An Autistic Girl’s Guide To Italy

An Autistic Girl’s Guide To Italy

Italy is on many people’s bucket list, and for good reason. The country is a haven for good food, soccer, and vibrant history. Millions of tourists flock to the destination every year in search of world famous monuments and delicious pizza.

It is certainly a smart choice, as I myself can attest that the country really does live up to expectations! However, there are certain problems with Italy that may make certain travelers wary of visiting the boot shaped land. For autistic travelers, the lack of accessibility and general awareness of autism in Italy can make the destination seem more scary than fun.

In general, this is unfortunately a problem in many other European countries as well, and this can make traveling to Europe daunting for disabled foreigners.


As I said before, Italy does have some accessibility issues and I would say that Italian people in general, tend to be a little less familiar with Autism and how it works than Americans. Italy thankfully is still light years ahead of countries such as France in that it recognizes Autism as a valid disability rather than as a psychological problem caused by a child’s social upbringing. However, there is still room for improvement in Italy as access to accommodations can be difficult, and not all professors know how to handle a student with the diagnosis.

For example, my first day at the Universita per Stranieri was rather nightmarish as my oral placement exam was held in a crowded noisy room. Everyone was taking the test at the same time and speaking all at once. Worse, the room echoed all the sounds coming in and out. To me it just sounded like static noise.

Because it was so loud, I couldn’t hear a word of what my tester was saying. He thought I didn’t understand and when I told them it was to noisy and I couldn’t hear, he tried correcting me, thinking I was trying to say I didn’t understand

His impatient and rude manner made me even more stressed, and I ended up leaving the classroom in tears. Originally I thought it was all my fault, but I realize now that the University could’ve handled the situation better.

They knew I was on the spectrum and had accommodations requested, so they could’ve discussed this with the test proctor. They also could’ve have done the test in a smaller and quieter room.

Accessibility I’ve noticed in Italy tends to be unfortunately the exception rather than the rule. It is not somewhat expected like it is in the states. This extends to both physical and mental accessibility – if someone cannot access a building or a student cannot get accommodations it’s just seen as unfortunate rather than an active cause for concern.

A cafe accessible only by stairs in the United States is seen as shameful and embarrassing by many, where as in Italy such a thing is frequently the norm and no one complains.

While Italy is slowing improving accessibility, it may still seem light years behind to foreigners from the United States.

Sensory Issues

For those on the spectrum who are little more sensitive to things like smells, taste, etc., they made find certain things in Italy difficult.

One such issue is smoking, which has a very different culture here than in the United States. Not only do many more people smoke here, they also have a very different idea of smoking etiquette than we do. There is little shame in polluting the air in public in Italy, and smoking doesn’t seem to be seen as dangerous as it as by many in the United States.

You can easily find yourself walking through a place that smells like cigarettes or catch yourself in a cloud of smoke. And well many Italians are considerate and smoke outside, there a few who see no shame in smoking in public places inside such as schools, cafes, etc.! This for obvious reasons can make things especially unpleasant for the autistic traveler.

The smell of smoke is no fun, and it can discourage an autistic person from going out. But there are ways to cope with the smoke smell, such as by going inside no smoking cafes or going to less crowded streets.

Another issue that may be difficult for American travelers is the idea of touch and personal space in Italy. Americans tend have a much wider personal bubble than most Italians. We tend to have a bubbles that are at least five feet wide where as in Italy, personal bubbles are either small or practically non existent.

People have no problem here huddling up in lines or seats on public transport, and conversations can be much more touchy-feely and close, regardless of the relationship you have with the person. To autistic people who get uncomfortable or overwhelmed with hugs, touches, etc., it is important to prep for crowds as well as potentially discuss with Italian friends their personal boundaries.

It is important when discussing these boundaries with people to explain that this is not simply a cultural difference, but also a personal reason. You should explain that for you touch makes you nervous and overwhelmed, and that you’d prefer that they displayed signs of affections in a different way.

Some sensory issues however, such as food have actually improved for me. For example, I find that the food textures and taste are less of an issue for me here. Most of the food is made fresh and is usually more mild, so I don’t really feel overwhelmed by the taste.

The most important thing you can do when it comes to Italy is prepare in advance and have an escape plan. Be prepared for crowds, smoke, and other issues that may cause discomfort. More importantly get to know the basic layout of the area you’re in if possible so you can know how to leave the place or find somewhere quieter.

Know How To Explain Your Autism

Situations may arise where you are overwhelmed or potentially even unsafe due to a meltdown or a similar problem. For these situations, knowing how to explain your disability can be a life saver.

If you are in a situation of distress, you need not actually explain what Autism is. You don’t even have to disclose the diagnosis if you don’t want to. What you need to know how to do, is explain the problems that you might have and what the person can do to help. For example, consider explaining how you have sensory issues and that the situation is making you feel overwhelmed.

You should also have this information on a card or your phone if possible. If you are in a position where speaking is difficult, having a written description can be helpful. Include an emergency contact as well if you can.

You should have the words in English and Italian. You don’t need to be fluent in Italian to do this:just look up a a couple phrases online that best fit the description you need. Or, you can copy my description below:

Mi chiamo Stephenie Thorne e ho una disabilità che possono fare folla e rumoroso suona molto soverchiante e stressante. Per favore, sei paziente con me. Se questo è un emergenza usa il numero sotto.

My name is Stephenie and I have a disability that can make crowds and loud sounds very overwhelming and stressful. Please be patient with me. If this is an emergency use the number below.

Your phone number here

You can customize it a bit by using some help with sites like WordReference. Note that I use the word disability rather than autistic. This is to avoid confusion, since not all people understand what Autism is.

Get Up Early And Travel On Weekdays And/Or Off Season, If Possible

If you are like me and struggle with large crowds, you may want to consider traveling during the off season. For Italy, you can expect summer to be the peak season, with the months from October to December being low season. Obviously, weekdays also tend to be less crowded than the weekends. If you can manage it, a trip on Monday or Thursday is definitely worth it.

