When I was a little girl, I imagined I could shrink my bedroom into a box that would fit in the palm of my hand and that I could magically put it back to its original size wherever I went. To keep me safe. And to have everything I needed with me while traveling.
Now, in my late thirties, I find traveling difficult not only because of the inevitable changes in routines and environments and overwhelming interactions and stimulation, but because of the number of things I need to bring with me in order to have my needs met while away. But, not only is traveling sometimes necessary, I also love breathing in the air of a place I’ve never been before. Feeling adventurous, and if only for moments at a time, free.
If you’re neurodivergent like me, you need a lot while traveling, so here are 16 ways to meet your needs while away:
- Start thinking about the trip weeks in advance. I check the weather and think through potential clothing I may need, what the food will be like and what kinds of social situations I’ll find myself in. This helps me mentally prepare for what’s to come. Of course things are never exactly as I expect, but it helps me stay regulated and less overwhelmed if I can process and visualize things first.
- Make lists. Of what needs to be done before traveling. Of what to buy. Of what to pack. Etc.
- Begin packing at least one week before leaving. This may sound excessive, but I find that, if I have my suitcase open for one week before traveling, I can throw things in it as I think of them, take them out when I realize I don’t need them and then organize it before I leave. When I wait until too close to leaving to pack, I always pack the wrong things.
- Research where you’ll be staying before leaving. To find restaurants to eat at. To see if there’s a drugstore nearby in case you need something. I also make sure I’ll have a refrigerator in the hotel room and access to a microwave. Two things I have a difficult time being without.
- Pack food. For both the travel time and the destination. I make sure I have protein and carbs, snacks to tide me over, plenty of bottled water and mints to suck on during stressful times.
- Have clothing for every possible climate. I’ve been in situations in the past where I didn’t pack for the right climates, causing me to be either too hot or too cold the entire trip, which makes me extremely uncomfortable and unregulated. Now I just bring something for every possible climate. I always overpack, but at least I have what I need.
- Bring noise-canceling headphones, earplugs and sunglasses. To help stay regulated with all of the unfamiliar sensory triggers while traveling.
- Remember medications, supplements, vitamins, teas and essential oils. It’s difficult to keep up with taking medications, supplements and vitamins while away, but I make sure I get into a routine of taking them to help me stay regulated. And having chamomile tea and lavender essential oil help keep me calm while traveling. I also pack Good Day Calm Chocolates™, especially for when I’ll be flying. They’re a quick magnesium and amino acid fix for stressful situations, which I usually find myself in on airplanes.
- Pack a yoga mat. Even if it just gives you a place to be mindful and to stretch, it’s a good way to take a moment to yourself while away. I found one at Target that folds up and lays flat in my suitcase. I make sure I at least stretch every day while away, but I also try to do yoga and meditate if time permits.
- Bring a weighted blanket when you can. I use my weighted blanket multiple times a day while at home, and I wish I could have it with me at all times when I travel. I haven’t brought it when flying yet, but I bring it when driving. Maybe the next time I fly I’ll make it my carry-on item. Well, if I am allowed to have a 20-pound carry-on.
- Pack a sleep mask. Wearing a sleep mask during times of stressful processing is a good way to reset your senses. And to block out even the slightest bit of light while trying to fall asleep.
- Get your own hotel room and travel alone when you can. I recently went on a trip with some girlfriends where they planned to share hotel rooms and to carpool. Leading up to the trip, I had anxiety about not having my own environment at any point during the trip, so I decided to book my own hotel room and to drive separately. It allowed me to go at my own pace, and to have my own space, so I could enjoy the company of my girlfriends when I was able to.
- Rearrange the furniture in the hotel room and unpack. I find that if I can move the furniture to make the hotel room as conducive to my needs as possible, that I feel better overall. I also unpack right away. So my things have a place and so I feel a sense of home.
- Make sure to have downtime. Downtime is so important when traveling. If I don’t take a break, my body never calms down and I risk being over-responsive. I read, listen to music or lie down and close my eyes using my weighted blanket and sleep mask.
- Try to have time alone. While having downtime, you may still be in the presence of others, so try to sneak away for time alone when you can. Whether it’s escaping to the hotel room or to the exercise room or going for a walk, you’ll come back rejuvenated and ready to engage.
- Learn something new. About the place you’re visiting. About those you’re traveling with. About yourself. To help you stay mindful and present. And to have something to take with you so you feel invigorated from the experience when you get back.
I wish you safe and happy travels for your next trip! May you have new adventures while having all your neurodivergent needs met.