An Aspie abroad ~ Squirrel!

Traveling overseas is seen as a rite of passage to many people especially to Australians. People flock overseas to many destinations for holidays or even employment, but travel can be daunting especially to one on the spectrum. What can be easy for one person could be a totally different experience for the next person. I have traveled to many overseas locations from as close as Tasmania, if that counts as an overseas destination or New Zealand and as far as the United Kingdom. My first local travel was when I traveled with my parents going around different parts of Australia, but once I had the money and steady employment it was then my turn to travel to far off destinations. I did go over not expecting what I would find or what those countries would be like when I was physically there. Not to say that I did not have plans, but not everything would take all day. There is so much you can do when reading about locations, experiencing them first hand is something quite different. Packing bags does become easier especially when you have weight restrictions.

Being an Aspergian makes planning trips really fun. I tend to book everything from transport, tours and accommodation well in advance so that I can have everything organised. This does not mean every single thing has been organised especially when things do happen that is out of your control and plans do change slightly. What you have to do is to try and adapt to every situation that occurs. When younger this would have been harder and it seemed like I had adapted as I grew older and maybe wiser. The planning does help to ease the small fears of what are you going to do and where are you going to stay. I work out the distance of accommodation to where the nearest bus stop or railway station is located. You do not want to walk too far with heavy bags on your back or even get lost trying to walk too far in locations you have not been to before. Maps do help, especially if you are going to the local hostels. Locals can give you advice once settled into where you are staying. One reason for booking months in advance is many places would be booked out and one example was my recent trip to the city of Christchurch, where every place I seen had the sign No Vacancy on them. There have been times where I have determined the length of long plane trips by one book and two bottles of water otherwise known as an eight hour trip.

Just getting to the airport can be stressful in the first place as you have time limits to adhere to and the crowds to navigate, then thinking of how to answer the customs officers once you are waiting to exit the airport on the other side. Checking in can also be amusing especially when the bag travelator breaks down and everything comes to a grinding halt. Being a traveller and an aspie makes me want to arrive at any airport before the check in period opens, so you can wander around airports that can be huge or very small. Compared to the Gold Coast airport many are virtual beehives of activity and very different where you need a packed lunch to find your gate. Others make you take one look and find the whole airport is small and not very much there, which would determine the size of the aircraft you are going to catch too. Changi airport in Singapore was one of the biggest I had been inside and I only stayed in one terminal with the time I had available. The smallest would have to be Queenstown and Dunedin airport. Flying out of Dunedin had me wondering if I had to go through a security checkpoint, but none was there and was just stairs out to the tarmac.

Small problems while travelling do crop up and they appear when you least expect them to. At one airport in Kuala Lumpur, while going to grab my bag I found one of the zippers had been broken open from rough handling. What I was more worried about was that my underwear could have fallen out and then I might not have any. Some things did fallout, but my unmentionable stayed right where they were inside the bag and the zipper was an easy fix Another time in the same airport when I was flying out I had arrived several hours early and the airport was confusing as it was not really signposted to say where the international check in was. I had seen a flight to Hong Kong and reasoned it was overseas as I was in mainland Asia, so I waited for my flight to open. I waited for an hour until realising I had been waiting in the wrong area. I was meant to be on the other side of the airport and when I did ask the people could not speak enough English to help. Still I did find the right counter and flew off happily. Trying to figure out what train to get for the airport and using a ticket machine that didn’t explain clearly which fare the airport was and expecting it to be more expensive. It took me 20 mins of frustration and walking away several times before getting the ticket only to find I could have bought one on the train. I still made the flight with plenty of time to spare and learnt why they called the flight company Easyjet, especially when it is a free for all with choosing your seat. I think the flight attendant was hitting on me too and might have given me anything I asked for.

Navigating your way around countries can be relatively easy if you know where you are going and can understand the transport maps. To make my way around many of the countries I learn about the different forms of transport before I leave home. Learning how to get around many of the cities especially getting to and from the airports can put your mind at ease. The easiest way to travel I have found are both the London underground and the Paris metro rail. Both are very are really easy to use and there are many exits. It doesn’t bother me that they get crowded as it helps for you to adapt for the crowds when you are on food at street level. Both do have their differences though. The tube seems to be orderly and it is different with Paris as it does border on chaos. People are pushing the button for the doors to open before the metro stops and the doors do actually open before the train has completely stopped. I do choose which ever transport gets me to my destination and is the easiest. Price does have an issue too about catching it and usually can be part of the pre booking while at home and then you can sit back and relax unless you have forgotten to book something.

The Paris food menus were something to be navigated and what I was wanting was a steak. One juicy steak and came across one menu at a restaurant that said Steak Tartare. I soon found out that it was not what was expected as it basically was raw meat with a salad and dressing. Being famished it was soon scoffed down, although I do have one little problem. I don’t have a sense of smell or taste so I didn’t actually find out that it was raw until several days after the event. It was still better than sharing my McDonalds meal with mice running around one store before midnight while in Paris and the menus were in English too, which could be seen as a plus. Menus do result in challenges and while in Nuremberg, I found one restaurant that had a dual menu with German and English or I would find McDonalds as their menus were in English. Germany does have some really nice bakeries, where you can choose the food yourself and then pay. According to one website that I visited I had actually eaten at the worlds worst McDonalds while staying in Kuala Lumpur. It did not do anything to me and I was only there for the free Wifi. I did shy away from many of the food that were on the streets as I didn’t know what they were. A friend in Singapore did introduce me to Sushi Train and it was something I enjoyed.