With that being said, be aware that popular tourist destinations like Rome can still be extremely crowded even in the off season and/or on weekdays. World famous monuments and ruins like the Colosseum for example, are almost guaranteed to always be somewhat packed.

If you can manage it, opt for a early morning alarm and head to popular destinations at 6. It’ll likely save you the headache of huge crowds, both on the way there and at the destination itself. Or if you’re not dying to see museums and monuments, head to quieter areas of the city further from downtown in your destination.

Another way to avoid crowds is to check the calendar to make sure there aren’t any big events going on in your destination when you arrive. This will likely increase the number of people there dramatically, even in the off season. I made the mistake of booking a trip to Milan during fashion week, and well I did enjoy my time there, the crowds were a nightmare. You can check for big events on sites like TripSavy, which list them month by month. Here’s one for Rome.


Accommodation can make or break your experience abroad, and that’s true not just for autistic travelers, but anyone. To ensure a smooth experience, I recommend booking somewhere that is located near a transport hub, is relatively safe, and has a patient staff. Having things like complimentary breakfast and toiletries is also a good idea, because it can remove a lot of stress.

Definitely take the reviews beforehand also to get a good feel for the place. Also don’t overlook hostels! They might seem like sensory hell for autistic people, but if you know how to prep and stay in a luxury one (yes luxury hostels are a thing) you can actually have a great experience. They are always the best option for solo travelers and there are plenty that aren’t party hostels and offer things like light blocking curtains and soundproof walls to make the communal experience more pleasant.


Italy in general, is a very safe country. However, there are a few things you should be aware of when it comes to bigger cities. In places like Rome, pickpockets and scammers are notorious. Avoid accessories like fanny packs which are easy to steal from and make you a prime target for scams.

Leave valuables like passports in a hotel/hostel safe if you can and avoid carrying around flashy items like designer purses and expensive watches. Additionally, avoid interacting with people offering you “free” gifts like Roses and bracelets. This is almost always a scam.

Some people have also suggested dressing and acting like a local. Well I don’t think it’s necessary a bad idea to look less touristy, most pickpockets and scammers will still easily be able to tell the difference between a local and a foreigner. There’s so much more that will give you away that you don’t even think about like your mannerisms and the way you walk. Oh and speaking English is also a dead give away too, obviously.

In my opinion, the best way to detour pickpockets and the like is too look like you don’t have any valuable to steal. Dressing down and wearing old backpacks makes you a much less attractive target. Of you course, you should still always be careful. This guide on pickpockets is very helpful.

In Conclusion

Italy can absolutely be a wonderful experience for those on the spectrum. You just need to know how to prep and prepare for the unexpected to happen. The country might seem intimidating to autistic travelers, but it is actually very nice.

If you’re looking for a country that is safe, beautiful, and full of delicious food you’ve come to the right place. So don’t be afraid to visit Rome or Milan, or better yet… explore the smaller cities! The place is full of things to do and a trip here certainly shouldn’t be missed due to fears of autism being a problem.

I’m Not The Solo Traveler You See In Photos

I’m Not The Solo Traveler You See In Photos

david-gavi-bN61GmH0WqQ-unsplashImagine your typical solo traveler. You probably come up with an image of a 20 something skinny white woman throwing her arms up in the air well overlooking a mountain. If google images and Wanderlust pins are to be believed, our average solo traveler dons an expensive backpack, is typically white, female, and young, and has the body of a personal fitness trainer.

I in many ways fit this description. I am white and young, both of which affords me a certain realm of privilege when it comes to traveling alone. I’m also donning some pricey travel gear, which signifies some luck in the wealth department.

But I’m also autistic and wear torn jeans and outdated graphic tees. My hair is more often a mess and my face is sprouted with pimples on a daily. I’m not the bountiful traveler you read about in blogs who is socializing all the time and sipping martinis on the beach.

But I have enough physical qualities, that if you fixed my hair, donned me in heavy makeup, and got me a new wardrobe, I’d probably pass as one of those generic travel girls you see on Instagram that people love to hate.

For now, I’m too lazy to put in the effort to be one of those women. Besides, I’d only master having the appearance of one. Makeup and clothes can only do so much. Start a conversation with me, and you’ll quickly realize that I actually have the charisma of a three-year-old.

So instead of falling into the category of what a traveler “should” be according to social media, I’m stuck teetering on the edge of it.

This makes browsing through social media a difficult task.

Many other students abroad, for example, are currently giving tours of their perfectly clean apartments and homestays abroad via Instagram stories or Youtube videos. The picturesque dorm rooms have often even been decorated with cute decor from back home.

My bedroom abroad, in contrast, has been wrathed by my laziness and disorganization. There are papers scattered across my desk and drawers, and only the quaint decor of clutter gives the room a mood of its own. Mario Kondo would not be proud. Giving a “tour” of my bedroom would be simply embarrassing.

I will also certainly not be doing a daily routine abroad video, as that would only lead to disaster. My morning “routine” is basically this:

8:00 am: Alarm goes off

8:30 am: I finally stop pressing the snooze button and actually get up

8:35 am: I do usual morning stuff like wash face, brush teeth, etc. I also realize at this time I am going to be late for class.

8:40 am: I watch Youtube videos while getting dressed, then browse through social media for a solid 8–10 minutes.

8:51 am: I exit the apartment and walk/run to class

9:08 am: I arrive late for my 9 am class.

Not exactly the kind of morning routine you want to read about, is it? It’s not the one study abroad programs want to advertise or for that matter, the kind of post your friends back home want to be reading.

Solo travelers like to cover up the ugly bits of travel often and glamorize all the good bits. Our social media highlights abroad are often served on a pastel and filtered platter, where all the wrinkles are airbrushed out.

Even in travel groups on Facebook where the posts about struggles and mishaps are encouraged, most of my Facebook wall is filled with Instagrammable photos and model-like women.

This causes problems for anyone who doesn’t fit the solo traveler mold.

For those who are not white, straight, or neurotypical, traveling is more difficult. We are much more likely to have more mishaps and difficulties abroad. Sometimes we can’t get the picturesque shot or dress like we’re about to hit the runway.

