How solo travel helped my personal development as an autistic young person
Identifying what contributes to your inner growth as a human being is something that is vitally important and it's a great feeling to watch it play out in front of your eyes.
It's widely documented how challenging travel can be for autistic people. However, nearly all these pieces are centred around the challenges, there is very little documented about the positive benefits of travel on personal development for autistic individuals, let alone any positive affirmations that others can relate to, so I aim to offer my own take on what solo travel has been able to offer me, through my blogs.
Moving to Tokyo alone
My first real taste of solo travel came when I moved to Tokyo by myself at age 20. Everyone thought I was crazy to do this, and there was probably a lot of speculation that I would soon flounder in such a huge city with a culture so alien to what I knew up until that point.
However, what most people wouldn't have known was that my disappointment with my life in my home country up to that point, prompted me forward at full force. I had been learning the Japanese language for around seven years before moving, so it was the right thing for my life at that point.
The experience allowed me to see the world from a different angle. We see a lot of foreign media on TV all the time, but nothing can prepare you for the lived experience of being there (yes, even in the US - having lived there too, I can assure you that every day was a culture lesson that was less expected than the last).
I experienced rapid personal growth in a short space of time due to stepping out of my comfort zone and immersing myself in the wonders of what living in a different country had to offer me. After leaving Japan, I went on to live in three more new countries (and moved back to Tokyo for one more year) before I started my own solo journey across the globe.
I constantly learned about myself throughout those years, and I'm still learning about myself now. But, in terms of travel and its relationship to my autism there has been a clear progression in my understanding about how one affects the other which has subsequently allowed me to develop coping strategies that I can apply to everyday life too.
Travelling as an autistic person
I talk about personal triggers a lot, but this is a key theme that can't be ignored for any autistic person. Every autistic person will have their own triggers, which are unique to them. Having to face these triggers, especially on a regular basis, comes with the increased chance of a meltdown or shutdown - something that every autistic person will want to avoid. By identifying your own triggers and understanding what they are, you can begin to develop your own blueprint on how to either avoid or minimize them. The same procedure should apply whether you are traveling or when you are dealing with daily life.
If you are going to travel, it makes good sense to do some investigating and research first to avoid any nasty surprises once you arrive. Personally, I love doing preliminary research before my trips, so this is never a chore, and it ensures I have done everything within my power to guarantee a journey free (or nearly free) of hassle and stress.
That doesn't mean there are never times when things don't go to plan. The unpredictable nature of travel means that there will always be hiccups no matter who you are or how well you think you have prepared beforehand. Thankfully, even this unpredictability is something I have grown to be able to cope with more over time too - which of course translates over into my daily life too.
Now, all of this isn't to minimise any of the challenges an autistic person might face while traveling, rather it's recognising both sides of the coin and demonstrating that working on strategies relevant to your own triggers and challenges to ensure a successful outcome for your travels away from home is possible.
Focus on having a great time
It's easy for thoughts to run wild about how it could all go disastrously wrong and to believe your disability might limit any future travels; however, if travel is what you truly desire, then you should know that there are ways for you to do so safely and to ensure it is an enjoyable experience.
You just need to work out and apply some strategies, be clear about what assistance and support you require, and don't be afraid to ask for what you need (from airlines, your accommodation provider, the venues you visit etc) and most of all focus on having a great time!
About the author
Hi, I’m Alex Stratikis, founder of Autism Adventures Abroad. I’m a 20-something travel blogger/writer (I’m also a Japanese to English translator as well!) and I just happen to have an autism diagnosis too.