Most people are unaware that I am autistic. When I was younger, I had great difficulty making friends, using proper speech, and following directions. Gradually, I was able to overcome, or at least adequately cope with many of my challenges. Meeting new people, speaking clearly, and paying attention are no longer major problems. Of course, there are a few issues that continue to give me trouble, like dealing with sudden change. Autistic people’s brains are wired differently. They tend to become sensitive and anxious when faced with problems that pop up out of nowhere. They also feel more comfortable doing things in an orderly fashion.
Despite my challenges, however, I have discovered certain benefits to being autistic. When I feel a strong passion for a particular subject, I work hard to develop and retain an extensive knowledge of it. I used to be fascinated by the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Broadway musicals were another area of keen interest. But throughout my life, nothing has energized or motivated me more than travel.
I have always enjoyed visiting new places, learning about different cultures, and researching destinations for future trips. As a small child, I often vacationed in New York and Florida with my family. But my deep love for travel began in 2005 when we visited England and Iceland. It was my first overseas trip, and it went so well it inspired me to see more of the world. Since then, I have been to Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Costa Rica…even Japan. I have also made a few return trips to experience different parts of Portugal, Iceland, Canada, and the U.K. As for the USA, I have been to the Pacific Northwest and Washington DC once, and to Chicago twice.
I grew up spending a lot of time watching the Travel Channel. Programs starring Samantha Brown were particular favorites. Every country she visited fascinated me, and her suggestions helped me plan my own future holidays. When I went to the van Gogh Museum, I found myself following her advice. I bought my ticket online in advance to avoid long lines as she had on her Amsterdam episode of Passport to Europe. Much of my success and facility as a traveler I owe to her!
Nevertheless, travel can still be somewhat challenging for me due to my disability. This is especially true when something goes wrong, as it did on that Amsterdam trip five years ago. Soon after my arrival, I lost a valuable 4-day pass granting me free access to the city’s attractions and its public transit system. I felt angry. I had bought it months in advance for $100 and considered it essential for getting around. I feared my holiday was ruined.
After an hour, I was able to calm down and come up with a solution. I decided to buy a 2-day pass the next day. I used it many times while exploring the Dutch capital and ended up having a fabulous time. When the pass expired, I simply used my pocket money to pay for public transportation. When I was much younger, I would have been extremely agitated. This time, I did not mind so much and was able to move on. It was an important confidence-building moment for me.
I was challenged again less than a year later in Madrid. I went to one of the restaurants close to the Museo Reina Sofia, but I could not get a table. There was a marathon taking place nearby and all the dining establishments were packed. It was frustrating and overwhelming because I was hungry and did not want to wait for a table. I chose instead to look elsewhere for an uncrowded restaurant. I had planned to see Parque del Oeste, which is in another part of Madrid. I tried to find a quiet eatery near the park, and eventually I did. It was a Turkish kebab house with empty seats, fast service and tasty food. It felt good to be spontaneous and to not get worked up over a small problem. Abrupt changes in plans are common when traveling and can be very difficult for autistic people to negotiate. Therefore, it is best for them to come up with alternative options to their original vacation plans. This can enable autistic travelers to have fun in spite of all. It is not the end of the world if something goes wrong.
Another travel challenge I overcame was traveling with a group. For most of my life, I have had difficulty forming new connections. I was quite wary of going on a full-guided tour. In 2019, I took a chance and toured Spain with a group. At first, I feared I would have trouble socializing. But the tour turned out to be an awesome experience as I became well acquainted with my fellow group members. We got along very well because we all loved traveling and learning about different cultures. Since the “Highlights of Spain” tour was such an accomplishment for me, I went on full-guided tours of Japan, Portugal, and Costa Rica. Taking group trips shows how far I have come with social interaction.
I sometimes feel I cannot live without traveling. For future trips, Italy, France, and Brazil are under consideration. My ultimate goal is to see as much of the world as I can. There will always be setbacks and obstacles. But I am sure I can manage them. Overcoming them on past excursions has taught me a lot about tunnels and light. Life is too short to worry about things that can be easily fixed.