The planning and preparation for traveling via plane come with their challenges. These are only amplified when you’re also dealing with an invisible disability. In this episode, Whitney Lauritsen opens up about how she’s navigating her neurodivergence in the context of travel. Whitney will be flying out for the first time since 2019. With all the self-discovery and new things she’s learned about herself since then, plus the new rules surrounding flights due to the pandemic, she will be letting us into her process and preparations. She shares things you can do to improve the experience, along with some tools and gadgets she uses. Plus, Whitney opens up about the prejudice regarding invisible disabilities like ADHD and ASD and why it’s important to advocate for yourself.
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Traveling With An Invisible Disability
I’m recording this episode on July 2nd, 2022 and in a few days, I will be traveling by plane for the first time in several years. I’m going to share that in this episode. July 4th, 2022 is interesting because it feels different after everything that’s happened in this country. I recorded an episode sharing some of my feelings about Roe v. Wade.
When I was recording that, I found myself having trouble verbalizing a lot of the things that I was feeling and didn’t feel fully comfortable with the way that I was expressing them. I did want to make a note of it, even though that’s not the main topic in this episode. I felt a lot of sadness and confusion. I also felt like it gave me an opportunity to better understand politics. I also got a lot of perspective on the things that marginalized communities have been facing and how I have so much privilege as a White woman to feel a rare moment where I feel like I don’t have as much autonomy or feeling as my rights are taken away.
One thing I’ve heard from a lot of women of color talking about is how this almost didn’t feel like a surprise or a shock to them because of everything that they’ve gone through. It brought up a lot of intense emotions. I felt for days after the Supreme Court decision a lot of emotional heaviness. The episode I recorded was in the midst of it and days later, I don’t know if I feel numb to it or I just don’t feel the intensity quite as much. It’s an interesting time. This feels a little off, I suppose.
Days have been intense and exhausting for me. Not only am I getting ready for this trip. Behind me is a bed and on that bed, I am organizing all of my packing for travel. I have clothes back there and all of the things I’ve laid out for this trip. It brought me a lot of joy to do that. I started packing for this trip earlier, which is amusing to me because I love to prep way ahead of time. If you know me, anytime I’ve talked about trips, I talk about things that I’m buying, packing and thinking about. There have been times that that has been quite stressful and part of the stress was that I had to do a lot of prep work-wise and career-wise.
If you didn’t know this about me, the majority of my income comes from being hired by various companies, individuals, a lot of small business owners and startups, as well as entrepreneurs. Creative types hire me mostly to support social media marketing but I’ve expanded my knowledge and experience to a lot of different types of marketing. One of the reasons I’m traveling is to go to Costa Rica and I’m so excited. In this episode, I’ll share more details. I teased it a little. Did I even say where I was going yet? I’m not sure but I haven’t shared any details about why I’m going or where I’m going.
I’m going to Costa Rica to be part of a retreat that I was hired to help market and it’s been an amazing experience for me. I was involved with a retreat back in 2014. If you have known me for that long, maybe you remember this. It was with Jason, FullyRaw Kristina, Koya Webb and our friend Amber, who’s married to JP Sears. Amber used to lead retreats in Costa Rica so she invited me, Jason, Kristina and Koya to be part of this retreat. It was a bit of a regret for me because I didn’t end up going.
There was a lot of confusion happening around that retreat. It didn’t come together very easily. Now that I know more about myself and the way my brain works, I recognize why I didn’t go. I’ll tell you a little about the story real quick to lead up to this new retreat. I had known Amber Zuckswert for many years. That was her last name before she got married. We met when I was living in San Francisco. I was doing the fruitarian way of eating a lot of raw food, which was her focus. I’m not sure if she still eats that way.
We became good friends and then when I moved back to LA, we stayed in touch. She then moved to Costa Rica and started doing these retreats. I had met Kristina previous to this retreat experience. Jason and I were dating at the time. I might have known Koya a little bit but I got to know her mostly through that retreat experience. Amber organized it together. I was super involved in helping promote it and developed classes. I was going to teach about the eco-friendly lifestyle. It felt like an extremely stressful travel experience for me.
Funny enough, now that I travel so much, this might seem odd but in the past, I would get a lot of resistance to travel. I still do. I’m going to Costa Rica for this trip and I felt not a ton of resistance coming out because it was a work opportunity. That retreat with Amber was as well but maybe I was in a very different time of my life. There are some challenges with the flights. I remember getting to Costa Rica started to feel overwhelming and confusing.
I don’t recall what it is at this moment but something was up in the air. I had so much anxiety about it and didn’t feel supported. Whether or not the reality of support was there, I didn’t feel it. I didn’t get the comfort or information I needed. These are all very vague memories. At the last minute, I decided not to go to Costa Rica. Jason still went. Kristina, Koya and Amber were all there. They had the best time. I remember looking at their photos and feeling a lot of mixed feelings because even though I knew I didn’t feel comfortable traveling, I wish that I had been able to overcome that.
I ended up teaching my classes virtually. They set up a camera for me at the retreat and I presented it to the group there but it was challenging. There were a lot of mental and emotional challenges with that experience. The other big thing that I regret is Jason’s friends who are now my friends got married in Costa Rica either right before the retreat or right after. They got married at this beautiful place. It was like a butterfly pavilion or something like that.
Their whole wedding was butterfly-themed and it sounded magical. I regret not being there for their wedding, especially as they become even better friends of mine. Jason did go. It was one of those times where I wish that the situation had worked out differently. When I got this opportunity to be part of this retreat in a very different way because I’m not teaching at this retreat, I’m helping the creator of the retreat or the organizer finds ways to effectively market it.
