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Neurodivergent travel: Top tips to make your global exploration easy

neurodivergent traveller

So, you want to travel, but you’re neurodivergent? Don’t worry! There has never been a better time to commence your own neurodivergent travel experience. Don’t let your hypersensitivity or fear of stepping out of your comfort zone stop you – airports are becoming more sensory friendly, and people are becoming more educated on neurodiversity!

Though you may face some obstacles neurotypical travellers don’t, you deserve to get out there and see the world! So, we’ve gathered the best tips on navigating the airport, making friends, and looking after your boundaries for neurodivergent travellers, from neurodivergent travellers! Follow this guide to ensure that your travel experience is one to remember.

What is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence is a nonmedical term that describes a variety of atypical developmental norms. Many of these hidden disabilities are diagnosed in early childhood, others are often diagnosed in their late teens or during adulthood. Atypical developmental norms include conditions such as Autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) & OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). 

Neurodivergence also refers to an individual experiencing sensory issues, which are difficulties related to the processing of information from the senses such as sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. These atypical developmental norms can make communication and socialisation difficult, and many of these conditions can have an impact on the person’s mental health. As a result, things like socialisation and travel can cause the individual much anxiety, so it pays to be kind.

Travelling as a neurodivergent person can be difficult due to the vast number of unfamiliar environments that we encounter whilst travelling, unfamiliar foods, feeling over-stimulated in crowded places, experiencing change and leaving the comfort and familiarity of home, etc…

So, whether you are a neurodivergent traveller, are travelling with someone who is, or just want to know more so you can help, here are some tips to help you along!

neurodivergent travel

Image source:Petah Wood

Planning your travels

To decide where you want to go you should consider a number of things such as climate – what season do you want to travel in? Attractions – what is on your bucket list? How far do you want to be from home? What’s your budget? These are all factors that you should consider before deciding where you want to travel.

Consider what type of accommodation you would like to stay in – would you like to stay on your own, with one other person, or in a hostel? Contiki offers both hotel and hostel trips, and you can request a single, double, or triple room. You have lots of options to figure out which accommodation type you would be more comfortable in. 

How are you getting to your destination? Comfort is often key when it comes to neurodivergent travel. Rather than having a layover at an unfamiliar airport, consider flying direct to your destination. Although sometimes a little pricier, the stress of navigating a different airport in between flights is removed, providing you with a less stressful, and more comfortable travel experience (flying direct is also a more sustainable option!). Perhaps a train or coach is more your vibe. Whatever method of transport you choose, ensure it is one that you are going to feel comfortable doing. 

We understand that as exciting as travel is, it can also be a stressful experience, so if you want to avoid all that stress altogether, book with Contiki! Contiki takes care of all accommodation and transport throughout your trip, so you don’t have to worry about those aspects of your journey as a neurodivergent traveller.

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How to tackle the airport

Navigating the airport alone can be a stressful experience for anyone, but especially if you have a disability that’s not immediately apparent to airport staff. Here are some tips for tackling the airport as a neurodivergent traveller:

Contiki travellers together at the airport

Image source:Contiki

Security & passport control

Security is one of the more fast-paced parts of the airport journey: there will be lots of people queuing up with you, and seeing as there are plenty of people, the airport staff want to keep things moving slowly. As such, you may feel overwhelmed, but don’t worry! These are some things to remember:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Do you need to place your electronics in a separate tray? Do you need to remove your shoes or jacket? Asking questions ensures a seamless transition from security into the terminal.

The security area of the airport is home to large machines, and can also have some loud noises throughout. Take a deep breath, and stay calm. If you’re wearing your lanyard, airport staff will be alerted to the fact you may need extra help. 

Be aware that security officers often conduct random checks, and you may be asked to perform a search of your person. This will involve an officer patting you down. If additional screening is required, the officer will ask for your consent and inform you of the areas they will check. You can request a private room for this if you are uncomfortable. Don’t worry, this is a completely normal part of airport security, and you haven’t done anything wrong!

