Travel Packing Tips for the Sensory Aversive

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We are in Portland, Oregon this week! I lived here for 3 months during a rotation last winter and loved it. I have been wanting to experience the PDX summer that everyone raves about, so I had been looking forward to this trip very much.

However, I know that I get cranky sometimes when I travel, which is not fun for anyone within my arm's reach. So I had to look back and think about my previous travel experiences to take note of the things I liked and what I didn't. I liked the PDX winter even though it was cold. It was also rainy, of course, and during the baby snowstorms, everything would shut down and people would take their sleds/skiis/snowboards to the streets for some urban skiing and snowboarding. It was lovely to do the touristy things in PDX in the winter when it wasn't crowded - my brother and I even hiked up Beacon Rock when it was lightly snowing.For this trip, I knew that the sensory situation will be very different from the winter. We are walking and biking everywhere, and it is (very) hot and crowded, all of which are a recipe to cranky mode.

If you know that you tend to get cranky in certain situations, prepare accordingly when you are in the planning stages of a trip and also when you are packing. The following include problems and solutions I have for those who are like me, who love to travel but cannot handle too much sensory stimulus: 

  • You hate crowds.  In every situation or environment you go into, look out for spots that are less crowded, be it next to a curb, or on the grass somewhere. The ideal situation would be to assess each crowded environment before you step into it, turn your awareness inwards, decide whether you can handle a crowd yet or within the next 5 minutes. If you can't, excuse yourself from your party, go to that less-crowded pocket, and take a breather. Sometimes, all we need is rest and/or mental preparedness.
  • You get cranky when you are hungry.   When traveling, we often want to Yelp everything and make sure we are eating the best of the best in the area. So naturally, when we get hungry, it takes more time to figure out what we want to eat. One solution is to be uber-prepared and have your day planned around the restaurants that you have already picked out because you are amazing. Another is to keep snacks in your bag at all times.
  • You do not like to be too hot or too cold.  Pack layers with you. I like to always have my Uniqlo jacket that rolls up into a compact little cylinder with me in case it gets cold in a museum or restaurant. 
  • You don't like the sun beating down on your face. I love the sun, don't get me wrong. But I don't like it when it's beating down on my face...so I wear a hat! Or you could get one of those visor things that Asian moms like to wear. 

Some more general, but just as important, tips for travel: 

  • Try to go on trips with people who have similar needs and interests as you. It's great to have someone else understand and be able to remind each other "Hey, that looks like a big crowd, can you handle right now?" 
  • Speak up! Let your party know when you are not feeling well or cannot handle something right at that moment. Don't be afraid to step out of the group for a breather when you can. You are doing everyone a favor by avoiding a meltdown later because you forced yourself to be somewhere you did not want to be. 
  • Compromise. Know that you may not always be able to step away from the group, and in that case, compromise will be a valuable skill. Let your group know your needs ahead of time, preferably before the trip even starts, so that everyone can be more understanding during the times that you do ask to do something different. 

Also, these tips don't just apply for when we travel! It applies for any outings at all. 

For those who are using these trips for travel: Happy Vacationing!