It feels like it’s an opportunity for me to do something that didn’t feel like the right timing or the right situation many years ago. That’s an interesting element of it. I’ve never been to Costa Rica. It makes me a little nervous going into a brand new country. The last time I traveled internationally was when I went to Greece, which I believe was in 2018. A guy I was dating at the time invited me out there. I remember also having so much resistance. Even though I wanted to go to Greece, it was hard for me but I’m so glad I pushed through the emotional obstacles that I face sometimes with travel to go because it was a phenomenal experience. I’m crossing my fingers hoping that Costa Rica would be the same.
After Costa Rica, I am flying back to Los Angeles so I can get another plane to go to Singapore because my dad is out there for business. That was probably a harder emotional obstacle for me because it was a decent amount of money to fly there. The flights out there were pricey and it was overlapping with the Costa Rica trip. My dad’s going to Singapore for twelve days or something. I was hoping to go for half the time, 5 or 6 days but the Costa Rica opportunity came up so to make it work, I had to go immediately from Costa Rica out there.
That’s also special for me and it’s important for me on a few levels. Mainly that when I was about fourteen years old, my dad took me to Australia. We had this amazing trip for business. He was probably even with the same company that he’s going to Singapore with. He brought me to Australia with him and it was so special. This time, I feel like I’m getting another opportunity that I had never even thought I would get again with my dad because he usually travels with my mom.
For him to invite me, I felt like I couldn’t say no. Even though I felt some resistance and fears coming up, I knew I needed to make it work. What I’m getting paid for the Costa Rica trip I’m using to cover my Singapore travels. It all worked out where I’m doing two trips virtually for free. That’s pretty neat. It sounds great but I want to be honest, it’s tough for me.
What I Learned About My Neurodivergence
Part of what I want to share is the experience of planning these trips. I can tell you about some of the cool things that I got and also some things that I’m learning, especially when it comes to neurodivergence. I’ll start with that. I feel like the more I learn about being on the autism spectrum, as well as ADHD, it opened my eyes to a lot of the challenges that I’ve felt emotionally and mentally throughout my whole life but didn’t understand why. I hear so many people who have had a late-in-life diagnosis.
I don’t even know if late in life is the right term because I don’t feel like I’m late in life. Considering that a lot of people get diagnosed with some neurodivergence, early on a lot of kids, for example, get diagnosed with ADHD or autism, feels like it’s often considered to be something that you’re working through in childhood. I haven’t heard a lot of adults talk about their experiences or getting a late diagnosis. Now, I feel like I see it everywhere.It's okay to do things that you're not fully aligned with if they do help you cope and get by. Click To Tweet
TikTok is very popular to talk about ADHD so sometimes it feels a little trendy but it reminds me of when I figured out my gluten sensitivity. I haven’t given this a ton of thought but when I first cut gluten out of my diet, I remember questioning a lot and thinking, “Am I sensitive to gluten or is this my head? Am I doing it because it’s a trend?”
I felt vulnerable talking about it. I remember I wrote some blog posts and I don’t know if somebody commented or if in my research I kept coming across. A lot of people say, “You don’t need to eat gluten-free unless you’re allergic to it. Such a small percentage of people are allergic. If you’re eating gluten-free, it’s just a trend.” I still hear this but I know I’m so confident and clear that I have a gluten sensitivity.
I am suffering from eating a small amount of this gluten-filled pizza crust that I wanted to taste and I’ve been blowing my nose and sneezing. I have enough evidence and clarity but there are still parts of me that wonder, “Is it all in my head?” I’m feeling a lot of that with ADHD and autism. It feels especially challenging for me to talk about being on the autism spectrum. I feel very vulnerable because there’s so much doubt in my head since I haven’t had an official diagnosis or evaluation yet.
Also, when I first started suspecting that I had ADHD and went to my psychiatrist about that, she doesn’t think that I have ADHD which I talked about when this first happened. This was last July 2021. That was why I saw her in the first place and said, “I think I have ADHD. I’d like to be evaluated for it.” She said she couldn’t officially evaluate for me but she could assess to the best of her abilities.
After she asked me some questions and I answered them, she says, “I don’t believe you have it. You just have anxiety.” I don’t know if she called it a disorder or not but I remember feeling a bit deflated. For several months, I put that aside but all of a sudden, I start coming across all this information and then hearing about autism and thinking, “I identify and align with so much of this. Why would I want to be ADHD or on the autism spectrum?”
I don’t want to be gluten-free or have gluten sensitivity. Can I tell you how frustrated it is to not be able to comfortably eat glutinous foods? It’s so hard. I was trying to pick where to eat dinner and have to constantly check every menu and decide where my comfort is because gluten is quite challenging to avoid at certain restaurants. Part of the journey too is recognizing that if I was doing this for a trend, it’d probably feel easy to sway back and forth. Anytime I felt inconvenienced, I would eat as much gluten as I wanted.
I feel the same way about being on the autism spectrum and ADHD. Looking at all the symptoms or traits that have made my life hard. They’re not things that I enjoy. Except for the autism side of things, the way my brain works, I do get a lot of compliments. People often say, “I can’t believe you do X, Y and Z. How are you able to do that?” People point out the differences with my brain very commonly and I’ve learned to feel proud of that. I thought it was the way my brain processes things. I never would have thought it was part of any “disorder or disability.”
It’s interesting to me in the context of travel. Coming back around to that, I started to grow curious to see what type of accommodations airlines and airports had for people who are neurodivergent. I can’t remember if I looked for that information or came across somebody talking about it and that started a whole journey. I started researching this and spent a lot of time trying to see how that was treated.
Autism is considered a developmental disability. A lot of people have tons of preconceived notions and stigmas around disability but as I learned more about ableism, I don’t want to view disability. I don’t think that I feel judgmental towards people that have disabilities but maybe if I do, it is that I’m afraid of people judging me. I came across the fact that TSA, as well as many, if not most airlines, have special accommodations for autism.
