By Alex Stratikis, Autistic Self-Advocate, World Traveler & Founder of Autism Adventures Aboard
I started my travel journey at a young age. I took my first flight at only a few weeks old and come from an international family. I was accustomed to traveling during my childhood, but we always visited the same locations where family and friends lived. As I got older, I strived to broaden my horizons to immerse myself in new places and cultures.
My first solo journey abroad was when I moved to Tokyo, Japan, to study at a language school for six months. That experience was a game changer for me, my first real experience of immersive travel. I learned so much about myself during that time: my likes, dislikes, and limits. I pushed myself to meet new people, many of whom, like me, were living in a foreign country.
As a young autistic male, I’ve found that travel has been a real-life changer for me. Whether domestic or international, no other core element of human existence can expand our horizons like travel. The experience of travel can change us in ways that are fundamental and intrinsic to our being. In my opinion, much of our biases and prejudice come from a lack of understanding (as well as a lack of interaction) about those who are different from us. Travel has the power to mend and break down barriers.
Being an autistic traveler is no different. Most misunderstandings and misconceptions come from a lack of understanding and education (I am unaware of any country in the world where awareness of neurodiversity is part of the curriculum). It is essential to seek and meet those curious enough to learn and educate themselves.
Life can be challenging for anyone. Many I have met along my travels are on a journey of self-discovery seeking new adventures, friends, cultures, and perspectives. Thankfully, the travel community is one of the most open-minded communities out there. Keeping an open mind goes a long way while traveling, and a willingness to learn from those around you usually reaps many rewards.
Independence can take many forms. Most, if not all, of these definitions, can prove to be difficult to unachievable for many autistic people. Indeed, some aspects of travel would make it impossible for some autistic individuals to travel independently (if independent travel is not possible for you and you want to travel, then I would always recommend asking someone you trust to explore the option of traveling with you).
As many of you may know, autistic individuals tend to have a heavy focus on structure, routines, and repetitive habits. Anyone who wants to take an extended trip will have to learn how to adapt in order to shift focus when traveling. In contrast, those beginning their travel journeys with short-stay trips should employ their own unique strategies to alleviate any possible distress and anxiety that may lead to shutdowns and meltdowns. With that in mind, I learned that being flexible and avoiding placing too many expectations upon myself is the easiest way to reduce any stress and anxiety that might be caused when something unexpected happens. Travel (solo or not) is one of the best ways for me to accomplish this. Travel is unpredictable. Flying, for example, can often come with severe delays and cancellations in a worst-case scenario. Being prepared to encounter such delays is important, and know that you will need to be flexible is essential to having an enjoyable trip.
One thing I do when experiencing a delay or cancellation is to keep reminding myself that it’s not my fault, it’s out of my hands, I’ll deal with everything once I arrive at my destination etc. This is something you must teach yourself, and sometimes it’s not enough to just hear it from someone else. I’m now in a fortunate position where I take this mindset with me during my travels, allowing for a smoother journey. That’s not to say I don’t still get stressed at times, of course, I do. But I now find that I can manage most challenges without letting them ruin my trip.
Trust in yourself that things don’t have to happen at a specific time, everything will still work out even if it means some rescheduling or rearranging. I don’t think that this is possibly something that anyone can embody in a single trip. Still, my point is that it gets a lot easier with each experience – and I’m grateful to be in a position now where I don’t allow my scheduling and any subsequent changes to it to derail all my travel plans.
My journey is ongoing, I’ve been travelling and discovering myself for nine years, I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries across most continents as a tourist, living and working, or living and studying. I’ve learned so much about myself and travel has changed me and made me more able to deal with the challenges and changes life throws my way.
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