As an autistic woman, certain smells and senses are hard for me. Sometimes that means I can’t spend a whole day in the city center or going from landmark to landmark. Sometimes I don’t have the energy or ability to look “presentable”. So often, I don’t get the shots you see on Instagram or look like the typical female traveler.

For me, this has been hard, but also enlightening. Not fitting in with typical solo travel groups has made me realize the importance of self care and taking the time to do things at my own pace. I’ve realized that my health and wellbeing is more important than trying to fit the mold.

Furthermore, my challenges have made me stronger. I’m not afraid to explore or push myself anymore and little things don’t phase me as much. I firmly believe that well my autism has brought challenges to my life abroad, it has also taught me so much.

So here’s to all the ladies that don’t look like the travelers in stock photos. You might not be as well represented, but you’re just as valuable and interesting.

Travel Right Now Is Inaccessible To Autistic Travelers. Does It Have To Be?

Travel Right Now Is Inaccessible To Autistic Travelers. Does It Have To Be?

The loud noises string through my ears like painful bee stings, buzzing and turning my head into mush. It is hard for me to focus what with all the loud noises and crowds of people. My feet shake and I move slowly as the line churns on for seemingly forever.

I sweat and tremble as I wait my turn to check the luggage. Quiet areas are nonexistent here, there’s no exits or escape routes for people like me. When I get on the plane, my eyes are overflowed with bright lights and stuffy air. I try to destress, but there is nowhere to move or be alone with zero legroom and close armrests.

This is my daily travel life. It is unpleasant, but I survive it. Many autistic people do not. Not because they can’t handle it, but because these hotels and airports are simply not built for them. For all the new burgers bars, smoking areas, and even movie theaters in train stations and airports quiet or destress areas that are free of charge are hard to come by. Hotels also can pose some sensory issues for some and many tourist destinations are a challenge for autistic people due to large crowds and no areas to relax.

The messages these hotel send whether conscious or not are there: autistic people need not apply. That’s quite an assumption to make I realize, but it’s true. You might be quick to argue that this is just simply the way of travel. That large crowds, uncomfortable housing, and noise are just inevitable. Maybe… but certainly there are ways we could make this whole process easier for autistic people right? Noise, large amounts of sweaty people, and sensory overload might be close relatives to travel, but I would argue that still doesn’t mean we can’t accommodate more autistic travelers.

One problem that would be easy to remedy is the airport issue. The bright lights, crowds, and overwhelming smells make many airports an unpleasant place for autistic people. For long layovers, a stay in the airport can be especially troublesome. Yet in large airports, quiet spaces reserved for disabled people and those pregnant could easily be made. Small areas with low lighting and limited sound could be a lifesaver for those on the spectrum, and also benefit others too.

Furthermore, many autistic travelers have complained about TSA and other security guards at airports. Many TSA agents mistakenly interrupt autistic traits such as lack of eye contact as suspicious. This problem could easily be remedied by training agents on how to handle neurodiverse travelers.

Hotels can also offer a guiding hand to guests by not necessarily creating new rooms, but by showing autistic people where the quieter rooms are and giving tips on when housekeeping and other interruptions may happen.

And well we can’t control the crowds, having some sort of skipping the line style tour group specifically geared toward those on the spectrum would be a godsend. Trip plans and guides designed for autistic people, or even just those who want a “low stress” trip would be welcome ideas. And before you go on about how this sort of dream is too pie in the sky, consider that some places have already done it. Namely, Disney Parks.

Most, if not all, Disney parks offer accommodations specifically geared towards those with disabilities such as access to break areas and the option to skip lines. Additionally, Disney provides a guide on how disabled travelers and their family can prepare for the trip. I’ve been to Disneyland many times and I’ve personally never found the need to use these accommodations, but I know that for many other autistic people they are a life-saver. Plus, knowing that the option is there if I wanted to do it puts me at ease.

If you think this sort of accessibility could be limited only to controlled parks, consider a certification program created called Certified Autism Travel Professional, which helps travel guides understand how to plan more autism friendly trips all over the world. Whether it’s a domestic trip to New York City or a long flight to Singapore, the people with the certification can help. Programs like this prove accessible travel is not impossible.

My question to people who say accommodating autistic travelers at hotels or parks is too difficult is that if hotel workers and tour guides can learn several different languages to accommodate tourists, why can’t they embark on a simple training course on how to help autistic people? Why can’t airports transform unused areas into quiet spaces instead of bars? Why is making access to autistic people so difficult for travel agencies, hotels, and airlines when far more expensive and time-consuming endeavors have been achieved by these groups?

I truly don’t understand why accessibility cannot be achieved by these groups or for that matter, why it isn’t considered profitable. Many autistic travelers would love to see the world. Why not let them?

Staying In A Hostel On The Spectrum

Staying In A Hostel On The Spectrum

For many autistic people the idea of staying in a hostel sounds like a horror story waiting to happen. Even for many non autistic people, a night in a hostel can seem intimidating and even terrifying. This is especially true for women and other marginalized groups who may be more at risk for dangerous situations well traveling. Even people who have zero sensory difficulties and are social butterflies may still refuse to touch a hostel with a ten foot pole. For many people, in particular Americans, the idea of sleeping in a room full of strangers is horrifying.

Nevertheless, the budget friendly option remains extremely popular with both solo and thrifty travelers alike. The option is not only appealing to many because it is dirt cheap, but also because the experience is unique. Some travelers will even actively choose to purposely stay in a hostel, even if they can afford something much nicer.

For some travelers, the experience of a hostel can actually provide numerous benefits that a typical B&B or hotel experience could not. First, the obvious: hostels are almost always the cheapest option. A typical hotel room in a large city can run up to $200 a night well, even the most luxurious hotel will typically never go beyond $80 for a dorm bed. And well you might think hostels expect you to bring everything you want yourself, many hostels these days are bringing hotel benefits without the hefty price tag such as free breakfast, Wifi, and even toiletries.