What’s challenging is that a lot of those have been designed around autistic children and family members of autistic children who were traveling together. I found it hard to find out what’s in place for autistic adults but I was able to find a little. A lot of the challenges that adults have or similar to what children have is a little bit more a tendency for adults to be more capable of doing things on their own, self-aware and adapted to things.
When I understood how autism can feel, not triggered but the challenges that somebody with autism can have during a flying experience, I am recognizing that most of the time that I’ve been on an airplane, I felt all of these things but mask them or convince myself not to worry about them. Probably because as I was little, I imagined my parents either dismissed my fears, I didn’t verbalize them or they quieted them somehow. I learned to deal with them. I don’t have a ton of memories of what that was like but I did fly a good amount of times as a kid and teenager. I do have a ton of memories as an adult and a huge indicator of that is for years, I flew with Evie, my dog as an emotional support dog.
I remember after the 1st or 2nd flight doing that with her, I’m noticing how much of a difference that made. I always thought, “It’s because I feel comfortable with Evie. She’s nice to have with me,” but I would start to pick up on how I was more focused when Evie was with me. The reason I was paying so much attention to this is I felt like I had to justify why I had an emotional support dog. Technically, I did because I had to get a letter from a doctor to have an emotional support dog. I always had to call the airline ahead of time, go through a special screening and had to explain to people that he was supportive of my anxiety.
I was worried that people wouldn’t believe me. I wondered similarly to the gluten experience I shared, “Was I using her as an emotional support dog without being qualified or something?” I would study, read up on emotional support dogs and understand what it was for and the difference between service animals and all of that. I became knowledgeable. I felt like the focus and the comfort were there. I felt less anxiety and supported I suppose with Evie.
I noticed this a lot when she came into my life. For a while, it even helped with my sleep disorder. I remember I was doing less sleepwalking when I first got her. Although over time, unfortunately, I got back into my sleep rhythms. It felt like I had support for lack of a better way of describing it. Now, that I look back on the autistic challenges I’ve had and the ADHD too, without even realizing it, I was finding all these benefits of travel and having a dog with me.
Unfortunately, years ago, the airlines changed their rules and no longer allow emotional support animals. This was heartbreaking for me. This is one of the big reasons that I started driving across the country in 2020, not only did I want to go on a cross-country trip but feel less comfortable with COVID. It might have even been March 2020 or something that the airlines made that decision.
I thought, “Traveling with Evie makes such a big difference for me. I could still have her with me on a plane, as long as they say I could bring her but there’s a huge difference between emotional support or a service animal and a regular pet because pets need to be enclosed in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you.”
For me, I felt major comfort with Evie sitting on my lap. Saying that out loud, I can feel it in my body. It’s similar to how I feel with a weighted blanket. Not only does the weight of her feel comforting to me but it is her warmth and presence. She was my security if I can get it in a way. Having her under the seat would feel like a distance and a gap. It wouldn’t be the same. On top of that, they charge so much money. The huge benefit of an emotional support animal is that you can do it for free but this is why they stopped allowing it because a lot of people were abusing the system.
That’s where I got in my head too. I’m like, “Am I abusing the system?” I don’t have a visible disability. As I’m researching autism and travel, I’m seeing articles refer to it as an invisible disability and it was like, “That makes sense.” Some dogs are trained specifically for autism. There are also dogs that you can train for gluten. They are gluten-sniffing dogs so you can present food to them and they will indicate whether that food has gluten in it or not.If you don't know how to advocate for yourself and express your needs for accommodations, it can be really tough, especially if you have what's considered an invisible disability. Click To Tweet
I have this dream of getting an official service dog that’s trained for autism. I don’t know if you can train for ADHD. I’m like, “Can I get a dog that supports me with all these things that I need help with but also have an official service dog so that I could fly with them without having to go through all this old rigmarole?” I share that part of the story because that was a big eye-opener for me when it came to travel.
When I traveled without Evie on my last road trip, I didn’t just miss her but I didn’t feel the level of emotional comfort and emotional support that she provides me during travel. She helps ease a lot of my anxiety by being there. I don’t feel that with human beings. Since I struggle a lot with socializing and communication, I tend to feel very tense around human beings. Even with people that I feel are understanding, I still feel like I have to do this level of masking and performance around them. I’m still not fully at ease with other people and that’s super interesting too to notice about myself.
How I’m Preparing For My Trip
With all this said, I want to share with you a couple of things that I’m doing for these trips. First of all, you can go to the TSA website. They have a special section. I forgot what it’s called off the top of my head. It’s probably got the word disability in it. You can alert TSA. Before your flight, they recommend informing them 48 to 72 hours minimum in advance. You give them all your flight details and tell them what your disability is and what accommodations you need.
I can tell you what I wrote too if you’re curious because I wanted to think it through to make sure it was communicating properly. I’m laughing because even that, I’m learning is a bit of a neurodivergent tendency. I need to do a lot of research to figure out how to phrase things. That’s fascinating because a lot of people think it’s easy for me to communicate. I like to public speak. I do a podcast but the way my brain works is hard. I’ve become skilled at it. Even after lots of practice, it is not easy. It’s that I’ve trained myself but I still feel the resistance within me, the second-guessing and the challenges along the way.
For TSA, I wrote that I find communication, social and behavioral interactions challenging. That’s true. It gives me this butterfly feeling physically. It’s like a pulse of anxiety. Thinking about being in TSA and communicating with the people there, being around all those people and interacting with people is hard. The stress levels I get from that.
