By Carla Maree
On the 9th of January I took a big step to solidify my confidence in the world, and travelled overseas to New Zealand. I had no idea what to expect, but there was some comfort in knowing that our neighbouring country was for the most part fairly similar to Australia, so it would be a good destination to start with.
The morning of this day was sticky hot, and practically urging us to rush to the airport and escape the unfavourable weather immediately.
After quadruple checking that I had my passport, travel card and no malicious contraband somehow hiding in my luggage, I set down for breakfast and silently wallowed in stress, having finally realised what was happening.
Even though I was excited about the trip, and knew that I’d be safe and comfortable in the hands of my more than understanding best mate, I couldn’t help but allow a few ‘good old’ obsessive thoughts to roll into my mind, bringing me back slightly to the days when I used to get so anxious I’d almost be sick.
One thought I had was that I’d have an uncontrollable meltdown in the middle of my tour, and have to go home. I didn’t want that to happen. Another silly thought was of border security taking me to a special high security room to frisk me for something I couldn’t explain.
For the most part, these fearful thoughts were irrational, but all a part of the journey in facing up to my biggest challenge yet.
Even after getting on the plane, and arriving in Christchurch I wasn’t too overwhelmed. In fact when we got off the plane and went to get some cash out of one of the ATMs, a little glitch occurred, where neither of us could withdraw money, which made us worry that our cards weren’t active or even worse, had been hacked. We consulted with a currency exchange employee, who informed us that the ATMs we had been using had been malfunctioning for a few people, so there was nothing to worry about.
This probably isn’t what you want to hear about. You probably want to learn of the positives of my trip, I know. Well do not fear, because there is definitely a positive outcome to this experience.
As much as I travelled to New Zealand to explore the stunning landscape, and learn about the Maori culture, I was also going there as a first step to conquering my biggest fear yet; losing control.
One can be particularly vulnerable in unfamiliar territory, so in the early days of my travels there was a bit of a fight going on between determined, trying-to-be-adventurous me, and stress head me.
It’s safe to say that it was not the latter that conquered this battle.
Not only was this trip an emotional rollercoaster, but it was a blissful, rewarding journey that in the small space of ten days taught me a lot about myself, and sharpened the vision I had of my future goals.
We started in Christchurch on a rainy day, where the puddles met with your ankles, and threatened to ruin your most trusty pair of boots. And in the wee hours of the morning, we set off on the Contiki bus, the song “Run free” by Kings playing in the background as the sun woke from its slumber. Taken aback by the scenery, I took my video camera out multiple times to capture its rare beauty. Unsure of whether I’d see such wonderful sights again.
The first time I knew my fellow Contiki travellers were going to be a safe and friendly group to explore with, was when I got severe motion sickness and threw up in my breakfast box that had been provided. I had sat in the back part of the bus, which was not a good decision in hindsight, but all worked out in the end. Two girls at the front were kind enough to swap seats with me, and one of them jokingly said my friend and I could just pay her back with a drink later.
Most of the Contiki clan I was on an adventure with were from Australia, with the exception of one German, one Mexican and a bunch of English people. As the days progressed, I got to know basically every one of them, and we all became like family in a lot of ways.
We started in Christchurch but ended up in the North Island, where most of my travels took place.
We spent a couple of nights in Wellington, where it was in some ways very similar to Melbourne, except there were a few electric car charging ports and electric taxis, which I found incredibly progressive and fascinating.
After Wellington was Taupo, followed by Rotorua, and then Waitomo, Auckland and Paihia. Every destination was unique and took my breath away. Every place presented a new challenge for me to test myself against, so I could grow stronger and wiser as an individual.
I did the skywalk, around a 190m tall building, and even stood over the edge backwards, which was extremely terrifying. I also hiked up a volcano, and got to see the inside of its crater. I didn’t actually go into the crater, like others did, but perhaps next time I visit I will push myself even further and do so.
In Paihia I went parasailing, and it was the highest one in the southern hemisphere. (200m) It was so high, that the others in the boat below me looked like ants. I was up there for ten minutes, embracing the view with the moral support of my buddy Chris.
There is no perfectly accurate way I can even describe the sights I saw or the experiences I had. I can try, but it would not match up with the true phenomenon. I met great people, was inspired by the gallant, fiercely admirable culture of the Maori and did things I would never have been able to do in the comfort of my own backyard.
Breaking away from routine can be tricky. I’ll be honest, I cried a couple of times in private on my trip when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, but in the end it all worked out. Fittingly, I like to think that I totally scared off my concerns with a mad as haka of positive self-talk and mindfulness, keeping me at the reigns of my anxiety.
I feel braver, stronger and more controlled now. I would love to step outside my boundaries again soon and take on another part of the world.
For any other Autistics out there who have a taste for travel, and want to test themselves, I highly recommend that you do so. Just make sure you have someone with you that you know you can trust and rely on, and give yourself space to ‘meltdown’ a little if you need to. Sometimes it’s healthy to get everything out. Just make sure it’s in private and that you can regain stability again by using self-talk strategies and mindfulness techniques.
I am very proud of myself for doing this. It just goes to show that just because something might be difficult for someone on the spectrum, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.