Traveling With Neurodivergence

Some backstory: our enby had traveled to Europe over the summer of 2019 with an education-focused tour group while they were still in high school. It was an enjoyable experience, but also a bit of a disaster. The school group tour guides were constantly threatening the participants with being left behind, which in turn, they insinuated, could result in death or bodily harm. Despite being education- and youth- focused, they were not exactly a trauma informed or inclusive tour group business, let’s just say. It was very triggering and confusing for our enby who experiences sensory processing disorder, communication disorder, and anxiety. Since the tour guides’ group management skills were so appalling, we had to promise our enby “no tours” — just our family for the next trip. Which ended up not happening until after the COVID19 pandemic abated!

As the parent of a “special needs” and “gifted and talented” person, I’ve always built in down time, rest, and quiet spaces into our travel, domestic and abroad. We had a very fun and relaxing trip to Ireland in 2018, and I guess I mistakenly assumed everyone else travels like we do.

It was when we started planning a trip to Italy and people here at home started demanding that we do one thing or another, or we couldn’t only go to Rome, etc, etc, that I realized, I might actually be in the minority. 🤣

It is ok to go off the beaten track. To do less. To maybe not see the Sistine Chapel or not even leave the city of Rome while in Italy. And, you know what? We had a great time and would do it again!

Also, staying in Rome for a full week scored us brownie points with the locals who are weary of tourists only spending a couple days in Rome, rushing to try to “do everything.” (so it’s not even just neurodivergent folks!). We would have liked to have stayed in Italy longer, but work schedules and other responsibilities required our return. For our first trip, that had to be a little bit shorter than we wanted, we really enjoyed spending it in one place.

It’s also ok to use tour groups. I have now learned to ask things like “how do you accommodate people with different learning styles?”, and “is it ok to go at our own pace, or do we have to stay with the guide the whole time?”. I probably wouldn’t let someone else choose a tour guide for our family again, even if it’s “educational”. That was a rather expensive lesson. The one so-called educational tour cost almost as much as bringing our family of three to Europe does.

Some progress is being made. Our home airport, PDX, had a quiet, sensory dampening room while we were waiting for our flight. Sites like AirBnB and Booking.com make it easier to find a whole home or apartment to stay in, even for shorter stays. We are making our own travel blogs!

There is still a long way to go. This is part of the reason we started this website. We hope to raise our voices and awareness that traveling is supposed to be a vacation — for everyone! In addition, we also seem to have found our voices in traveling. We’ve been wanting to share our story and advocate for the nonbinary and neurodivergent populations, for a while, and somehow, traveling seems to have been the impetus. So, we will see where starting with a travel blog leads us!