fits a lot more than just a laptop.  Both roll on wheels for easy transport.

All toiletry items go into a large zip-lock bag, and that zip-lock and all clothing items fill my larger suitcase.  If I’m bringing gifts, then they, too, go into my larger suitcase, along with the majority of my snacks.

My smaller bag holds my laptop and removable hard drive in one of its larger pockets; the other larger pocket holds any notebooks I might need, any hard-copy books, all cords and chargers, all over-the-counter drugs and supplements, and a couple snacks.  If I’m traveling for a conference, then it will also hold my pre-conference reading (chapter printouts), restaurant lists, conference schedule, and any other related items.  One of the smaller pockets holds my passport, my checkbook, my cash, my pens, and the earphones I use for my mobile.  The other small pocket holds all itinerary printouts, such as my flight confirmation, my rental vehicle reservation, my hotel information and confirmation (if I’m staying at a hotel), and any taxi cab reservations I needed to print out (which is not common).

I have a black pouch that I use as a wallet and purse combined.  It clips to the pocket or main top of my jeans/pants, and it holds my credit card, debit card, driver’s license/state-issued ID, and my mobile phone.

The smaller bag (the large laptop bag) and my black pouch are always on my person, and multiple forms of identification and multiple forms of payment are spread between each/both, to ensure that if I’m separated from one, I’m not completely screwed; I still have a way to identify myself and pay for things.

More About Driving…

If you take a lot of road trips, or if you’re about to embark on a long driving trip, I recommend the following:

If I’m going on a road trip (driving), I may not take my passport with me, but having lived in US States bordering Canada and Mexico at various times, I find it more convenient to have it with me just in case I’d like to cross the border.  It’s rare, but it has happened.

My partner signed us up for AAA (Triple-A), which is a membership-based auto club that comes with several goodies, the most popular and practical of which is roadside assistance.  If you blow a tire or an engine or your car won’t start, they’ll come find you and help you.  The membership gets you discounts on new tires or batteries or whatever else you need, too.  And it’s not just for roadside issues; you can also use the membership card to get discounts on hotels, flights, or various other travel-related expenses.

More About Flying…

If I’m flying, taking my passport with me is a practice my partner recommended to me; if my flight gets diverted, either into Canada or into Mexico, then I have it with me, and I’m not stuck at the airport, especially if I’ll be stuck there for a few days.  Also, if I’m somehow separated from my state-issued ID (which happened for a short time on this last trip), then I have an alternate form of identification with which to board my plane, and I don’t get stuck anywhere.

If you’re in the USA, I recommend signing up for the TSA Pre-Check program.  You can enter your information into their system beforehand, and then make a 15-minute appointment with them to complete the processing, which includes electronically signing affidavits stating that you’ve never been involved in serious crimes and you have no court actions pending against you, provide a set of fingerprints, and pay an $85-US processing fee, and then poof!–after about a week for processing, your TSA Pre-Check status is approved.  You get to go through a shorter security screening line and follow looser procedures (i.e., you don’t have to take your electronics like laptops out of your bag, you don’t have to take your shoes off, you don’t have to remove a light jacket, and you don’t have to go through the x-ray; the regular metal detector will do).  In addition, the TSA agents working the Pre-Check line tend to be friendlier, less condescending, and more dignified.

I also notify the airlines about my Asperger’s/autism status, explaining briefly that it causes anxiety, especially when surrounded by too many people or too much noise at once.  I have found all four of the major US-based airlines (I haven’t traveled any other airlines yet) to be extremely empathetic, understanding, and accommodating.  What they do for me is they let me “pre-board” (i.e., get on the plane before the rest of the crowd), so that I can find my seat and get situated at my pace, without the stress of being sandwiched in between slowpokes with unruly kids in front of me and type-A aggressionists behind me.  I’m not saddled with the stress over the idea of holding anyone up if I’m in physical pain or if I’m tired, either.  It’s actually rather nice.

When requesting pre-board authorization, you do have to approach the desk at your flight’s gate and ask them, but you do not have to disclose your medical condition (they consider it a medical condition).  I do disclose mine anyway, to be straightforward and make things easier.  I figure that if they know about my Asperger’s/autism, then not only will they happily accommodate me, but some of them may also have other ideas about how to help make my travel experience easier.

When catastrophe hits, like it did to me on my most recent trip in which I looked down and realized that that all-important black pouch had completely detached from my pants at an intercontinental airport, I panicked and then found a customer service desk.  I was breathless and near tears.  Struggling to find my words, I managed to eke out, “I’m autistic, and I’m having a semi-emergency situation.”  And then I found that I could proceed from there.  She asked for my flight itinerary (three cheers for packing it in the roller bag), and while she took a look at my flight information, I explained how I came off of a flight at gate E14, came all the way across the immense airport to find my connecting gate at B76, realized my black pouch (gesturing to visually communicate its size) was missing.  “Pink mobile with white trim…” I blubbered out, “also driver’s license, credit cards… my connection with the outside world… gone.”  The customer service representative was extremely empathetic and immediately went to work to help me.  She made one phone call and apparently they found it, back in E-terminal, five gates from where I had entered the airport.  Yay!

