Aspie on the Go
For a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, most people would say I have the exact wrong day job.
By day, I work as an experience designer at a face-to-face marketing agency. If you know anything about the F2F industry (particularly in the exhibit sector), you know it entails fast-paced, constantly-changing event logistics; big convention centers with endless people, lights and noise; complicated procedures; and more travel than you can shake a stick at.
Yep, just the sort of nightmare no Aspie wants to see coming.
Travel in particular presents its own special brand of torture. It’s not the travel itself, mind you. I really do like visiting new places. But the constant change and lack of control that travel entails naturally wears on me, not to mention sitting in tight spaces with other human beings for hours on end just to get there.
Yet despite all this, I’ve found there IS hope for navigating travel successfully as an Aspie.
I Forgot to Pack My Panic
Case in point: this past week I traveled to a large Eastern seaboard city to help manage an exhibit installation and the first day of show. Not even 3/4 of the way through the first day I could already feel the overload. By the time I finally got to my hotel (after hours of travel by air and taxi, stopping by show site to check in, handling dozens of emails, walking over half the convention center to find our booth space, and solving a few problems on the fly) the sensory overload was in full force. I actually felt dizzy and unable to make decisions. I got disoriented.
But the one thing I didn’t do was panic.
Before, I would have descended into fear. Now, with the help of a few simple practices, I just shrugged and said, “Overloaded again, my little synapses? Well chillax, darlings, because Mama’s got a plan.”
A six-step plan, to be precise.
My Aspie Travel Survival Plan
Step #1: Keep it simple.
The old KISS principle really comes in handy. Don’t expect too much of yourself, and if you’re running on someone else’s schedule (which I often am), make sure you have a separate simple list that contains your schedule alone. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t complicate things if you don’t have to. Stick to the basics. Heroism is not the point; survival and job performance (or vacation relaxation or studying or whatever your travel entails) are. Focus on one or two key trip goals.
Step #2: Study up in advance.
Study the location of your hotel/destinations and how they relate to each other—in advance. Plan and print route maps. I usually know how to get from my hotel to the convention center, or the client’s office, or wherever I need to be. Often I will carry paper printouts of the Google maps routes just to eliminate phone fiddling that can increase anxiety if I’m trying to map myself on the fly.
Step #3: Plan your menu.
Know your food options in advance. Find a source for wholesome, fresh foods that are delicious but not rich and preferably feature no additives or chemicals. (Pret a Manger was my go-to eatery on this trip!) Because when all else is going haywire inside and outside your brain, you can control what goes in your mouth. That alone can be a huge comfort in a time of stress. Plus, you’re less likely to gain weight or get sick if you’re drinking lots of water, eating fresh fruits and veggies, and avoiding fatty sauces and sugar.
Step #4: Say “yes” to rest.
When your body says rest, rest. If your supervisor says, “I don’t need you here right now,” take them at their word and go sit in the dark in your hotel room for awhile. Don’t push yourself when you don’t have to. Short naps, “alone times” or even quiet walks alone in a safe area of your destination city can help you recharge from the stress of all the new faces and altered schedules.
Step #5: Ask for the help you need.
If I’ve learned anything the last year, it’s that having Asperger’s alone doesn’t mean I deal with it alone. While not everyone I work with is aware of my neurology (who cares, anyway?), a few do know. And I know I can lean on them. Plus, good old fashioned communication works wonders—for neurotypicals and aspies alike.
Step #6: Carry a comfort object.
This might sound juvenile … but when I travel, I carry something from home that reminds me of my husband, my cats, and the cozy little world where I feel loved, safe, and (most of all) in control of my sensory environment. It helps me a lot to have that anchor. When everything is going crazy, I know I will go home to the people and pets I love. Your little reminder token may mean the difference between a caving in to a meltdown and mustering the ability to calm yourself.
So there you have it . . . six steps to travel sanity from one Aspie to another. The only question left is: where will you go next?
What about you? What tips do you or the Aspies in your life use to help manage the stress of travel?