Additionally, many hostels are usually unique in style and atmosphere, debunking the idea that all hostels are bare-bones dorm rooms. Plus, you will likely have plenty of opportunities to meet other interesting travelers, thanks to the more social and open atmosphere hostels usually have. For the solo traveler, this can be a great way to find buddies to go on tours or excursions with!

Nevertheless, describe a typical hostel set up to an autistic person and you are likely to get a gasp of horror from them. I can’t speak for other autistic people, but the personal touch and shared space are usually a no-go for me. I do not like people touching my stuff and I really, really need my alone time. So having a shared space where there is a high chance I will have no private time really freaks me out.

Or at least it did.

There was a time where I refused to stay in a hostel ever. If that meant staying in an expensive hotel and losing some of my coffee money in the process, so be it. When friends asked if I ever going to stay in a hostel during Europe I would always respond “Hell no.” And to be honest, no one really fought me on it. In fact, if anything, people told me I was smart and it helped reinforce my idea that a hostel was a murder story waiting to happen.

But then I wanted to go to Milan. Like really badly. Like soon. As in everywhere to stay was crazy expensive soon (and also this is Milan, so nothing is ever really cheap). And since I would be going solo, I didn’t want to hang in Airbnb that would probably end up being just as expensive as a hotel since I wasn’t splitting the cost with others. So I started reading about staying in hostels. Doing research about what to bring and what not to bring. I read travel experiences from various blogs. And finally, I did as most of the sites had advised which was to look on Hostelworld.

Some looked exactly like what I would expect out of a hostel: cheap, basic, and dorms that were breeding grounds for bed bugs. You know, the sort of hostel you expect a drug deal to go down or a serial killer to visit. And read the reviews and there are certainly horror stories, although they are much more mundane. Tales of guests partying in dorms at 4 am, puke on the ground, and broken furniture are all terrifyingly commonly mentioned in the reviews, but these stories still a far cry from the stuff horror movies warn you about.

Others looked a little more modern and almost posh. Squeaky clean beds, and hipster-esque decor. Just watch out for the price tag. Although in fairness, a stay in a dorm with these hostels is still typically cheaper than what you would get at a broken down hotel instead.

Then there are the average ones. These are the ones that go just slightly beyond basic, and maybe have one or two neat amenities like a free late check out or a vending machine. They’re basically the La Quinta Inns & Suites of hostels. You’re not going to have any scarring tales here, but you’re also not going to have much to say about it either.

There was one that stood out, in particular because no would shut up about it. Every google search for hostels in Milan seemed to lead to sites suggesting it. My best guess is that would fit into what second category I mentioned, or as some people call them “luxury hostels.” Ostello Bello is the hostel chain and they are supposedly one of the best in the world. Everyone kept raving and raving about Ostello Bello. Travelers gushed about the lively atmosphere and boutique decor. The free bar and complimentary drinks were also a guest favorite.

The two hostels in Milan of this chain are especially talked about. In fact the original Ostello Bello downtown is considered to be by many the best hostel in Italy. Travelers from all over book their stays months in advance to stay at the beloved hostel and it’s not hard to see why. The amenities offered are hard to beat.

Eventually, I caved and booked a stay with them. Since booking at the downtown one was full and I didn’t want to stress about traveling the subway with various valuables to get there, I booked the less popular but still well-liked Ostello Bello Centrale near the main train station. It’s very similar to the one downtown, but not as close to popular tourist sights like Duomo Di Milano. In fact visiting the other one for a tour gave me the impression they were almost the same in terms of decor and vibes. So I was sure to still be in for a free drink and some memorable moments.

But truth be told, what drew me into the hostel wasn’t the Instagram worthy decor or even the promise of a free cappuccino. It was the promise of security.

One feature, or really many features that drew me into Ostello Bello Centrale was the sense of safety. Obviously, feeling secure about your belongings and physical should be the bare minimum, so of course it was important to me that Ostello Bello made me feel like my belongings could be protected and that I wasn’t going to get murdered. But for me Ostello Bello didn’t provide safety just in the physical sense, but in the mental sense too. For one thing, the amenities provided made me feel like I was going to be a lot less stressed. I’m not talking about stuff like hammocks or a free washing machine, but stuff like USB charging ports on the bed bunks, free locks and towels, a “chill” area, and a sense of feeling at home.

As an autistic person, I am prone to what is sometimes referred to as executive dysfunction, and this can take quite a toll on my travels. It basically means my brain has a hard time keeping track of little things and you know, actually doing them. For this reason, things like organization and planning are difficult for me. Which can lead to problems when traveling and packing beforehand. I’m very prone to forget important things, miss crucial steps, and misunderstand directions or guides. So when my executive function leads me into a situation where I forget my toothbrush or my charger it can be very stressful for me and even lead to a panic attack.

So having the safety of having toiletries provided if I forgot them gives me so much ease. Having USB ports so I don’t have to stress about forgetting my adapter makes me feel way less nervous about traveling. Furthermore, walking into the hostel and feeling like I’m close to home makes me relaxed.

So the extra price tag that came with Ostello Bello was worth it to me. But of course, even with these things promised, I still had butterflies in my stomach. Would the people be weird/dangerous? Would I not get any sleep? Would sharing a dorm be too overwhelming for me?

Thankfully, I’m happy to say that my hostel stay went perfectly well. In fact, it was pretty dang awesome. Sharing dorm rooms wasn’t too bad since the way they were set up I felt I had a bit of privacy and all the people I met were actually pretty cool. It was sadly kinda noisy, but I survived thanks to coming armed with a pair of noise cancelling headphones. This is one of the things I think is a must for autistic people staying hostels. Noise cancelling headphones or earplugs will be a lifesaver, trust me.

Hostel life was actually pretty normal, if not more fun than staying at a hotel. I got to play board games with a teacher, and found a companion to go to the canals with me. If I had stayed in a regular hotel, I doubt these things would’ve happened. I’m not an extrovert or social butterfly either, meeting these cool people just sort of happened which I think says a lot about how welcoming the hostel environment was.