I also wrote that I’m sensitive to loud noises and voices because thinking about it, all I can hear is the loudness of it. Speaking of which, one thing I’m going to try on this trip is wearing my headphones, which a lot of people with autism tend to do. It’s very common for them to be wearing headphones to block out noise but I’m so sensitive sensory-wise. I feel like my headphones would bother me too. You probably have seen me wear them. I wear them for most episodes whenever I have a guest.
I’m fine with them in that situation but walking around with them on, we’ll see if I can handle that. If not, I might put in some earplugs. I have some wax earplugs that mold to your ear but I’ve also been wanting to try these special ear plugs that are reusable. They almost look like they’re little mini Bluetooth headphones but they’re just earplugs. I’m like, “Should I order some of those before my trip?” I don’t know if they would arrive on time and I’ve also spent more money than I’m normally accustomed to preparing for this trip. They were $30. I remember looking them up for some reason.
Let me see real quick if I can find them on Amazon. I feel so conflicted shopping on Amazon. It’s so convenient but I feel very conflicted. I’ve allowed myself to overcome the ethical issues I have with Amazon because I get so stressed making decisions, weighing out things and researching stuff. My ability to take on more stress is very limited.
I shopped on Amazon for this trip, as well as a few clothing stores and bought new clothing. That’s a big deal for me because I love to get things secondhand but I was struggling to find a lot of things secondhand. I ended up buying brand new things, which costs more money and involved me shopping at some stores that I feel a little iffy about but the convenience factor was what I needed because I also become hyper-aware of how much stress I can take on of that type.
If I put myself in too many stressful situations, my bandwidth is shot. I get burnt out more easily. I can’t function that well. These tend to be more common for ADHD. Sometimes, I blur the line between autism and ADHD as I’m learning more about them but that’s something that I’m also working on with my neurodivergence. It’s like, “It’s okay to do things that you’re not fully aligned with if they do help you cope and get by.” Many of us can strive to be so perfect and do things “right” and ethically all the time.
Being someone that’s very driven by my ethics and values, I’d love to live my life in full alignment but I can’t always do that. I carry around a little bit of guilt for it so I try to be very transparent. The company that I was thinking of for earplugs is called Loop. They’re about what I thought they were price-wise. They have different types for different reasons. They have a few different options.
One’s called Loop Quiet and they’re only $20. Resource-wise, I feel all this guilt like, “The car, the delivery drivers and the gas that it takes and the packaging. I can’t stand that. I feel awful.” Let me see if you can get Loop somewhere else in LA. I’m going to look this up in real-time. The Loop Quiet reduces noise. They’re made from soft silicone and it says, “They help get you in your bubble.” They come in four different sizes and look very fashionable. They also help with background noise. They’re great for sleeping and can help you focus or concentrate while studying, working or reading. They also come in handy while traveling or commuting. They’re easy to use and flexible.”
I feel like I’m doing an ad for them but I’m only reading this out loud as a way for me to decide. They have something called Loop Experience, which if I remember correctly is mostly for when you go to a concert. They’re high fidelity hearing protection for motorcycles, work and noise sensitivity. These are $30. This is what I have to decide, the noise sensitivity side of it. They’re extremely suitable for people who are easily triggered by noise, noise sensitivity, musicians, parents and more. Maybe I need to go read up on what other people have said but that sounds pretty appealing. I like the idea that you can use them if you go to a concert.
For me, my noise sensitivity is so specific. This comes into play with sleep too. I have to have a very specific type of white noise for me to sleep. It can’t be quiet. I find the silence very uncomfortable so I’m worried that with earplugs, it’s going to be too quiet and if the sound is muffled weirdly, that’s tough for me but I also don’t sleep very well when there’s a ton of noise. I need the white noise to cancel that out. This is why I have to better understand how these earplugs work.
I’ll do some research and I’ll let you know. I feel that $20 or $30 makes sense for something reusable and helpful. I hadn’t even thought about it because I was going to use my headphones but sometimes I don’t like the sensory feeling of having them on my head and covering up my ears. People with autism I think is the correct way to say it but there’s a whole PC terminology. I can’t remember if it’s better to say somebody who has autism or someone who is autistic. I feel like there are a lot of preferences around that. I don’t care. I will say either for myself but I usually say that I’m on the autism spectrum.
I felt more comfortable saying that because I’m still feeling it out and I want to be very clear about it. I’m concerned with people questioning it. It’s very common for people with autism to be very particular because the sensory issues are huge. As I’m thinking about TSA, having something on my ear while I’m walking around and trying to listen gives me anxiety but I’m going to figure this out.
I already shared about my sensitivity to noises and voices. I’m also challenged with unexpected changes. This means if I get to TSA and their rules have changed about what you can bring through, I get so anxious thinking about, “Do I have to take off my shoes or not?” I have TSA PreCheck through the Global Entry, which is something you can purchase for $100 every 4 or 5 years. It allows you to not only go through TSA PreCheck but when you come back into the United States, it helps you through the customs process so you can skip the long lines. Both of them allow you to go through lines typically.
In TSA PreCheck, you don’t have to take off your shoes or take things out of your bag. It’s a ton of convenience, which is also relieving. The entire time I’m in line, TSA feels like a nightmare to me that my sensory issues are on fire. Standing close to strangers and worrying about getting to my flight on time makes me uncomfortable. I’m going to get to the airport super early each time because I don’t want to deal with that anxiety.Advocate for your needs. Click To Tweet
The entire time I’m in line at TSA, I’m practicing or rehearsing in my head what it will be like when I get up there. I’ll be holding my ID in one hand so I can be ready when I get up there to give my ID and ticket. When I get into line, I feel like my brain has been rehearsing like, “I’m going to get my laptop out and this and that.” I’m consumed by those worries but that’s how my brain is working below the surface. Nobody would know it because I’ve trained myself to look relaxed but inside, it’s madness for me.