Speaking another language other than English, while in other countries isn’t really required and many people usually speak English. Going off the usual tourist routes would mean there would require the need to speak another language. Since I was going to Germany, I had bought an English to German translation book, which wasn’t very much help. Speaking to the man behind the desk was even more fun, but he did help me out as I had a family history question. Using the book to find my way around the state archives, while in Nuremburg translated what was the enquiry room into something unexpected and rude. I did visit one museum where everything was in German with no English and it turned out that I could hire an audio guide, which would explain what every room meant including translating recordings as well. Posting packages home turned out to be entertaining while in Paris. Close to where I was staying was a post office where I had taken some things to post home. One box I had chosen turned out to be an express post box. The customer service people couldn’t speak much English and I couldn’t speak French, which turned into a stalemate. Posting the box home turned out to be expensive to post home. Accents do become hard to understand as well even if you are in an English speaking country. I did have fun in Portsmouth trying to order fish and chips when I couldn’t quite understand the man speaking to me.

Becoming geographically misaligned otherwise known as getting lost is something which does actually occur on a regular basis especially if you have a map handy. You may look at a transport time table and think you hop onto the correct transport and you would easily end up at the required destination. Turns out this doesn’t always happen in that exact order as you may catch the correct train or bus, but doesn’t mean it is either going in the right direction. Catching the bus from back to Dorchester ended up being the bus, which took me in the direction of Exmouth, Dorset. Upon realising my mistake, I decided to continue on the bus and eventually got off at the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, where I had a fish and chip lunch. The town turned out to be well worth getting myself lost on the bus. On a more recent tour I was catching a train while in Auckland to a suburb and failed to realise that the train bypassed the entire link, but took me 7 stops to realise I needed to catch another train going back to the area I was wanting. I just shrugged this off and got on with my day. Sometimes having someone tell you they are going to meet you at the airport, but somehow wires get crossed. Someone was supposed to meet me at Copenhagen airport and they thought I would have access to the internet at all times as a message had been sent to say they were unavailable. After waiting for around the arrival lounge for an hour, I realised I had to get myself to the city and I had no map. Luckily the airport shop had a city map book. I still got lost trying to find my hostel, but seeing an old European city. There were some differences in London, which I did not realise at the time. At one point I had thought Victoria tube station and Victoria bus station were actually the same place until I went searching. I was actually wrong as the bus station was actually around a 900 metre walk away.

Every time I travel, I stay in the cheapest accommodation available. Over the years I have learnt which places not to stay in especially within Auckland as some have night clubs nearly or even next door. Many of the rooms to be booked can be mixed or one sex only and everyone seems to get along with each other. Many of the people are from other countries from the USA, Europe or even the Middle East. There is usually someone new everyday as people move on to the next place. People usually are able to give advice as to where to visit within the towns and if they are lucky then you might be able to pass something onto them that they can use. There are still the night sounds such as people snoring and sometimes it is like having a freight train in your room at night. I was lucky in this respect as in one hostel I was staying in the person was a party animal, who returned around 5am. I have learnt to carry a padlock with me so that I can lock my valuables in lockers that are usually provided in the rooms. Sometimes the rooms you are staying in do not have locks on their doors, so anyone in the hostel could walk in and say hello to your belongings. Sometimes you can be lucky to be upgraded from a dorm room to share a room with one other person, who doesn’t seem to spend much time in the room at all. Many of these places you do have to share a bathroom with others on the floor you reside. Some do provide morning meals if you are still in the hostel around. Washing machines are provided most of the time and have times when they are to be used until. While in Newcastle upon tyne I found I couldn’t do the washing as the people had no access to the tokens. I came back later like I was told and the answer was still the same. The next place I went to was when I did my washing as I waited to checkin.

Many countries have people who beg for money no matter where you are and how you are dressed no matter what language they speak. One night waiting for the train to arrive on the London underground, I was asked for money especially when I was dressed up. I explained to the man that I am a tourist and have no money. He did actually accept my explanation. There seem to be an abundance of gypsy girls throughout Europe chasing you for money. I learnt after the first one handed me a note in English asking for money. I said no and then kept an eye out on the distinctive clothing to avoid them. I did forget in Berlin and was actually going to complain to the lady at Checkpoint Charlie museum, but then seen a sign saying they are from the human rights commission on the wall. One lady actually dropped a ring behind me and I had been told about this sort of scam and while the lady held the ring out to me I just walked away. Around The Louvre there seems to be gatherings of people who want you to buy things or even fill out forms, I ignore them all and keep walking. Something that was extraordinary in the type of scams I have come across was one man who pulled up to me one afternoon in Berlin. He was Italian and was after a petrol station where he wanted fuel. He went on to explain that he had lost 6,000 Euro in some casino and wanted me to come with him to the service station, but didn’t want money. He had already shaken my hand and offered me several suits, which he had handed over to me. At the same time he had rubbished what I was wearing, but told me to visit him in Italy at his factory. As soon as he wanted me to hop into the car, I told him I had my wallet in the hostel, the offer was then to take me there to pick it up. I said no thanks and dumped the clothes through the open window onto the passenger seat. I walked away really fast and I was happy not to have been followed back to my hostel. I don’t know what would have happened if I had jumped into the car with him.

Travelling is loads of fun and if you can handle the crowded streets of London, then going overseas is a privilege. The crowded streets of many Australian cities are not as busy and chaotic as many cities in other countries. Following the laws and customs of that country to make sure you do not get into trouble and if someone tells you off for something never argue as that could get you into trouble. Some actions do come with hefty consequences especially what you do get away with at home is not necessary when you are elsewhere. Show people respect means your time will be pleasant and that you may end up finding something special or they might do something for you if you should ask. Always explore the routes you need to take to get to where you need to catch your transport. Make sure you wear decent footwear as you may end up wearing them every day for the entire time you are on holiday and be prepared to do plenty of walking. Get out there and enjoy life a little and be prepared to break all your usual habits and routines.

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