Of course, there were definitely some stressful things about the hostel too. For one, I definitely don’t think I could’ve stayed in a dorm room long-term as I think I would’ve eventually gotten stressed not having my own space. Plus, I’m not a huge fan of the whole party vibe that comes with a lot of hostels. If you want a glass or two of alcohol that’s fine, but when it’s 3am on Tuesday let’s keep the drinks and music to a minimum please? So there are definitely sometimes where I think a hostel stay would be less than ideal for me.

But the good news is many hostels are providing the option these days to take advantage of the vibes and amenities without staying in the dorm room. Many hostels offer private rooms, so you can stay alone in a bedroom. This is quite appealing to me and nice. The only big downside is that the price is usually significantly higher. I think that this still is a good way to stay in a hostel without as much stress though!

Overall though, even with the dorm room things were great! I would definitely stay in a hostel again and despite all the horror stories, hostels aren’t really that bad.

Quiet Please! Dealing With Discomfort And Change In Italy

Quiet Please! Dealing With Discomfort And Change In Italy

Every night at approximately 11:00 pm, I tuck myself into bed and slowly fall asleep. And every night at 12:00 am my slumber is interrupted by the sound of construction beginning. Yes, you read that right. Construction at 12:00 am. They tumble away with their noisy tools, presumably fixing (or are they tearing down?) the broken escalator nearby. The noise creaks into our apartment and wakes everyone up. The worse part? In Italy, construction workers aren’t the only ones awake at night.

The nasty bugs come in droves at night, squeezing their way for windows and sucking on our blood at night aggressively. The little blood sucking demons are known to most as mosquitoes and they seem to be uniquely viscous in Italy. It doesn’t matter how much bug spray you use: you will inevitably end up with at least one bug bite on your skin in the morning. Thanks to warm weather in Perugia, these devils have also yet to leave the house.

Needless to say thanks to sensory overload from the construction and well…mosquitoes(I don’t think this is a problem for just autistic people but literally everyone) I have spent many sleepless nights here. I am homesick but not in the way you might expect. I suppose I am homesick in the most selfish way. I yearn for my perfectly quiet apartment back home, which is just right in temperature and mosquito free.

In Italy everything feels so different. Many things that brought me comfort and helped calm my anxiety back home no longer exist. I can’t do laundry last minute anymore for example, because the clothes here have to air dry for at least a couple hours instead of being tossed into a dryer for an hour like at home. I can’t always listen to music or watch Youtube videos that make me laugh or relax because the Wi-Fi here is spotty. Time zone differences also mean friends at home aren’t always available to talk. All the little things that I have taken for granted are gone and I must adapt.

So how does one girl like me, adjust to it all? By getting creative. First, I use my special headphones. I must say that I am eternally grateful that I made the decision to purchase noise cancelling before my trip. These things have become life savers in the night, and I will forever love them. Second, I have created a mock air conditioning system on cold days where I utilize a cup of ice and a fan to create cool air. Well it still pales in comparison to the beauty that is home air conditioning, it does the job.

Finally, I use a few unique coping tools some of which include:

  • A quiet area
  • Youtube videos (when the wifi is working)
  • A book (when the wifi is broke)
  • A playlist of white noise sounds
  • Mediation apps
  • A digital journal to complain when need be
  • If all else fails, gelato helps.

These coping skills might sound silly, even strange to some but they have helped me survive. They aren’t just little tools, but practically required for me to be alright and not a complete mess in Italy.

Sometimes it is easy for us to opt for normalcy over our well-being. But it’s okay to have “strange ways” to cope or to alter your schedule a bit when you are challenged. Being in a new country has tested my patience greatly and part of overcoming that struggle for me has meant I have to be willing to allow myself to take extra breaks and relax. I’ve learned it’s okay to have an extra cup of coffee every now and then, or to indulge in extra episode of a Netflix series. Because it’s alright to need some down time, especially when you’re abroad.

Getting Real About Travel And Accepting My Limits

Getting Real About Travel And Accepting My Limits

A close up of a lush green mountain in Italy. Above the mountain is a blue sky.

Go get lost in the city! Buy some gelato! Go “off the beaten path.” These are all things I’ve heard from friends and seen on travel advice blogs before when it comes to traveling. If you have ever traveled internationally before or mentioned studying abroad, you’ve likely heard these things too. If you’re a young twenty something crazy adventures are often encouraged when traveling. This can be anything from cliff-diving to conversing with strangers in a bar alone. All of these things are exciting and certainly worth considering, but rarely does anyone talk about the risks and negatives of traveling like this.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend where travel has been increasingly glamorized and sugarcoated. Movies and best selling books have already been doing this for decades, but the rise of social media has only helped to amplify our love for romanticizing international travel and backpacking around the world even more. Instagram for example, has helped showcase the most beautiful spots around the world and by extension, encouraged travelers to post only the most stunning pictures. This visual focused culture has turned travel blogging and photography into something where only the most picturesque and non offensive stories are successful.

Search travel on Instagram and you’ll likely find vibrant photos of girls in aesthetically pleasing minivans and breathtaking views of oceans from high up the cliffs. Captions will often tell short stories of dreamy adventures, where the author tries the best coffee in the world and also meets a friendly local who shows them the city on the same day.

Misfortune is often left out entirely or heavily downplayed. The scam attempts are turned into humorous stories for readers to laugh at and they usually end with the author getting Gelato or arriving back at their five star hotel.

In short, travel stories these days are all about making your friends jealous and your fans yearning to follow in your footsteps. Travel posts of today could even be arguably considered to function the same way as advertisements do.

Now I’m not going to pretend that I’m “above” this sort of travel culture. I absolutely adore “Wanderlust” photos of the world and dreamy stories about travelers finding love abroad. In fact, I actually just finished up writing a story for a publication about Instagram worthy vacation spots.

But I do wish we saw more realistic travel stories too. I also wish that there was less of a pressure to travel “the right way.” So many fellow travelers have told me that there is only one certain way to experience the “real” version of some country or that you need purposely get lost to have a “unique” experience.

But for travelers like me, that can be frustrating. My autism, for example, makes traveling to places like hostels often stressful or juggling a train system extra confusing. “Winging it” can mean disaster for me, thanks to my disorganized brain. For example, I recently learned that multiple train switches are a big no-no for me. For most travelers, a switch or two on a train is no big deal.

