Shalese Nicole recently received her Master’s degree in Public Health Education. With a passion for Autism Advocacy, and global travel she set out to create Autistic Travel Goddess to showcase traveling from an autism-friendly perspective. Outside of travel and raising autism awareness, she enjoys shopping, reading and water sports. Connect with Shalese on Facebook and Youtube,.
We recently had the great opportunity to interview Shalese Nicole, founder of Autistic Travel Goddess. We asked her questions about her life, her inspirations, and her travels.
What is your personal connection with autism?
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Growing up, I always wondered why I seemed to be treated differently. During my teen years of bullying, special education classes, and lack of understanding from others; I was forced to come to that painful realization that a person with autism was considered defective. From then on, I strove to understand why I was unique and wanted to teach the world that people with autism are just as capable of leading good lives as anyone else. My drive for advocacy, helping others on the spectrum and spreading autism awareness began in college when I became fiercely curious about my identity as an autistic person.
When did you start traveling and why?
It’s hard to say, but my traveling began when I moved around a lot as a child. I have had the privilege of living in several different states. As a family, we would take road trips whenever we could to visit family, or for fun. I used to spend hours in my bedroom looking at atlases, maps, and encyclopedias daydreaming about exploring the world.
My parents knew what would be on my holiday wish list every year – the National Geographic magazines and encyclopedias about places to travel.
Traveling became an intense curiosity and a dream of mine.
My first overseas trip was my freshman year in college, where I went to Scotland for a class trip. During my adult years, I make it a point to travel somewhere new once a year.
What did you learn from traveling?
Every time I take a trip, whether it’s the next town over or overseas; I come away learning more about people than ever before.
What I learn about myself is that traveling is a way to defy stereotypes of autism. At home, I tend to prefer my space and don’t try to actively engage in social activities.
When I travel, my entire boundary is lifted. I am more open to talking to others, being social, and being able to empathize with new people in a new place.
People’s attitudes about autism, or unique perspectives differ depending on the location.
It is nice to be able to travel the world, and defy that stereotype that autistic people are not social beings and that we can’t live independently.
Travel somehow heightens my instincts as well. It’s something about being in a new place that sharpens my intuition. Normal sensory annoyances don’t annoy me as much when I am on a trip. For example, I find myself LESS annoyed with crowded rooms when I am busy trying to embrace being in another region, state, or country.
Your favorite travel destination so far has been?
I would have to say Scotland because I am completely in a new territory, with a new cultural atmosphere. The rugged lands, beauty, and the people are heartwarming as ever. I felt that I could relate to the Scottish more than my fellow Americans due possibly personality similarities.
On the other hand, I enjoyed standing out and seeing how vastly different the lives of the citizens are from mine. Going to another country is such an imaginative, transformative experience for me that cannot be replicated otherwise.
What was your worst travel experience?
I guess New York was the most stressful trip I have taken. I find the incredible crowds, traffic, and difficulty navigating the city to be a distraction from me embracing the place and actually experiencing the trip.
What I would do differently if I travel to NYC again is to plan better, and schedule what I call “sensor breaks,” where I intentionally return back to the hotel to rejuvenate so I may go back out less overwhelmed.
Also, I would NOT try to cram too much in so few days. New York is stimulating and big enough where I needed to expand the trip for at least one week, instead of rushing it all in in four days.
What are your favorite modes of transportation and why?
My favorite means of transportation are airplanes and rail. Airplanes help me indulge in my love for heights. Being so high in the air makes me feel powerful like I can take on the world. I also like being closer to God and nature. A plane in the clouds is the best way to do that.
Rail is my favorite, most relaxing way to see scenery that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It is also a smooth ride, with no stressful traffic. Trains have always been my ‘thing’ since childhood.
Any place you would NEVER travel to?
I recently read about Ft. McMurray, Alberta, and found it too depressing to travel to, based on what I have read and how it appears. It is huge in the oil industry, and the natives complain about how expensive the cost of living is there. Also, it doesn’t seem to be much there in terms of activities and sites. The only thing that would make me go is the Northern lights, but then I could see that elsewhere!
I used to think I would travel EVERYWHERE. The more I travel, the more important the vibes are to me. If I feel a place is rather dull and depressing; I no longer desire to travel there. Not just Ft. McMurray, but also any place that gives off that appearance is off my list of places to see.
Five items you always take along while traveling?
I always take my headphones- listening to good music implants the memory of the feeling I get when going on that trip. Every time I hear that song, I remember my first time on a trip. A camera, a good book to read during long wait and a stylish outfit/accessory as a confidence booster in a new place. Even if I don’t wear it, just the act of having it with me gives me a sense of my uniqueness to offer the new location I am visiting. I always bring my slippers- they are my ‘stim’ toys and give me something soft to rub my feet on (cleaner than hotel carpet). And let me not forget my favorite snack of all time, POPCORN. Popcorn has all sorts of exciting, positive memories for me and it’s a conveniently healthy travel food that keeps my hunger in check!
Are you a theme park lover or hater?
Love. Love, Love theme parks! The faster, higher the roller coasters are the better it is!
Where would you travel if money was no object?
If money were no object, my dream vacation would be a cruise around the world. Being on a ship, going to different continents surely would teach me about the earth we live on. I would like that voyage to include Antarctica, Greenland and the most remote areas of the world. The earth is a beautiful place, and there’s so much to see. My dream vacation would allow me to see EVERY corner. Surfing in Fiji, and petting penguins in Antarctica are the greatest gifts to life.