(Note to self – pack black pouch in roller bag!!  That way, it won’t fall off my jeans.  If I have deep pockets or cargo pants, I can put my driver’s license and credit card in my pocket, if I want to keep them separate from my roller bag in case the roller bag goes missing.)

Other Tools:

A smartphone like an iPhone or an Android is an excellent advantage, because of its internet and GPS capabilities.  I’m practically dependent upon mine, for weather forecasts, figuring out exactly where I am, finding restaurants around me and determining whether or not they have gluten-free options (an absolute must for me), and staying in touch with family members, travel destinations, or friends.  I can also make reservations or change plans as needed.

Once You Get There – “Nesting”:

As soon as I arrive someplace, I attempt to ease my anxiety, add order to the chaos brought on by the transition I just made, process everything, and clear my head and stress hormones.  I do this by a process I’ve come to call “nesting”, which is akin to building a (temporary) nest wherever you are.  I figure out where I’m going to spend my time, sleep, etc.  I figure out how to get in and out (where the elevators and doors are, if it’s a hotel or condo).

I determine places for new things, such as hotel room keys or rental vehicle keys.  I figure out where I’m going to eat and how I’m going to get there.  I figure out where I’m going to set my things; if I’m traveling for a class, I unpack all class-related items I’ll need for the next day and I ask the hotel’s personnel where my class is located; I also check the conference schedule to see when I’m supposed to check in/register that I’m here.  If there’s a TV available, I check out the Guide to see which channels are available, and I figure out how to turn on the closed-captioning function.  I establish new routines and help myself feel more at home.

Packing Back Up:

My re-packing process is a bit different from my original packing process.  When I’m getting ready to leave, my systemizing Aspie-brain likes to go room-by-room and gather my things from each room (I also treat any rental vehicles as “rooms”).  That way, I can mentally check each room off my list.  If I still need that item and can’t pack it away yet, then I leave it out, but closer to my bag, if possible.  I review and recheck each room once or twice (or more) to ensure that I haven’t left anything behind.  My visual search is deliberate and careful.

During my stay, I’ve also done my best not to move my flight itinerary from its original place in my roller bag, because I’ll need it again on my return trip; it has the confirmation number I’ll need in order to print my boarding passes for the flight home as well.  I’ll double-check to make sure it’s still where I think it is.

If I’ve rented a vehicle, I routinely clean it out and wipe it down before returning it.

If I’m taking a taxi cab, I’ll keep cash on my person to tip the cab driver, as is customary in the US.

Returning Home and Settling Back In:

This is an underrated part of the one’s trip, and perhaps the most draining at times, at least for me.  I find that I can adjust well to the place to which I’ve traveled, but coming back home often takes more spoons.  As glad as I am to have returned home safely, back to my loved ones and my normal life, back to my familiar environment and routine and all of its amenities, it still takes some getting used to.  For years, I’ve called this process “getting energetically rear-ended”, for once I’ve gotten home, I can stop, and once I’ve stopped, the significance of everything I’ve just done hits me unexpectedly, seemingly from behind.

Just yesterday I mentioned this to the dear friend with whom I stayed during my trip last week.  Although not on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum herself, she simply said, “you’re processing”.  I think she hit the nail right on the head.

I find it best to try to take at least one to two days for rest/recharge/recovery, for reinserting myself back into my regular life, and for reestablishing my regular routines, before attempting to perform complex tasks/thought, such as the functions of my job.  I had originally planned for two recovery/transition days, but after a canceled flight, I ended up coming home a day later.  I tried to go to work today (which I did), and although I was able to accomplish a few tasks, I ran out of spoons by noon (noon!) and couldn’t resist the compelling urge to go home for the rest of the day.  Fortunately, I was able to do that.

Anyway, this post got a lot longer than anticipated, but hopefully it was (or will be) helpful to someone 🙂 ❤

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7 Comments

  1. See, I actually enjoy travel and embrace the opportunity. For me it isn’t so stressful, maybe because I mostly travel alone and for personal pleasure and leisure. It very rarely has to do with visiting family as I’m unmarried, have no children and all my family lives pretty close by.

    Traveling by air, though sometimes necessary, is emotionally stressful for me because of the fact that it serves as a painful reminder of my unattainable dreams (due to ASD) so I do try to avoid it if at all possible but sometimes it’s inevitable. When it is, I make doubly sure to bring plenty of stuff to distract me while on board the airplane to take my mind off of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, with all you said. I’m so sorry about the predicament you’re in. That’s got to be heartbreaking. My own heart aches for you just thinking about it. 😰

      Yeah, travel is a lot of fun! I do enjoy it, a lot. I think it’s just the bureaucracy and the excess people when traveling by air that can get to me, so I zone out in a book when I can 😊

      Like

  2. You did it again! I emailed you to ask about how you managed travelling yesterday – I should have checked WordPress first!

    Your airport experience sounds scary but I’m so glad they were so helpful.

    And next time I go anywhere I’m going to message you to write my packing list… 😉 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, luv! Absolutely! I have the list on my phone and as soon as I fix a technical glitch, I’ll be able to email it at will, so please feel free to ask anytime and I’ll share it 😊❤️😘💞

      Liked by 1 person

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