What I’m concerned about since I haven’t flown in years is I could do a ton of research online but they could still change the rules on the day of my trip. I’m concerned about that so I’m hoping that by alerting them ahead of time about my needs, maybe they’ll do something. I don’t know how well the staff is trained. How would they know? Maybe when I scan my ID or something. I’m curious to see how that’s going to go. TSA also has a card that you can print out and it’s for people with disabilities. You can write in your disability in that line. I’m going to try that. Even though I feel almost like embarrassed to do that, I would rather be a little bit embarrassed but feel like I’m getting my accommodations met. Maybe submitting that form and having that little card printed out will be helpful.
It felt good for me, at least, to write out what my needs in terms of accommodations ahead of time because then it allows me to practice it. What I will also do is copy and paste this phrase I wrote out into my notes on my phone. I’m not planning this but I’m anticipating that right before I got to TSA, I’ll have my phone out and verbalize it because that gives me comfort. I have challenges communicating, especially in those stressful situations. When I flew with Evie as an emotional support dog, I would do the same thing. I would practice, be ready for the agent and know exactly how to explain why I had an emotional support dog.
I have all my documents ready. I send them things in advance. I’d bring multiple copies. It was all deeply planned out for me to avoid things going wrong. One time it did and it was awful. I got stuck at the gate. As I was trying to board the gate, the flight attendant or the person working at the gate pulled me aside and started questioning me about bringing an emotional support dog on. They almost didn’t let me on the flight and I broke down crying.
I was trying to explain the dog and how the situation was triggering all the reasons I have the dog in the first place. They finally let me on the flight but it was so traumatic. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to avoid that situation. That’s what’s sad. If you don’t know how to advocate for yourself and express your needs for accommodations, it can be tough, especially if you have what’s considered an invisible disability.
In addition to TSA, I also researched the different airlines that I’m traveling to. I am flying 3 different airlines, 1 round trip from LA to Costa Rica, 1 from LA to Singapore and 1 from Singapore to LA. It made sense for me to do different airlines, mostly from a money standpoint. Two of the airlines had online forms you could fill out to ask for accommodations. The main thing that I need is to pre-board. Maybe need is an extreme word but it makes a big difference for me.
I was able to do this with Evie. I didn’t know this for years but a few years into taking Evie as an emotional support dog in flight, I learned that it qualified as a disability, even though at the time I didn’t know that I had one. The services Evie was providing were essentially for a disability so you can board the plane first. You’ll typically see people in wheelchairs getting on. You’ll see parents with young kids and anybody else who needs that extra time.
For a while, I felt like I didn’t deserve to pre-board in that section. I felt like I was taking advantage of it and that made me feel weird but the reason I did it and grew more confident over time was that it made a huge difference in my anxiety and stress when I could get on the airplane before most other people. Sometimes I was the very first one on the airplane. I would get to my seat and be able to put the bag right above me. I have a whole system for myself on the plane to help me with all of my challenges. I would get everything out and settled. I would get Evie settled. It was so relieving and peaceful for me.
Even though Evie is not coming on this flight with me, I realized that because of this invisible disability, I could still pre-board but I had to request it ahead of time. You can also ask the gate agent. I’m looking forward to that because I got myself several things to support me with the neurodivergence but also with COVID. That could be a whole separate episode but the research I have done to take care of myself health-wise physically has been intense. Essentially, I’m going to be wearing my KN95 mask. I will likely wear another mask on top of it. That was recommended by several people that I researched, including someone that studies viruses, health and all that.
I researched it and talk to some other people. That was a big thing. I also got a face shield, which is the plastic clear piece that you can wear that is usually attached through a headband on the top of your head and drop down. They’re open on the sides and the bottom but they block further particles. If you sneeze or something, it’s like a sneeze guard. I got that mainly to wear on the airplane when I do eat and drink because there are a lot of concerns around that. I’m feeling anxious about eating and drinking because before I started reading up on COVID, I was super excited about food and drinks. I have that all planned out. I’ve got a number of my favorite snacks and multiple water bottles.
I’m bringing my LifeStraw on, which has the built-in filter and the little straw attachment so I can sip it more easily. I’m bringing maybe 2 additional bottles so 3 water bottles total that I can fill up at the airport. I’ve heard some issues with water on planes. Mostly when you’re sitting on the tarmac, if there are delays, I could go on and on but I was like, “I do not want to be stuck without water.”
From an environmental standpoint, I always like to bring my own on because a lot of times, airplanes have these little plastic bottles that are so wasteful. The actual water on the plane tends to be not very well filtered depending on the airline. That’s why I want to bring it on my own but unfortunately, because COVID cases have been so high recently and a lot of people are getting sick from travel, it’s advised to either not eat or drink on the plane at all, which feels almost impossible for these long flights I’m taking but they recommend not taking your mask off when other people are eating on the plane and keeping it to a minimum.
I’ve always been worried about COVID and maybe that’s part of my neurodivergence. I overthink things. I get anxiety. It’s been stressful for me. I’m sad because I enjoy eating snacks and drinking. My Singapore flights include all these nice meals and I’ve requested vegan meals on them. That was another big issue because there was no option to request vegan and gluten-free so I may get vegan food but in the past, that included bread or wheat noodles.
This is the thing. It is hard to have all of these needs but understanding them and finding confidence in them makes it emotionally easier for me because I can advocate and say, “To other people, they may think I’m extreme but if this is what I need and what brings me comfort, then that’s okay.” Also, a huge part of my journey with neurodivergence is I’ve always stood out for having a lot of needs.
I tried hard to minimize that but I’m sticking up for myself and being more proud about it. Even working on not taking it personally when people make fun of me or attack me. I’ve had people criticize me or attack me for my COVID viewpoints. After a few years, I have developed a lot of confidence and it’s like, “I am glad I got the vaccines.” To my knowledge, I’ve never had COVID aside from that one positive test so maybe I did have it but if you’ve heard that story, I thought at the time it was a false positive. I still don’t know if I ever had COVID but I’ve never had symptoms.