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How to handle stressful situations while travelling

If you’re a neurodivergent traveller, it’s important to take care of yourself, identify any potentially stressful situations, and try to have some solutions in your back pocket. If these solutions do arise, stay as calm as you possibly can and use one of these techniques:

If you are in a state of panic, alert someone as soon as you can. Airport staff will be able to help, and if you can’t find anyone ask someone to help you find them. If you’re travelling with friends or family, alert someone you trust, and if you’re with Contiki you can always let your Trip Manager know. They are not trained mental health professionals, but they will be able to get you the help you need. 

You know your body and mind best. If you feel yourself becoming stressed or anxious, remove yourself from the situation and allow yourself time to regulate.

neurodivergent travel

Image source:Petah Wood

Travelling with Contiki

Travelling with Contiki is an ideal option for neurodivergent travellers. Your transport, accommodation, and even activities are planned for you, so you don’t have to worry about any of that. You’ll also be travelling with like-minded individuals from all over the world, so you’re bound to make friends and find yourself in a supportive community. Plus, you’ll be equipped with a Trip Manager who will be there to help you out if you need, and is here to make every step of your journey as easy as can be!

How to make friends

Just be yourself! Embrace your love of travel and all the quirks that come with it. Talk to people and prepare some icebreakers. These are some tips for the introverted traveller which may help you out. 

Before the trip

If you’re travelling with Contiki, start by joining the Contiki Travel Longue prior to your trip so that you can see who is on your trip prior to the morning of. It’s a lot easier to talk to a stranger online than in person as all that anxiety surrounding eye contact and judgement goes away. Try and get to know someone before you leave, particularly if you are travelling solo as it’s always nice to have a familiar face. You already have heaps in common – your thirst for travel and a need to see the world! 

Top Tip: If you are staying at the hotel your Contiki is departing from the night before, try to connect with some people for dinner or drinks that night, this will hopefully ease any anxiety or nerves before your trip begins.

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On the trip

Get involved! Your Trip Manager knows your stops like a local. If they suggest a good karaoke bar or restaurant, ask some people if they would like to go, or if someone asks you, don’t say no! You can always leave if you’re feeling uncomfortable or have sensory overload – no judgement at all!

Participate in the free time add-ons, particularly the dinners! There is no better way to get to know someone than over some authentic food and wine. 

Get your groove on and have some real deep chats. Help people understand what neurodivergence is as there is a huge amount of speculation on what it actually means to be neurodivergent and to have a hidden disability, so talk about it and eliminate the stigma and stereotypes.

On the coach

If you are conquering a heap of countries in a short amount of time, you are sure to have many coach days. Coach days are great as you can use them however you like: napping, reading, socialising etc. They’re a great way to get to know your fellow travellers, or a great way to recuperate your energy and have some alone time. 

Enjoy the downtime and use it as a chance to regulate your emotions. Get cosy! Wear an outfit you can lounge in and pack something that brings you comfort, like a familiar item from home, so you can really relax.

Image source:Contiki

Free days

During your Contiki, you will have free days, and these can be used however you like! If you want to spend the day relaxing, go for it, or if you want to explore, do that as well! You can ask your Trip Manager if they have any recommendations, or you can set off with a group and see what you find.

Be sure to have your Trip Manager’s phone number saved in WhatsApp as they should be your first point of contact if you get lost or find yourself in a sticky situation.

Free Time Add-Ons

Each trip differs with the FreeTime Add-Ons that are available, but one thing remains the same across Contiki’s broad travel offerings – the enjoyment, friendship and cultural insight that you get from participating in them! You will bond with people over these activities.  Whether it’s food related, a wine tasting, or an adventurous activity, you’re sure to come out the otherside with some meaningful connections. 

Looking after your boundaries

Don’t feel pressured to party every night or at all – it’s okay to stay in and rejuvenate. Check in with your loved ones back home and have some self-care time. If you’re feeling uncomfortable about something or someone, make sure you inform your Trip Manager as they’re here to help. Always stick to your boundaries and trust your gut!

Contiki is for all young people, including those who are neurodivergent. Your Trip Manager and the friends that you make along the way will be able to help you out during your trip – you’ll be joining a strong community of caring people!  

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