A long trip to the family gathering can be just as draining as the gathering itself. Having ways to make the trip manageable is important.
1Prepare beforehand. Rushing to get everything done right before the trip is a bad idea for multiple reasons – you’re likely to forget things, get overwhelmed by how hectic it is, and end up miserable on the actual trip. Create a schedule for what you need to do and when you need to get it done, and try to accomplish things at early as possible. If it’s done early, you don’t have to worry about it afterwards.
- Establish and confirm transport plans, lodging plans, finances and budgets, and any plans for meeting up with family as soon as possible. Be sure to also arrange plans for things going on at home, if necessary (for example, if you have pets, who will take care of your pets while you’re away), and plans for the trip back home.
- If you need luggage, pack it at least two days before the trip. If you rush packing on the day of the trip, you’re very likely to forget something important.
2Wear comfortable clothing. Many neurotypicals dress for comfort when going on longer trips, and as an autistic person, this is even more important to reduce the risk of sensory overload. Pick out and wear soft clothing that you know you’d be comfortable in for extended periods of time, such as cotton clothes, hoodies, or possibly sweatpants. Avoid stiff, formal clothing.
- Take the trip as an excuse to kick off your shoes. If shoes are uncomfortable, well, you’ll be sitting in a car or plane, right? You don’t need to wear them if you’re not walking around!
- If you have sensory problems that cause clothing to be uncomfortable, avoid clothing that will cause you distress, even if the trip is short. Avoid clothing with tags, clothes that rumple, or clothes made of any material that you don’t like.
3Have things to occupy yourself during the trip. If you’re a passenger on a trip to the gathering, you likely don’t want to be staring out the window of a car or plane for the entire ride. Having options that don’t involve talking to others are important, especially if social interaction will wear you down quickly.
- You can bring things like novels, coloring books, puzzle books (such as Sudoku), or electronics to keep yourself busy. Keep these, as well as stim toys, easily accessible.
- If you’re taking a laptop, phone, or tablet, you can download videos or games onto it beforehand. Start downloading them early in case the download takes awhile. Be sure to charge these devices, too.
- Bring snacks and drinks for a long trip.
4Keep sensory needs in mind. Most trips require sitting in a moving vehicle of some sort for extended periods of time, which can have its drawbacks on both hypersensitive and hyposensitive autistic people – a hypersensitive person may become motion sick, while a hyposensitive person may not have enough stimulation and start getting bored. Find ways to accommodate your sensory needs so that the trip can be less of a struggle for you.
- If you’re hypersensitive, find ways to avoid carsickness or airsickness, and ways to keep yourself from getting dizzy during the trip. Bring earplugs or headphones if going on a plane trip to block out the sound of the plane’s engines – or if you’re just going on a trip with potentially noisy passengers.
- If you’re hyposensitive, bring things that will fulfill your sensory needs, which can be anything from stim toys to electronics.
- Be respectful of other passengers. Wear headphones when listening to music or other sounds, don’t bring bright or flashing devices, and avoid humming loudly or stimming in ways that invades their personal space. And respect their space – don’t reach into someone’s personal space, and don’t kick someone’s seat!
5Try to avoid driving. Driving requires a lot of focus on several different things at once, and it can be very draining, especially if you’ll be driving for several hours. While driving may not be completely avoidable, if somebody else can drive, ask them to do so, in order to save your energy for the gathering.
- If you do have to drive, take breaks when you need them to avoid overloading yourself or getting tired in the car.
6Plan accordingly for air travel. Plane rides are noisy and can be quite stressful, which makes it important to take steps to negate the stressors. Wearing headphones during the plane ride can work if you’re sensitive to noise, but there’s more to air travel than just the flight; you’ll need to prepare yourself for getting through the airport (which can be quite hectic during holiday seasons) and for wait times, as well as the new sensory input. Keeping your sensory needs regulated and stimming is crucial to getting through the airport, but there are ways to make screening easier, too.
- Consider wearing a medical bracelet or ID so that you don’t need to explain everything to security officers, and script a quick explanation such as, “I’m autistic and need to be told before somebody touches me”.
- If you alert the security officers at the TSA that you’re autistic, you can discuss with them ways to make the screening process easier, and you will not be separated from anyone that you may be traveling with.
- If you’re part of TSA Pre-Check, you will have access to a shorter line, and you will also not be required to remove your shoes, belts, or light jackets, nor laptops or liquids, from you or your bag. (However, it can take some time to be able to get access to Pre-Check lines.)
- Prepare yourself for the possibility of additional screening. People are randomly selected for additional screening, and there’s a possibility that you may get picked out to undergo the screening. It’s important to communicate your needs to TSA staff so that they know and can do what they can to help you through the screening process.
- Prepare for the time you’ll need to spend at the airport, too, especially if you’ll need to deal with long layovers. Delays at the airport are also common; be sure to have things to occupy yourself in the case of a delay.
Leave early. You don’t want to be rushing to get to the gathering in time; this is likely to stress you out and will give you no time to unwind from the trip afterwards. Leaving early allows you to take more time to get there, and is actually recommended for plane trips since airport security can take quite some time. Allocating extra time for breaks during the trip is only possible if you have the time!