Travel has changed my life despite the condition that I live with everyday called Asperger Syndrome (also called Asperger’s Syndrome or AS). Those who have Asperger Syndrome experience a wide range of symptoms and behaviors that can affect the quality of their travel experiences. I want to share my struggles with Asperger Syndrome and how I have learned to overcome them in order to pursue my passion of travel.
The first time that I began to travel abroad was in 1998. I went on a group tour thinking the itinerary itself would adequately fill my time with all the sightseeing and exploring I could ever hope for within the security of traveling with forty other people. I quickly discovered this wasn’t the case. Free time for exploring on our own was often scheduled for the group. During my time in London, England, I ventured out a few blocks from my hotel. The first time I did this, I quickly came upon an Underground (subway) station that could take me virtually anywhere in the metropolitan area. Oh, how I wanted to go to Parliament to watch the House of Commons debate. My exposure to British government earlier in the day was nothing more than a hurried drive-by in the tour bus. I approached the Underground entrance, but then I suddenly froze: the steps that most others would apply in order to get from Point A to Point B were for me synonymous with being confronted with a million things to juggle simultaneously. Furthermore, many people with Asperger Syndrome take in every little bit of stimuli that their surroundings emanate. So when an environment isn’t familiar, it can be too overwhelming to handle, which is what I was experiencing at that moment.
As a result, I restricted myself to explore only those areas that were within walking distance of my hotel, which made me feel very cheated: The whole city of London was beckoning to me to relish in it, and here I was clinging to sites around Hyde Park! My first trip abroad progressed southward over the next few weeks all the way to Athens, Greece. My lack of spatial direction, also inherent with my Asperger Syndrome, almost got me into dire straits on more than one occasion. As with London, I was only blocks away from my hotels in the cities of Brussels, Belgium, and Innsbruck, Austria. Yet I found myself wondering aimlessly through the night in those two cities, asking myself how I would find my way back to the hotels where my tour group was staying. Only with the help of the police and/or very conspicuous landmarks, did I manage to return to the hotelsÃ¢Â?Â¦eventually. On rare occasions, I would hang out with one or two people in the tour group during our free time to do some off the beaten path exploring. I relied on them to get us where we needed to be; and thus, my sense of inadequacy was only heightened.
When I got back to the USA, I knew that something was going to have to change. I knew deep down that my love for traveling and exploring was stronger than the limitations of my Asperger Syndrome. For almost a year and a half, the debacles of my first foreign trip would haunt me. By the autumn of 1999, I felt compelled to go back to London, vowing to travel independently on the subways and buses to all the parts of the great city no matter how scary that seemed, no matter how lost I would get.
I knew that for me to become the independent traveler that I wished in my soul to be, I would have to compensate for my Asperger Syndrome with two things. First, I would have to study extra hard the detailed maps provided by tourism departments and the internet before embarking overseas, using positive visualization of finding my way around. Second, once abroad, I needed to acquire the gumption to go up to complete strangers to ask them if I was on the right path to one of London’s icons even if that meant doing so every other block along the way. This would keep my sense of direction in check. For many people with Asperger Syndrome, going up to the locals to interact with is also a challenge, as we are not generally the most sociable folks in the population. The bottom line was that in order for my aspirations to be realized, I had to take my Asperger Syndrome by the horns.
My friend from Virginia would accompany me for the first part of the trip. We’d be together, but I’d act like I was alone while trying to figure out how to get to a certain destination. He’d only interject if I began to take the wrong turn. This technique proved to be very effective. He headed back to the States a few days before me, but I survived being totally alone in the metropolis. Consequentially, I developed a new confidence in trekking the world independently.
A year later, in October of 2000, it was me who would play travel guide, so to speak, as I took another friend of mine all over London and its surrounding areas. Sometimes, my sense of direction resulted in some minor inconveniences for us, but I persevered in spite of my Asperger Syndrome. The end result was a trip full of sightseeing successes!
Since that first fateful trip abroad in ’98, where I let Asperger Syndrome oppress my sense of adventure, I have taken fourteen more trips combined to Western Europe, China, South Africa, and Panama, mostly on my own. I’ve secured hotel reservations, train and bus tickets, etc., all over the world. I’ve challenged myself even further via my independent journeys to Spain, Panama, and Italy. I had to be even more resourceful while visiting these countries, given that I am not fluent in Spanish or Italian. I got around fine with the aid of really detailed and user-friendly travel phrase books. The locals in those countries appreciated my attempts at using their language to communicate with them.
By 2004, I had enough travel experiences to where I felt confident in submitting travel articles to various publications. I’ve now had many of them published in various magazines and online sites for pay. Globe-trotting inspired me to confront my Asperger Syndrome in a way that I wouldn’t have done so otherwise, and ultimately led me to a new career as a travel writer. This milestone gave me the confidence to submit literary works and writing-themed articles to publications which have been ultimately published, too.
Having Asperger Syndrome is just an obstacle. The key to overcoming obstacles is having a desire which is stronger than the reality of the obstacles. It is that inner quest which will lead one to find ways of overcoming!