It’s because I’ve taken sometimes some extreme measures and on this trip, I planned to take extreme measures. Wearing two masks and a face shield is probably extreme for a lot of people. This product called Nozin®, which I did not know about but found in my COVID research, is a nasal sanitizer antiseptic that you swab the inside of your nose. It’s used at hospitals as another layer of protection from germs. It’s not marketed as a COVID product but I’m getting it in hopes that it could help with COVID and also keep me from catching colds, flu or whatever else.
The last time I flew on a plane in 2019, I got sick. I was sick for most of my trip and then sick for probably a week or so after I got back from that trip. I was coughing all night long. If I was going to have to go to the hospital, it was miserable. That was a huge moment for me because I thought I had been safe on the plane. It was pre-COVID so no mask but I brought my hand sanitizer. I wiped down the seats and the tray tables. I brought my water and had immunity stuff. I thought I was doing a good job but I got sick. I remember thinking, “How did I get that sick?” A few months later, COVID comes around and I’m learning all of these things about viruses and realizing that I wasn’t that protected.
That was part of the reason that I started becoming mindful and a huge reason why on this trip, I am willing to go to these extremes. I’m going to drop the word extreme because I feel like that’s not fully fair to me. This brings me comfort and peace of mind so I don’t see it as extreme. Other people seem to be based on their reactions but it works for me.People want freedom to make choices that are best for them, even if it interferes with other people's choices and beliefs and comfort levels. Click To Tweet
In 2018, when I went to Greece, I bought this blowup pillow that you put your arms through in your head down so you can lean on your tray table and fall asleep that way. It’s amazing. I can’t wait to use it again. I also have my essential memory foam travel pillow and that’s also great. I have a sleep mask I’ve bought. Some jet lag homeopathic pills are helpful for jet lag and I’m going to try those out. I don’t think I’ve ever had them before. I don’t think I used anything like that when I went to Greece.
I also have some sleep supplements. Hopefully, I’ll bring some melatonin. I’m waiting to see if that arrives in time but I have at least two different types of sleep supplements I’m going to try in addition to the jet lag stuff, which is also helpful for sleep. Another big thing, speaking of sleep is I rebought Hug Sleep. There’s this brand that makes a sleep pod.
It’s a compression product that you put your entire body into. The compression technology gives people with sensory issues or trouble sleeping a lot of comforts. I did all this research on weighted blankets and wanted to bring one on the flight because the weight of blankets has been a game-changer for me but they’re super heavy. For me doing carry-on only and traveling all around, I’m like, “That’s probably not a good idea to bring a 10 or 15-pound blanket with me.
I got the Hug Sleep because it’s small and it can be nice. You can use it on an airplane. It’s essentially a thin sleeping pod. I’m probably going to look a little weird. Can you imagine? If I wear it on the plane, I would want to take a photo or a video because imagine me in this gray compression sleeve that goes all the way from my feet up to my shoulders and I’m wearing a mask. I’ll probably wear my blue blocker glasses because they give your eyes protection from COVID. Any glasses do but blue blocker glasses are also great for helping you feel more relaxed and fall asleep. I’m planning to wear those part of the time and probably my eye mask and the face shield on top. My whole body will be covered up.
I don’t know how long I’ll wear it for but I plan mainly for eating or maybe at the airport, I’ll wear it too. Imagine when I’m sleeping that I’ll have this big blow-up thing on the tray table. Can you imagine some stranger looking over at me and I’m in a sleeping pod? I forgot what it’s called. I didn’t get the name brand but this blow-up trade table thing, whatever that pillow is called. When I got that in 2018, my mom was making fun of me.
Part of me was laughing with her but part of me was a little offended like, “Why is it so funny that I’m buying something to make myself more comfortable?” I also use this cool leg swing or foot swing that you put over the tray table but it goes down below to the leg room area of the seat. You can put your feet on it and it makes it more comfortable. I have had a lot of challenges sitting like that for a long time.
I like my legs to be elevated and I won’t be able to do that because I’m only sitting in an economy seat. The swing elevates them a little and allows for some different positioning that is helpful for my hips. That made a big difference in 2018. I’ll be doing that again here. I also have compression socks. I’m going to be wearing compression socks and this compression sleeve or the sleep pod. I’m going to look interesting.
Maybe I’ll end up on someone’s video that they share on social media. Hopefully, not. I could go on a whole tangent about this but, sadly, we are at a point with social media where people commonly take pictures and videos of strangers and make fun of them. I could see someone seeing me on the plane and thinking, “I’m going to post on TikTok how weird is this girl next to me.” That’s not a far-off thought, which is sad but if this stuff makes me comfortable, I need to embrace it with confidence and say, “I’m advocating for my needs if that helps me get through a twelve-hour flight to Singapore so I can sleep, spend quality time with my dad when I get there and not get sick.”
I’m thinking that the long-term and sometimes the short-term elements are worth it, even if they’re embarrassing or uncomfortable. Embarrassment is also so personal to each of us. I can work my way through embarrassment and learn to be less embarrassed or not embarrassed at all when something’s important to me and that’s been a big part of my journey. All of this has contributed to me wanting to pre-board the plane.
The other thing I was able to do is to ask for specific seating and they reserve some seats on the plane for various needs. For example, they have seats together for a child to sit with their parent or whoever their companion. If there’s a last-minute change and they need to move people around, they’ll have seats for them next to each other. They also have certain seats saved for people that need special accommodations. When I booked one of my flights, it was full and all I could get was an aisle seat.