But for me, to travel alone with train switches was extremely stressful and I often found myself missing trains thanks to Italy’s confusing train system. I don’t care if it means paying a higher price: my ticket to Milan is going to be direct. Likewise, I’ll pay for the pricier women only hostel with smaller rooms when I need a place to stay. Not because I want a bougie experience, but because that nice hostel has soundproof rooms, multiple charging ports, and high security, all of which helps put my anxious brain at ease.

Speaking of high prices, accommodating myself does often mean spending more. Because often, unfortunately things that are necessities for my autistic brain are often considered “luxuries” for non autistic people. Thus, if I want to avoid a sensory overload or even potentially a meltdown, I often have to pay more. Sometimes this means a couple extra Euros. Sometimes this means the difference between the price of a cheap pizza and a fine dining experience.

But to me this is all worth it. Because for me it means the difference between thriving and barely surviving. I used to believe that I needed to travel like most other college students and follow what all the travel guides told me to do. I felt I had to stay in hostels, travel the cheapest train, and explore cities with no guide or map. But now I realize it’s okay to travel with a little more caution and a detailed plan. I don’t have to “get lost” in the heart of the city to have a good time traveling.

You can still have a meaningful adventure without pushing your limits too much. And it’s absolutely okay if your travel experience doesn’t look like your Instagram feed or Pinterest travel board. So don’t get too caught up in traveling the “right way” or filling your stories on social media with amazing views. Ultimately travel is about you, not your followers.

But for those of you who prefer taking photos of your backpacking travels that go perfectly on your Instagram, keep living that life if that’s what you love! For me though, I think I’ll be avoiding the #vanlife for now.

What It’s Like Learning A New Language on the Spectrum

What It’s Like Learning A New Language on the Spectrum

At this moment, billions of people around the world are trying to learn a new language. Whether it is English to survive in an area heavily populated with Americans or Mandarin to open up new business opportunities, plenty of people are learning new languages. But these days people aren’t just learning languages to survive, but as a hobby. Many languages popular to learn like French or German aren’t particularly “useful” if you live in the United States, yet they remain beloved by many Americans because many of us find the languages to be fascinating. Regardless of whether you learn Mandarin or Latin, you’ll still reap benefits.

Learning a new language has been shown to improve cognitive thinking, boost creativity, and even potentially offset dementia. There are numerous benefits that come with being a bilingual citizen, not the least of which is being able to communicate with more people around the world. It’s no wonder then that numerous people have begun downloading language apps like Duolingo and enrolling in night classes for the subject.

Even the United States which has traditionally been wary of other languages recently has had many American public high schools add a foreign language to their graduation requirements. Learning a new language has become less of a unique interest and more of a common pursuit that everyone is expected to attempt at least once. These days everyone wants to be bilingual.

But despite the fact that numerous language apps and classes exist these days, not everyone who wants to learn a language is accommodated equally. Those with learning differences, in particular, those on the autism spectrum may find learning a new language difficult. Not because they are incapable of doing so, but because many foreign languages are unequipped to handle autistic students. Some schools even prevent autistic students like me from trying.

In high school, I had to fight tooth and nail to learn a language. On my Individualized Education Plan, the language requirement was originally waived. However, I wanted to try anyway. Eventually, I was able to do so, but it took a lot of convincing. Many people believed my disability would make learning a new language extremely difficult or next to impossible. Well, I do believe that my autism has made learning a new language more difficult it is certainly not impossible.

My experience learning Italian has been hard, but not impossible. One thing I have noticed that I believe my autism has affected is my speaking and listening skills. For example, I consider my writing skills to be intermediate but my speaking and listening to be beginner level. I think this is in part due to the fact that I overthink things and also struggle to focus on a particular sound when there are numerous distractions.

Even focusing on an English speaker in a large crowd can be troublesome for me. This is why I found it extremely frustrating when my oral placement test for my study abroad program in Italy was situated in a crowded room where sounds echoed. We were all doing the speaking test at the same time, so the room was very noisy. For me, this made it difficult to understand what my tester was saying.

I also struggle with picking up on social cues, so this can make it harder for me to figure out exactly what someone is saying. Additionally, I often utilize what many autistic people call “scripting” when going out. This basically means I have a set of lines I can say when I order a coffee or interact with a store clerk, for example. Having a general idea of how the conversation will go helps keep me at ease. But in Italy, I don’t have a script and this makes even casual interactions difficult.

Still, despite all this, I believe that I have had success in learning the language. I don’t believe it is at all a pipe dream for autistic people to learn a new language. One thing I did wonder though, is how exactly does autism affect how we learn a new language? That’s why I set out to ask other autistic people how they felt about it. In general, I found many people had similar problems to me where they felt that autism had made speaking difficult.

My spoken French and Russian are so much worse than my written abilities. The stress in choosing the right phrasing and the fear of being wrong led to anxiety about language lunches and class participation, and shame when I made mistakes or misunderstood. I felt like people didn’t recognize the level of proficiency I’d reached if they only spoke with me.


Some autistic people mentioned having trouble “going off script.”

So I can buy drinks/food at a restaurant and buy train tickets and ask for directions and stuff as we learned those scripts. But conversation? Unless you want me to describe my physical features or those of my family & repeat my fave things? No chance!


But not all autistic people struggled to learn a new language. In fact many believe that their autism helped them focus and pick up on grammar rules faster.

So foreign languages have been my biggest and most consistent special interest, and I’ve always had an easier time with them than most of my classmates (HS and college), which besides the part where I’m good at rote memorization seems to mostly come from being better at recognizing and unlearning English-specific constructions.


Overall though, in general I found that autistic people seemed to do well in areas like writing but struggle in areas like listening. But despite these difficulties the amount of people that responded to my question proves that obviously many autistic people want to and can learn a new language. Because of this, I’m a firm believer that anyone should learn a foreign language, even if they are on the spectrum.

