Taking the train soon? Here’s how to prepare for a stress-free journey if you have sensory processing issues.
Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but it can feel almost impossible for those with sensory processing disorders. From generalized anxiety disorder to ADHD and Autism, there are many complex conditions that make certain situations feel challenging.
But traveling by train doesn’t need to be out of the question: with the right preparation and a little bit of support, it’s possible to get there comfortably. Whether you’re planning a journey for yourself or someone you know, here’s some first-class advice for a smooth ride.
A Sensory Guide to Train Travel: Our Top Tips
1. Choose travel times wisely.
Train stations can be very noisy, and you should expect to hear different loud noises happening at the same time. These might include:
- Busy platform sounds including shouting and suitcase wheels
- A variety of train noises
- High-pitched whistles as the train departs
- Customer announcements over the speakers
Unfortunately, train stations will always be loud. However, choosing your travel times carefully could mean that you’ll visit when the station is a little bit quieter. One of the best ways to avoid the crowds is to book an anytime ticket and benefit from flexible travel times.
That way, you can always wait for a later train if the platform is too busy at a certain time. Patterns might not always be predictable on weekends, but you could find cheaper fares when you travel in the middle of the day instead of at peak times.
2. Bring your special items.
Whether it’s a soft toy or your favorite jumper, try to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. Shutting out distractions with noise-cancelling headphones, eye masks, and your favorite music could also help you to manage the journey.
If you’re sound-sensitive, a pair of headphones that work for you can be life-changing. Luckily, some of the best sensory-friendly headphones are easy to buy online.
If you’re feeling stressed on the journey, even your clothes can start to feel physically overwhelming. If you’re sensitive to how fabric feels against your skin, it’s extra important to find sensory-friendly clothing.
3. Have something to focus on.
To take your focus away from the experience of navigating the station platforms, try to bring something to keep you entertained on the train. If you’re traveling with a loved one, why not play a quick board game together?
Alternatively, individual puzzle books or your favorite audiobooks could help to pass the time. Even holding a book could help to prevent unwanted conversation starters from strangers.
4. Check for extras.
Most train stations and rail companies have systems and additional features in place to help support you. Whether you think you’d benefit most from a quiet coach or a pre-booked seat on your train, knowing about the optional extras could help to make your journey more comfortable.
We recommend booking your seat in advance wherever possible, as executive dysfunction from sensory overload can make buying a ticket at the station overwhelming. With advance booking, you can choose between forward- or backward-facing options, or even table seats on some trains.
Anything that helps you prepare for your journey is helpful, but it’s worth remembering that train travel can be unpredictable. If this is what causes you the most anxiety, try to see if a friend will be happy to go with you or show you around the station first.
5. Ask for support.
Lastly, most major train stations in the UK will be staffed by a friendly team. Staff wear different uniforms in different stations, but they’re usually wearing a lanyard and some kind of high-visibility clothing.
Even though approaching a member of staff can feel intimidating, try to remember that they’re there to support you. Wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard could help you find the help you need faster – and take some of the pressure away from planning your journey alone.
You may also want to check out our train travel guide for autistic people.
More Autism & Neurodiversity Resources in The Ability Toolbox
- Sensory-Boosting Therapeutic Gifts for Kids with Autism
- Sensory-Friendly Bathroom Design Guide
- Navigating Self-Diagnosis Conversations with Your Doctor
- How to Design a Sensory Garden
- Accepting My Neurodiversity Has Helped Me Better Understand My Autistic Teen
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I'm Alice and I live with a dizzying assortment of invisible disabilities, including ADHD and fibromyalgia. I write to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental and chronic illnesses of all kinds.