Due to all these things I do to feel comfortable on a plane, I like to sit at the window because I feel like it gives me distance between other people. In addition to having distance, which makes me more comfortable, having a wall I can lean up against is very comforting. There’s a little bit more privacy, more hidden away out of view from people so I can do these things and feel like there’s a little bit less attention on me.
Pre-boarding allows me to get all this stuff ready ahead of time without someone watching me or bumping into them. I have to set up all this stuff and do it in my little seat area. When I pre-board, I’ll get on the plane, stand up in the aisle, put everything in my seat and organize it based on the order I need. I go through my whole routine. That’s hard to do when you’re in line and all these people are getting in and moving around. That’s awful. I’m so glad that they were able to get me a window seat. I won’t know about the pre-boarding until I get there but I’m pretty much guaranteed that.
I was going to tell the story of this retreat that I’m going to but I’m going to save that for another episode where I will tell you all about this amazing retreat. I plan to do an episode before I leave and when I return. I’m not sure when you’ll know about the retreat if it will be in the post-retreat episode and/or one beforehand. Stay tuned.
I have two more episodes to record before I leave although, when you read them, it’ll be after the trip has started and maybe even when I returned. The full follow-up to the trip episode will be out in early August 2022. Stay tuned. Thank you so much for having an interest in my journey of traveling as someone who has a neurodivergent brain and a lot of special needs.
I remember growing up, in my school, we had special needs kids. They had different classes and buses. They are always treated so differently. For example, I remember kids with Down syndrome were in that classroom and felt so segregated. I don’t think I was judgmental towards them but I saw them as different and then people would make fun of them. Now, it’s less acceptable to make fun of somebody with special needs but when I was growing up, we would do a lot of non-PC things and maybe kids still do that.
Looking back, I feel sad and bad that this stuff is socially acceptable. Maybe I grew up thinking that special needs were embarrassing, looked down upon and thought about as weird and different in a bad way. Maybe that’s led me to hide all of these things that I’ve struggled with but I also didn’t know. Sometimes I think back or wonder if my life would be different if I had been diagnosed with ADHD, autism or maybe something else. I’m still on a journey to figure that out.
I still would like to get professionally evaluated by a specialist, even though I feel confident identifying with that. There’s peace of mind I would feel. It would feel more official to have the diagnosis from a professional. I wonder, “What would my life be like if I’d had that when I was little? What would my life be like if I had these accommodations and then have to hide them or mask them? What would the school have been like? What would travel have been like when I was younger?” Also, recognize that there are probably lots of people with similar needs as me but don’t advocate for them.
I’ve noticed this a lot when I talk about what I do and when people do it differently. Sometimes I think that’s because they’ve never felt confident in doing that. How many people would sleep with one of those travel pillows, if it was more common? If more people on the plane use them because they knew about them, maybe a lot of people would use them. It’s certainly very comfortable. I’m glad I use it. It might look strange because it’s not common. I’ve seen more people on TikTok talking about them.People are coming at life from so many different beliefs and perspectives and current knowledge. Click To Tweet
We are probably working our way towards those pillows being more socially acceptable but the sleep pod, for example, was on Shark Tank. It’s still not a very common product but what if more people thought to bring something like that on the plane with them? Would that reduce anxiety for a lot of people? I think about all of these things that I’ve learned to do over time and maybe they are and will remain a very specific neurodivergent or anxiety-related need.
There could be plenty of people who like that foot swing. That’s a pretty common thing that people use. If that alleviates pain, tension or discomfort in your body during a flight, what if that was a standard thing. Some international flights have these little things that pop down for your feet so your feet can be elevated. It almost looked like when you get a pap smear, you have to put your feet up in these metal stirrups. I don’t think it was the right term but that’s what they remind me of. They’re on airplanes and they fold down so your feet can be propped up and elevated. I’ve seen that and that might be on some of my international flights but I’m still bringing my foot swing with me because I’m not counting on it.
I also got this special Bluetooth device that will allow my Bluetooth headphones to connect to the in-flight entertainment just in case. I’ve heard that newer planes have that Bluetooth connection option. I’ve got all sorts of stuff. This is just the beginning. I will tell you about more and/or link to videos I plan to do. I’m hoping that I have the mental energy and bandwidth to make these videos I envision because I feel so excited to share the travel tips with everybody. These products are not designed for neurodivergent. They just happened to help me with those needs that I have. They might help you too.
I would love to know if you’ve used any of these things, if any of these things would be helpful to you or if it’s the first time you’ve heard of them. If you ever have questions, I love talking about all this. If you want to know more about traveling with an invisible disability and tricks for comfort, sleep, health and COVID, send me a message or an email. I’m very easy to reach. If you go to Wellevatr.com, there are links to my email address and social. It’s all under @Wellevatr and/or @WhitLauritsen. That’s my personal account.
Wellevatr was set up with me and Jason. We were running the show and the brand together but over time, it’s very possible. We move everything over to @WhitLauritsen and WhitneyLauritsen.com but they’re all up there for you to make it easy to get in touch because I love hearing from you. I want to know what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, what your questions are and what your experiences are. We’re in this together. I always like to open up discussions with kind and understanding people that are good communicators. Every once in a while, I get someone who wants to push their agenda on me and be combative or critical. I’m working on handling that more but generally, my solution is to block that.
Freedom of Choice
If you would like to have a true back and forth dialogue, a kind, considerate response is encouraged. If you disagree with me, I’m open to discussion but keep in mind that it’s not designed to change anybody’s mind. We can’t control people. I’m saying all this because when I talk about COVID, it can trigger some people. Some people get so upset about vaccines and masks. That’s fine if you disagree with me but I will advocate for taking care of myself and not tolerate people. A special need too is my tolerance for people that are critical of someone else who’s trying to get their needs met. At the end of the day, aren’t we all?