My First Day Abroad, Dealing With Culture Shock And New Expectations

My First Day Abroad, Dealing With Culture Shock And New Expectations

I want to tell you that my first day abroad was spectacular. That I arrived off the plane with a windy breeze blowing through my hair as I walked by a glorious sunset. That I observed the beautiful nature and had gelato in a beautiful cafe. The truth is much less pretty.

When I arrived, my body immediately began to sweat in reaction to the heat. My hair poofed up into a mess to work with the humidity. It is an unfamiliar experience of my body, and sets off several alarms. I feel my blood pressure rise as the flaming sun scorches my skin. I did not enjoy gelato by a sunset, instead spending most of my day fumbling through the train ticket machine at the sparsely air conditioned airport. The noises from the crowds ring through my ears, distracting me from the task at hand. It burrows through my skin like a mosquito biting its prey. When I manage to get my train ticket, disaster strikes.

I hovel my luggage into the train, gathering judgmental looks as my 3 months worth of clothes inevitably takes up space. When my stop comes, I foolishly miss it. I am forced to get off at the next stop and take the train back the other way. This is when I learn that accessibility is not standard in Italy. To cross I must take a long flight of stairs up to a bridge. There is no elevator.

The walk up is long and hard with my luggage. I nearly sweat to death as it happens. I can only imagine how unpleasant the experience is for physically disabled people? If they are in a wheelchair, what do they do? I imagine public transportation must be very difficult for them or even next to impossible in Italy.

When the train finally arrives, I am fortunate enough to not make the same mistake again. I hop off at the correct stop and check into my hotel for the night. When I arrive in my thankfully air conditioned room, it is like heaven. The room is quiet and away from the noise. To the average person, it may not seem like much, but as an autistic person it is a haven. For just a moment, I am safe from the loud noise and heat that had just been inflicted on me.

Thank god for soundproof rooms.

Any noise cancelling is a godsend for autistic people. The world simply put, is much too loud for us and is often times more of a hazy hell than a colorful spectacle of noise. Well, I can’t speak for other autistic people, for me crowds and lots of various noises mess with my brain. It’s like having a radio frequency set not quite right; I can hear things, but can’t exactly make out what’s happening. Essentially, I can’t process what is going on. So escaping the noise allows me to actually have a working brain again.

The rest of the day was (perhaps thankfully) uneventful to say the least. I spent most of it in the hotel room and exploring the nearby suburban esque shopping mall. Since my hotel was not actually in Rome, I did not have much to do except explore the small area. I considered briefly taking a short trip to Rome via train, but felt unsafe doing so alone. Also, after the whole ticket fiasco, I was a bit scared to use the ticketing system again.

So after a long day, I headed to my hotel room and went to sleep. In the morning I ate breakfast and then took a bus to the city I was studying in. Visiting Perugia the next day was very much refreshing. The smaller city is much less chaotic than Rome and quieter. However, this does not mean the culture shock was over. I still had to adjust to living somewhere where a different language is commonly spoken, scammers are more frequent, and air conditioning is not standard. These might seem like small squabbles to some, but for me they were a huge adjustment. 

Let’s take, for example, scammers. Now I am fortunate enough to live in a city at home where scammers are a rare occurrence. However, in Italy my American accent and tourist vibe makes me a prime target for scammers. Now nobody likes scams, but the ones here are shockingly persistent. They engage in clever tactics and often won’t respond to “no” or for that matter, even ignoring them.

My sensory issues make these sort of scams, especially stressful. The ones here are very touchy, and as I said before, persistent. Unsolicited touch is extremely stressful, so obviously the fact these people are also trying to scam me for money is even more uncomfortable. I have learned very quickly, ignoring them is not enough. If I see someone trying to hand out items or talk to tourists, I will not only go out of my way to avoid eye contact and talking, but will actually try to get as far away from them if possible.

Luckily, I’ve been able to adapt slowly to these changes, but it’s definitely been a process. When we are abroad, many people, including some family members mistake the experience for a glorified vacation. Social media hasn’t helped discourage this image either. Most #studyabroad photos are filled with beautiful architecture, gelato, and magical seemingly paths. Few people are posting photos of the trash on the streets, writing captions on how they struggle to communicate, or sharing selfies after a long hot day. That kind of stuff doesn’t get much likes.

This is not to say life in a new country is unpleasant. It is absolutely beautiful and those nice photos you see are not lies. But they also aren’t the whole truth. Studying abroad is so much more than a long vacation, it’s an experience and a challenge. It is so much more than just a short excursion, and I believe that is especially true for people like me who are autistic and thus face additional challenges abroad.

As I mentioned before, my sensory issues have caused problems in Italy. But these extra struggles have also helped me grow. It’s also shown me how far I’ve come. Years ago, I couldn’t have imagined doing this, but today I’m able to do it and survive. If you are autistic, I hope that the challenges I mentioned won’t scare you away from studying abroad. In fact, I believe that us autistic people can actually benefit the most of all from studying abroad.

Travel Prep And Executive Dysfunction

Travel Prep And Executive Dysfunction

Welcome to my worst nightmare: travel prep. It is required part of traveling and yet I always seem to put it off until the last minute. Travel prep always seems to be a struggle for me, thanks to executive dysfunction.

Let’s take, for example, packing. Obviously no one really enjoys packing, at least I don’t think so. So of course it only becomes more of a pain when you’re not just staying for a couple of days, but for three months. The logical thing to do for such a trip is to plan heavily in advanced and to pack everything in a neat, organized nature at least several days before.

But of course, my autistic brain is not interested in planning. My usual packing routine is this, procrastinate for several days, panic when I realize I have little time left, pack everything in a cluttered manner, and inevitably forget something important. Basically executive dysfunction, always comes into play when I pack.

TSA rules also don’t help my autistic brain. For United States travelers, we have to deal with a whole list of things we can and cannot bring in our carry on luggage. These things aren’t just obvious stuff like knives and guns. It’s also some unusual stuff like the liquid limit rule. The 3.4 Oz rule is what always gets me. I seem to always idiotically pack sunscreen or a filled water bottle in my carry on luggage, which of course sets off the alarm. This always leads to embarrassment and of course, and shows that my last minute packing has consequences.

