“I’m so jealous! I wish I could travel like you do.” I hear this a lot and you may feel this way yourself. There are so many reasons people believe they can’t travel the world. Work, family, money, or any number of other responsibilities can get in the way.
But this is different.
Those of us on the autism spectrum read travel blogs and think, “I could never do that. Group tours? Dance clubs? Hostel dorm rooms?” Sounds like an Aspie’s worst nightmare!
So how can an Aspie enjoy traveling the world?
I’m going to show you how. I’m on the autism spectrum and I have been to 17 countries on all 7 continents including a trek to Antarctica, two summers in Russia, and two years in a remote village in Uganda. And I’m not even close to being finished!
My first experience abroad
I always thought of travel abroad as something other people did. I didn’t know it was even possible for me to travel out of the country. That is, until I enrolled in college at 26 and went to the orientation, where a senior at Michigan State told his story about doing seven study abroad programs.
I came home and said, “Mom and dad… I’m going to Russia!” They humored me. After all, this was out of the clear blue sky from someone who has to talk herself into leaving the house for something as simple as grocery shopping or meeting a friend for coffee.
But I did go. I got violently ill the week before departure, but I went anyway, and it was great.
At first, felt out of control, but after I accepted that I don’t have any rituals and routines built around this place, I was able to let go completely and just let life happen for the first time in my life. There were not the same social expectations of me in Russia as there are in the states. If I did something “weird” it was because I didn’t know any better because I didn’t understand the culture, not because I was a “freak”. It was liberating!
I ended up doing three study abroad programs in less than three years. I did two summers in Russia, then a winter break in Argentina and Antarctica.
Travel altered the course of my life
When I graduated, everyone told me I could do whatever I wanted with a degree in Statistics from MSU. Okay, great! But then I couldn’t pass the actuary exams. I couldn’t even get a job interview. I moved back in with my parents to figure out what to do next. This is when I ended up in Peace Corps. Sounds scary, right? Well, yeah, I almost got sick again, and the first thing I did when I arrived in Uganda was have a massive panic attack in front of everyone. Then I did get sick with a high fever for a few days. But, I slowly acclimated and got more comfortable.
Everything moves ten times slower in a developing country and it allowed me the space I needed to figure out how to use my special interests to my advantage. I didn’t know that is what I was doing at the time, but I did know I finally found something I was good at and I felt successful.
I didn’t know that Uganda would be that place for me. That was a happy accident. After I returned to the states and worked through the culture shock, I figured I was supposed to “go to work.” I had my “fun” and now it was time to get back in the mold society made for me. I learned a lot over the next few years, and not just technical skills. I learned a lot about how to get along with people in the workplace (mostly by trial and error!) and about myself.
The workplace was very debilitating for me. My life became about one thing only… surviving the day. I didn’t have any goals and I let my health decline drastically.
If I didn’t have the experience of working in Uganda, I wouldn’t have known that I could be successful. I would have thought I was a failure and I would have kept going like that, possibly for the rest of my life.
Instead, I compared working in Uganda and working in the states to figure out why it wasn’t working. Here is what I learned.
- I don’t work well outside of my safe space (aka home) and I need breaks between each interaction with people.
- I need time to prepare for phone calls and meetings.
- I don’t interpret verbal directions well. I need them written out.
- I need to focus on one thing at a time. I have a poor working memory when too many things are happening at one time.
- I need to do purposeful work with meaningful connections with people.
As you can imagine, most of this does not go over well in the workplace. I finally walked away to start my own business, where I can be very deliberate about how often I am around people.
Travel isn’t for everyone, but I want you to know that it is possible. I would like you to give it a chance before you decide that you can’t do it.
So, to my friend who believes she can’t travel, and to other Aspies who believe you can’t travel… stick around to learn how you can enjoy traveling the world.