Travel, Anxiety and Asperger’s

This August, I went on another adventure overseas. But before I blog about the adventure itself, I wanted to talk about something else which I thought about both before and during the trip.

For the most part, I love travelling. I enjoy the experience of a new country; I enjoy being able to see through my own eyes what I’ve previously only seen in photographs or on TV; I enjoy the anticipatory feeling that I get when I’m about to set out on a long journey – sometimes I even get that feeling from reading books where the characters are heading off somewhere. And yet whenever I’m preparing to go away, the excitement I feel is mixed with – and sometimes overwhelmed by – anxiety.

I can’t help but worry a lot. I worry about whether I’ve forgotten anything I’ll need. I worry about what I’ll do if there are any delays in travel. I worry about keeping safe. On this year’s journey, I was worrying about whether I had done everything necessary with my visa and whether I could keep within that one flight’s baggage allowance of 15kg.

Many of my worries undoubtedly stem from the fact that I have Asperger Syndrome. This means that I am always most comfortable with the familiar and routine, so even when I’m mostly looking forward to travelling, the prospect of going somewhere new and foreign is likely to make me at least a little nervous on some level. I’m very detail-oriented, hence why I worry about each step of the process. Also, since handling social situations comes less naturally to me than most people, I might expect to face increased difficulty when interacting with the locals of wherever I’m travelling to.

While I can’t make myself stop worrying altogether, I can at least minimise it.

First, I can remind myself of the fact that my fears generally turn out to be unfounded. On this trip, for instance, I didn’t forget to pack anything important and I was well equipped with what I had. Most of my flights left me with plenty of time to transfer, and even when one flight was cancelled and we had to be taken to another airport, I maintained as much awareness of the situation as I could and still eventually ended up where I needed to be. Everything inside the airports themselves went smoothly (except for having some batteries taken away at one point, which was annoying but not a serious loss), and I avoided putting myself in any bad situations on the trip.

Second, I plan a lot, which is a good approach to a lot of situations when you have Asperger’s. I have a checklist of what I need to pack, including what should go in the hand baggage and the checked-in baggage. Obviously, the passport, flight/accommodation tickets, travel insurance details and bank cards are essential items which are best kept close at hand. Having my Kindle and MP3 player in my hand baggage gives me something to do in quieter moments, plus a sense of familiarity. Besides that, it generally comes down to clothes (roughly enough for the time you’re away, and then there’s always Travel Wash!), medication (better to have and not need than need and not have) and any miscellaneous items particular to the trip. Before I take my seat on the plane, I retrieve from my hand luggage what I want to have with me at that moment – usually my headphones and a bottle of water.

As well as packing, I try to have a good idea of what I need to do: for example, the sequence of events in the airport (getting to the airport > check-in > security > getting to the gate > flight > immigration > collecting baggage), and once I arrive, where I need to go and what kind of transportation options I have for getting there (e.g. taxi, hotel shuttle, metro). So much planning can be tiring, but it gets easier the more you do it, and for somebody with Asperger’s, it makes things better in the long run. As for staying safe, much of that is common sense; if I’m unsure, I favour caution.

On most of my trips abroad, I was either volunteering or joining a tour, which meant that I spent most of the time going along with other people. This helped to take a lot of the worry away (and allowed me to ask questions about the trip beforehand), though it could also reduce the amount of freedom and opportunity for personal space that I had. That caused a bit of anxiety for me on one touring holiday years ago; since then, I’ve been careful with picking the right trip, and the people I’ve travelled alongside are both understanding, and interested in the same things as me. On the other hand, when I took a three-day city break to Rome last year, I was entirely on my own. I relied on my own planning (determining public transportation options, deciding what I wanted to see and booking it in advance, making sure I had a map), applied previous experience, kept things relatively simple, and all was well.

Ultimately, a little anxiety is just an inevitable part of travelling for me, and I never let it stop me. Of the challenges I’ve experienced from having Asperger Syndrome, finding myself able to overcome my worries and travel to so many different places is one of the things I’m proudest of.

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About Richard Southworth

Hi, my name's Richard. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you! I have a main blog at https://velociraptor256.wordpress.com, and a blog focussed on nature at http://richardsnatureblog.wordpress.com.
This entry was posted in Asperger's/Autism, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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