As some of you will know, I recently got a ‘promotion’ at work (WooHoo!). This means I now do quite a bit of traveling up and down from our head office in Scotland from Newcastle. Initially, this was a bit of a nerve racking thing for me to get my head around because, until now, in 5ish years… I haven’t traveled anywhere without Stevie! Travelling with Autism can be hard, thats why I’ve made this guide.
I thought for quite a while on how to put this together & came to the conclusion, a nice concise list would do just the trick! So, here are my top ten things you should consider when planning a business trip as a person with Autism.
1. Don’t Panic!
It sounds obvious but honestly try not to panic, with the right planning and preparations, I can have just as much of an enjoyable trip as anyone else! When planning your trip, its important to ensure you give yourself enough time to be able to make any preparations you might need to make, we’ll look at these in more detail in a moment.
For me, panic begins to set in if I don’t feel like I am in control of the situation or I don’t fully know or understand what is happening so, when I say don’t panic, this could mean, make sure that you have the information you need in a format your comfortable with or it could mean take a deep breath and talk through the situation with your friend, partner or even relative if you need too.
2. Make lists!
This is where the planning really comes into play! Once you know and understand where you’re going and why your going there, its time to make 2 lists (possibly three if you’re traveling by public transport, I choose to drive because I am then in full control of the journey)
List One | The Personal List:
These lists don’t have to be written down (for me they’re not). List one is all about your personal needs when you’re away, it’s important to think about how long you will be away and what you will need to take with you.
Think about things you really cannot do without, for me, thats my laptop, my camera, toiletries, toothbrush & (of course) my traveling companion Wilbur. Wilbur is a little bit of home, a comfort more than anything, I realise he is a penguin teddy but that’s okay, when I don’t have Stevie around, I have to have Wilbur, it’s as simple as that. I can’t and don’t need to explain or justify that to anyone :).
Your personal list might include other things like medication or an awareness band or badge or anything like that too. Remember when flying internationally or domestically, your going to need various bits of paperwork thats not something I am very good at so my list in that scenario would include getting our travel concierge to help me with those preparations in a very concise and specific way, ensuring that I understood entirely what was needed and why. I’d then add what ever was needed to list two.
List Two | Travel Vital Items
So list two is the super important list, these are the things your going to need to successfully complete your trip, I personally have this list on standby at all times because mine will never change (unless I have to fly for some reason).
On this list is things like my work laptop, any paperwork or reservation documents I might need, maps and navigation information (postcodes for the work building & hotel I’ll be at for the trip), telephone numbers of important people, my journey itinerary (where I plan to stop on the way), money, cards & staff ID. I also ensure my car has a full tank before every trip, making sure I get a VAT receipt because my employer needs one of these to process my expense claims (make sure its a VAT receipt and not just a card receipt). If you have allergies or special food requirements, make sure you give the hotel or workplace plenty of notice & if your travelling by air or rail maybe let them know too if you plan to eat on board.
These two lists are just examples and they may differ for different people, you might find that one big list is better for you, you might want to write it all down and go through it with people involved in planning your trip or you might just want to make a mental note. It will take some trial and error to work out what works best for you but once you have a routine that works, you’ll instantly feel much less anxious about traveling for work purposes.
3. Plan Everything In Advance.
Forward planning is the corner stone of my organisational routines, I prefer to have everything in place 2-3 weeks in advance of a trip so that I know where I am going and have am idea of what to expect when I arrive. I don’t know about you but I strongly dislike the unknown so, removing that as much as possible is vital for a pleasant trip! If your employer has a travel concierge like mine, it’s a great idea to get them on the case for booking hotels and travel arrangements for you & storing their number in your phone (just in case you need to call them). Your travel team should also be able to give you detailed information about the hotels you can choose and provide any advise or information to the hotel on your behalf, which can make things much less awkward when you arrive.
4. Prepare for New Things!
New people, smells, places & environments can really mess with me & my autism. If something isn’t quite right, for whatever reason it can really throw me so I find it important to mentally prepare myself for this. With my job, I encounter new stuff all the time now & I have learned coping mechanisms which really help me. I know not everyone is as comfortable as me talking about their autism but it really does help to let people know that will be involved in your trip, just in case you need to take a breather or something. I had to my very first time in a new building, it was all a bit too much & because I’d talked about this with my new manager, she was ready and prepared for that when I had to walk away for 10 minutes, just to get some air and calm down.
I’m not going to lie, you probably will feel uncomfortable. Maybe even as though the traits of your autism are worse than normal at some point during the first couple of trips. If you go to the same places frequently as part of your new plan, you’ll begin to build a special routine around that activity.
In the evening when work is finished, it’s important as someone with Autism to try to switch off a little bit from what you have been doing in that day. Your hotel room becomes your ‘safe space’. Make yourself at home, if your hotel has a pool and your okay with pools, maybe go for a swim! If your traveling with people you work with – maybe make evening plans!
Although your primarily on your trip for work, your off time should be time for you to process what your day has been about! To ‘switch off’ for a while. Its absolutely vital for me to allow my brain to reset and process everything I’ve done & encountered in the day so that the next day, things are easier to manage. If I don’t do this step every day – its very hard to avoid meltdowns! My brain just can’t keep up with all the sensory information never mind anything else.
Hopefully, this little guide is useful for you. I hope you enjoy your next business trip as much as I do mine now! Don’t get me wrong, you’ll probably still have wobbles. I have only done a couple of trips so I am still learning my coping mechanisms for them. I’ve really found these things helpful & I hope you do too!
If you have any other things that I’ve not mentioned here that help you… drop them in a comment below & share the experience with Team SteJay!
Until next time…