The Autistic Traveler is for late-identified autistic adults who are new or seasoned travelers, whether that means taking the local bus downtown or wandering the five continents. I chronicle my travels with the hope that one autistic person’s experiences can offer you useful insights and tools.
After experiencing chronic burnout, I left academia and my home in Seattle for a six-month sabbatical in 2019. That sabbatical soon became full-time traveling on a shoestring with my partner, Seva. Along the way, I learned how to housesit, how to live with less (and more), and how my whole life had been autistic.
Note on Language and Perspective
I prefer to use “identity-first” language (autistic people) on this blog. As power dynamics change, language soon follows, so please be patient if you notice outdated words and phrases. As a late-identified person, I’m rushing to keep up with new research and ways of thinking.
This blog follows Dr. Stephen Shore’s frequently quoted insight: “When you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.” Inevitably, my writing reflects my position as an autistic 40+ white American settler middle-class cis-woman. I’ve spent many years in community organizing, and want to acknowledge and thank the many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who have taught me all I know, particularly those at the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (and white folx at European Dissent), the Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition, and so many others. Though my politics are unapologetically anti-racist and anti-oppressive, my positional power will mean I get things wrong. I always welcome the gift of feedback and resource sharing on this score. Thank you!
If you’re interested in my work as an editor and coach, you can check out roseernst.net and articles on Medium. I also write mysteries.
In 2020, I was returning from my one allotted walk during lockdown in Portugal. I had been listening to one of my favorite podcasts on writing. One of the co-hosts, JD Barker, was explaining how autism had affected his life and writing. Something about his words struck a chord.
So I took the infamous Baron-Cohen test and came up as borderline autistic. But I dismissed it because key questions didn’t resonate—license plates? Numbers? Extreme social challenges? None of it seemed to fit.
The idea percolated away until six months later—during another lockdown—I was lying on the couch, recovering from the first Covid vaccine. My old nemesis had returned: fibromyalgia symptoms.
I knew the pain and fatigue were probably vaccine side effects, but I typed “fibromyalgia” on my phone for the millionth time. But this time I added, “and overlapping conditions.”
“Autism” popped up alongside fibromyalgia.
Hmm. Autism again.
Suddenly, it was everywhere. Though we couldn’t see anyone because of lockdown, it seemed as though everyone on my extensive podcast list was autistic. Again, I dismissed it as my usual confirmation bias or wishful thinking. Wishful because I wanted an explanation for the chronic pain, the chronic fatigue, the burnout, and most of all, feeling like a perpetual square peg (see the lovely Squarepeg podcast).
So I dared to search for “women and Aspergers.”
Everything became clear. All those aspie women blogs were the saviors. They weren’t talking about external behaviors. Instead, they detailed internal experiences of autism, one that often manifested in pain and one that also ironically “mimicked” so many other (mis)diagnoses.
I certainly couldn’t dive into this rabbit hole fast enough. In true autie fashion, I consumed everything on Aspergers (even though it’s an obsolete term), autism, and the misdiagnosing of so many different people: basically, anyone who wasn’t a young middle-class white boy.
Slowly, I began to notice my sensory strengths and challenges, and the immediate and not-so-immediate effects on my health. Before I had become self-employed and started living on the road, all my sensory issues had been a Medusa-like seething mass of unknowable causes and effects. There was simply too much noise for me to understand what caused what.
Bit by bit, this seething mass became smaller and decidedly calmer. I began to pick apart the different strands, reconstructing cause and effect—to the degree that’s ever possible—and slowly reconstructing a whole sense of self.
Living a simpler life made this process possible. I acknowledge that these steps were unique to me, and I had so much help along the way to do it. And it’s certainly not the life for everyone.
But I’ve had so many questions about how I live this life—including those who don’t know I’m autistic—that I wanted to start this blog. I love reading how-to blogs about everything related to living an unconventional life without the toxic stress that so many workplaces bring to people, regardless of whether they’re neurodivergent or not.
Most of what I could find online were inspirational Instagram accounts (and hurray for them!), or rather medical and depressing stories of how parents can ‘deal’ with their autistic children while traveling. I wanted to create something for late-diagnosed adults that focused on only one person’s experiences, but also the how-to of short- and long-term traveling as an autistic person. I hope these articles will spark your thinking about how your autism interacts with different aspects of travel, from planning the trip months in advance to everyday life on the road.
Right before starting this blog, I pursued an autism assessment by Hendrickx Associates. I didn’t want to pursue a clinical diagnosis through an institutional medical system given my traumatic history with the medical profession. I knew there were waiting lists, and I didn’t want to take one of those precious spots from someone who would need it more.
I was intensely curious about a supportive, non-clinical process, so I saved up and took the plunge. Besides the joyful two-hour call, I gained another layer of wholeness I hadn’t felt before. My life story was no longer a hodgepodge of random explanations and justifications. Until my “diagnosis,” (I use that word advisedly) my biography felt like the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. That rambling mansion has staircases that lead into walls and rooms without doors. Though I developed explanations for individual patterns and incidents, nothing really fit. With the assessment, I felt like I finally moved out of my own Winchester Mystery House, into my own little clean and orderly cottage in the woods.
My self-talk has also shifted. Instead of asking how I can get or be better, I now ask a different question:
What does better mean?