Sunday, 17 August 2014

Aspie travel tips

I've been on the road this week.  A colleague and I did a five-day road trip through western Queensland for work, covering a lot of miles and having a great many meetings.  By the end I was really tired - and I've brought home some sort of lurgy - but generally it went really well.

It started me thinking about some travel tips for people on the spectrum: some things I've worked out for myself or learned from others, and a few things I wish I'd thought of in time for this trip because it would have made this week easier.

original by Simon on Pixabay

1.  Plan a workable itinerary

Knowing exactly where you're supposed to be when takes a lot of the stress out of travelling.  The key word here is workable: allow enough time to get from place to place without rushing or stressing, but not so much you're left at a loose end for hours.  (Google Maps has a function that will calculate travel time for you if you're not sure.)  If you're going to need a solid night's sleep every night to recover from stress or sensory overload, factor that into your time budget as well.  If you have to crash for 10-12 hours a night you might get a bit less done, but you'll be fresher, more focussed and get more out of what you do have time for. 

2.  Take as much stuff as you need

Put your oh shit kit on steroids and take things that will help you cope while you're away.  Earplugs?  Sleep mask?  Heavy blanket?  (Motel blankets are usually useless for weight.  They're often not much use for warmth, either!)  Music player?  Your own pillow?  If manky motor skills are an issue, maybe extra clothes so if you spill something down the front of your shirt you have a spare to change into rather than feeling self-conscious and grotty all day.

This works best if you're driving - if you're backpacking or paddling around all your worldly possessions in a small kayak, you'll need to be more discerning about what you take.  And there really is something to be said for travelling light.  But don't let your inner minimalist talk you into leaving behind things that will make your trip more comfortable.

3.  Use Google Streetview to familiarise yourself with your route or destination

Before I set off, I used Streetview to suss out the offices we were visiting and the roads in and out of the various towns we were passing through.  It made me feel more confident on the road, and cut down time spent wandering around lost looking for things.  It also meant an unfamiliar place (some of these towns where places I'd only driven through once before, many years ago when I was a child) looked a tiny bit familiar, which can be very comforting.  Bear in mind Streetview isn't always terribly up to date, but it's usually good enough to be a rough guide.

4.  Blocking out light in motel rooms

In darkness, our homes reveal themselves to be full of little points of light from the clock on the microwave to the little red power light on the TV.  In a motel room all these little lights are condensed into a much smaller space, so if lights annoy you or you need complete darkness to sleep they can be a much bigger problem than they are at home. 

I completely forgot to bring my usual emergency blu-tac supplies on this trip, so motel rooms full of tiny light sources were something of a problem this week. The blu-tac goes over the various little electrical shinies and blocks out the light so you can get some peace.  You peel it off again when it's time to leave, and it doesn't leave any permanent marks.  I tried post-it notes instead, but the lights just shone straight through the paper.  You can also drape a towel over the offending light-emitter, but that wasn't terribly practical with a ceiling-mounted air conditioner.  For a longer-term solution, there are specially made stickers available that cut down the brightness of the light, change its colour, or block it out altogether.

5.  Be comfortable

Physical discomfort is an extra stress and distraction to deal with.  If you can get rid of it or at least minimise it, you can free up more energy to deal with the unavoidable stress of travelling.  Even if it's a gentle little trip and you're having a great time, there will still be some degree of stress to deal with - no point adding to it by wearing those slightly-too-small jeans, or deciding now's a good time to try out high heels or makeup if you don't usually wear them.  Comfortable, sensible shoes and appropriate clothes that fit well will go a long way to helping you feel comfortable while you're away.

This isn't necessarily just physical comfort, but social as well.  If you're dressed for the occasion - I was mostly in meetings, so I was in jeans with a blousey work-appropriate top - you'll feel more at ease than if you're over- or under-dressed.  It might sound shallow and superficial, but I've found it really does make a difference.  And let's be honest, why make unfamiliar social situations more difficult than they need to be?