But for study abroad, I decided to change my packing method. Or at least try to pack things a little more efficiently. So I am starting prepping earlier than usual (for me, that means not the day before). I even brought those fancy little travel cubes for my checked bag. Surprisingly, they actually did help me stay more organized and save some space.

It might sound obvious to some people to neatly organize everything into little categories when they pack, but for me it’s not. I usually just throw stuff in, only bothering to separate bathroom stuff like shampoo and soap. The cubes forced me to actually separate stuff and actually think about what I was putting in my bag.

My bags are still far from #Instaworthy, but it’s a start. I definitely feel more comfortable, though actually taking them abroad now. So here’s to packing cubes and prepping in advance.

Of course, there’s still plenty of other parts of travel prep. One such thing I do that might not be common for non autistic people is mentally prepare myself for security. TSA is basically horrible for autistic people. The bright lights, crowds, and stressful security prompts make it all a nightmare for autistic people. It doesn’t help either that many TSA agents are untrained on how to deal with autistic people like myself.

Autistic symptoms like lack of eye contact, shaky hands, or sensory overload, is treated with suspicion. I’ve definitely had my fair share of TSA agents mistakenly think I’m doing something illegal or prime me with extra questions. And then there’s the TSA scanners, my god the scanners.

Ruining privacy since 1995.

These things straight out of hell have been upping my flying anxiety since they came out. I am a very private person and I don’t like the idea of people ogling me or staring at my body. So you can imagine then, why I’m not too fond of the TSA’s special scanners which allow strangers to basically strip the clothes off my skin digitally. It doesn’t help they look straight out of a tech dystopian movie. The creepy looking things always manage to give me the heebie jeebies.

The good news is that you can opt of out of it. The bad news is that you must do an alternative where a TSA agent pats you down. This is just as hellish in my opinion, if not worse. Touch is also something most autistic people don’t enjoy. So for autistic people, TSA security is basically a pick your poison. Do you want to go through a virtual strip search or do you want to have some stranger touching you all over? Neither is ideal.

So thanks to the anxiety that the TSA brings, I’ve started prepping the day before. This usually involves some mediation, use of calming apps, and good sleep the night before. If possible I usually try to avoid the crowds by arriving early and going to the security section that has the shortest wait time (There’s a particular security checkpoint in Denver’s airport that is a godsend). Technology is also a godsend for me, as it enables me to use apps as tools to calm me down.

Some of the apps I use include Color Therapy, a coloring app I use to stim discretely, and an Emergency Chat App which enables me to give the phone to someone I trust and communicate via text. I also utilize some anxiety focused apps such as #Calmdown, an aesthetically pleasing app that offers mediation techniques and calming mini-games. These apps have all been extremely beneficial when I’m flying.

I also make sure to pack snacks and a small stim toy such as a squishy or a stress ball in my carry-on. That way when I’m hungry, I have easy access to food and I can stim if I need to. Coming prepared with these items has helped immensely.

I personally have these methods to be immensely helpful in my travels. Here’s to hoping that my new packing routine is also beneficial in the long run. Do you have any methods you utilize to prepare for flying? I personally have found that despite all my woes, good travel prep is something I need to survive flying.

I’m Going To Write About My Experience Abroad On The Spectrum And Here’s Why.

I’m Going To Write About My Experience Abroad On The Spectrum And Here’s Why.

In a couple of days, I will be taking off to Rome, Italy. There I will stay in a quaint hotel near the airport for a day or so, after which I will take a shuttle provided by the school to a small city called Perugia. The Italian city is known for its hilly roads and local atmosphere which attracts students like me to it. When I arrive in the cozy city, I’ll move into an apartment that is older than me and study Italian for three months. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have butterflies in my stomach right now. 

Sure, there is plenty to be excited about too, the town offers the opportunity to actually practice Italian and from what I’ve heard, the gelato is stellar. But the town is also completely different from the United States. And because it’s a smaller city, English is also much less commonly spoken. 

This is to be expected, of course, and my university gave us ample opportunity to prepare for the inevitable culture shock. From mandatory departure sessions to resources for LGBT students and students of color, there was plenty of opportunity to prepare yourself for the trip abroad. There has been just one thing left off the study abroad guide that I’ll need: Autism. 

For students on the spectrum, our resources for studying abroad are limited. My university mentions disability in passing on a lengthy guide, warning students that not all countries have disability laws similar to the United States. It’s very one size fits all, vaguely mentioning that ramps may not exist at the university that students go to and that students should check to make sure their medication is available abroad. There’s no specifics on certain disabilities, or at least sections that focus on physical disability and mental disability separately. 

As for the university that I’ll be studying at in Italy, they don’t even bother to mention disability at all in their guide. They do thankfully offer accommodations, but there is no exact guide for disabled students. In contrast, there are sections for students who are religious and students who are LGBT+. Both of those sections provide detailed guides on laws that may apply to them and what the culture surrounding those identities are like. But there’s next to nothing on what being disabled abroad is like. Which might be understandable if this was an Italian university, but my program is managed by an American group. 

When it comes to finding information about disability abroad, students are often forced to search hard for it on their own. And even then, what is found may be lacking. Reaching out to study abroad counselors did little to help me prepare for Italy as a student on the spectrum, unfortunately, since most of them didn’t really know how to help. I had hoped that the Internet would be my saving grace, but online resources were vague. Most of the were articles encouraging students on the spectrum to study abroad or travel guides aimed at families with autistic kids. Few actually provided advice for autistic students traveling and even fewer were actually from autistic students documenting their experiences. 

That’s why I decided that when I go abroad, I am going to document my experiences as a student on the spectrum. My blog by no means is meant to be one size fits all, my experiences are my own and no one else’s. But I can hope to provide insight for other students on the spectrum who wish to study abroad. My aim is to help autistic students and parents of these people be more prepared and have a better idea of what sensory challenges there may be well traveling long term. I’d also like to provide insight for people not too familiar with autism on what it is like to experience it first hand. Hopefully this blog can be of service to those curious about autism abroad, and maybe provide some nice photos of pizza along the way.