Even the people that don’t wear masks, maybe their need is to feel free and more comfortable. Sometimes their needs may conflict with mine and that’s disappointing, frustrating and not ideal but I am also a big advocate. As I started with the Roe v. Wade stuff, the reason that I feel so drawn to being pro-choice is like if you want to choose whether to wear a mask or not. We should have the choice. It’s a hot topic. I’m not getting into it in this episode. I’m trying to wrap this up but there are a lot of parallels between what people want to do to advocate for themselves and make their choices. To have that autonomy and agency is so important.
These issues become challenging though because there’s a ripple effect and abortion affects other people and other lives. It is not an easy subject matter to discuss but I believe that we should at least have the choice and the options to make something that’s in alignment with us. We’re in a time with COVID and I’m trying to delicately talk about the two of them but I’m bringing it full circle at the beginning of this episode. I see there are parallels because while they are separate and very different issues, one thing that they have in common and from my current stance is that people want the freedom to make choices that are best for them, even if it interferes with other people’s choices, beliefs and comfort levels.
I’m preparing myself for getting on a flight with a lot of people that have chosen not to wear masks. I am finding balance and comfort with that knowing that it is very likely that I will be in the minority of someone who chooses to wear a mask, have a vaccine, and all these “extreme things.” Something I’ve reflected a lot with Roe v. Wade is that it feels like the opposite where a lot of people are saying, “We don’t want to give someone the choice to make these decisions.” There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy there that I’m processing.
If you want to discuss any of that with me, my point being, I would be happy to have a discussion and would love to learn your perspective. Please keep in mind with me and with others that we do not have control over each other. As much as we may want to, it is very hard to change someone’s opinion. We can shift perspective, open people’s minds and eyes to things and present different information but it’s very hard to change someone.
If we can go into these conversations with people who are interested in having a dialogue like myself, I am interested in hearing different opinions but I prefer to have those conversations with someone who’s not committed to trying to change me or shame me. Also, present things to me in a way that’s negating my current perspectives or information and presenting it in a way as if they know better than me. I am not interested in that.
I’m working on finding confidence and building up from a place of inner trust. All of this journey that I’ve been on is like, “What feels right for me? What do I need? How does that work out in a world with people that have different needs and perspectives?” It’s at the core of the show in a lot of ways. It’s important to bring that up often and remind people, not just in dialogue with me but like, “Can we continuously remember that people are coming at life from so many different beliefs, perspectives and current knowledge?” Also, there is so much change happening.
These episodes certainly touched upon things that can trigger others and I thought it was appropriate to bring that up. I’m going to go on with my day. I’m about to go do some summary things and go pick up some things from my PO Box. I have no idea what’s there. Somebody sent me something. I don’t know what so that should be interesting. I need to get some things from my home to prepare for the trip. I’m going to go to a plant nursery to look at some new plants. I’m getting into gardening.
I’m going out to my new favorite ice cream place. It’s called Kith. They have incredible coconut-based soft serve for $8. It’s not insanely expensive but it felt like a lot but you get this huge portion. It’s probably two servings. It’s so good. I’m going out to a new Thai food place I’d never been called The Silverlake House. They have a separate vegan menu. I’m thrilled about that. I’m going to this bakery to get a very specific cupcake.
I’ve got quite a little journey ahead of me after I finish and wrap this up. I’m going to go do that. I hope you have a wonderful day wherever you are in your day. I hope you’re enjoying the summertime unless you’re in a different country where it’s not currently summer. That’s a good question. Australia is in the opposite season so Singapore must be as well. I did not even consider that.
This is part of my ignorance or is the change in season based on the hemisphere? I haven’t studied this in so long. I have no idea. I got to add this to my list. “What season is Singapore?” There are two monsoon seasons. The Southwest monsoon and the Northwest. This is going to be quite the education for me because I feel very ignorant. I don’t have an answer for you right off the top of my head because I have no idea but I’m fairly certain that Australia has a different seasonal timeline because I used to be in Australia. It’s the opposite.
It is a hemisphere thing. Seasons in Australia are opposite to those in the Northern hemisphere. Singapore is not that far from Australia. I find sometimes it’s fun because this is where I can make it more personal. I also want to make sure that I’m not nuts. Singapore is Northwest of Australia. If you don’t travel a lot to look at a map, even of the United States sometimes I’m confused and then deeply surprised about where things are. I had no idea where Singapore was. I thought it was much closer to Japan than it is but it is near Malaysia.
One of my flights has a short layover in the Philippines. I’m super excited to be there for a very brief time and my other flight has a ten and a half layover in Fiji. I’m going to go spend some time in Fiji. I didn’t even know where Fiji was. This is nuts. I even mentioned Fiji to somebody and they thought I was talking about Tahiti. People get all this stuff confused but this is deeply fascinating looking at a map of how Fiji is North of New Zealand and Bora Bora is nearby.
If you’re interested in this stuff, look up some of these places on a map if you haven’t before and tell me if your mind is blown. I could stare at maps and look around at things all day long. I love it. This is part of the brilliance of travel. No further ado. I got to go. You probably have to go. Thank you for reading. I’ll be back with another episode and then a guest episode. Lots of great people are coming up. If you don’t read these episodes often, the coming episode is a great discussion with two amazing men who opened my eyes to their perspectives on empathy, colonization and racism.
It was humbling in some ways because they shared things with me that I did not understand and could not relate to. We had an open, authentic and honest dialogue together. I hope you check it out. I do hope to hear from you one day, regardless of where you are on this journey with me. Hearing from you brings me great joy. See you later, hopefully. Bye.
- Loop Quiet
- Loop Experience
- TSA PreCheck
- Hug Sleep
- @Wellevatr – Instagram
- @WhitLauritsen – Instagram
- The Silverlake House
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