How to Love London with Autism

The city of London is something people dream of visiting for many years before they have the chance to see the metropolis of which they have always wondered about. Having Autism can make this city feel overwhelming with the sheer magnitude or its sights, sounds, and smells. I traveled there a few times and would love to offer my tips for not only surviving London but how to thrive in the context of hyper stimulation.

Pre-travel Preparations

  • Unlock your phone, ask a friend if they have one you can borrow, buy an affordable unlocked phone
  • Purchase power converters
  • Call your banks

Arrival

In the event you land at London’s Heathrow Airport, there is one key differentiator I noticed about LHR I haven’t noticed anywhere in the world, and that is its smell…. When you disembark from the plane and your enter the terminal you may notice an exceptionally strong scent of cologne. In my opinion, it is not the pleasant, “oh please let me smell more of that,” but instead it mirrors something closer to the old man on the bus that doesn’t understand 6 spritzes of Polo Green is just too much for any one body to hold.

When I ask others about this smelly phenomenon, some know exactly what I’m talking about, and others smell nothing. You can tell me if you notice it.

Customs

The line for customs at LHR is really long, the team is very efficient, but with this being one of the busiest airports in the world, everyone and their neighbor seems to elect to fly through LHR. I was last through customs pre-Brexit, and now with the rest of EU having to be in the general green line, you can expect the line to be substantially longer. So make sure to use the restroom before you commit to this queue.

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Once you’ve cleared customs, I would implore you to purchase a SIM card, there are mobile vending machines scattered around the exit doors once you’ve cleared customs and you’re about to leave the building. I want to say that I had to go to five different vending machines before I could find one that was not “Out of Order.” I found the machine closest to the Underground Tube entrance to be working. I paid £30 for my SIM card which was preloaded with a data package I knew I wouldn’t go through but would have access to the developed world if I needed it.

Transport

To take a cab, the subway, or the Heathrow Express? I found these 3 options overwhelming running on little sleep and trying to take in a new country. So let me weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Taxi (60 min)

Cabbies in London are the absolute best, they are in a class of their own when it comes to public transport around the world. I took a cab to central London on my first trip and it was nice to get a sense of the area before getting to my area. I also didn’t want to have to think about changing trains in order to find my hotel. This is the most expensive option at about £50-60.

Heathrow Express (43 min)

At £20-30 this is the fastest option, so if you’re in a hurry this is the fastest option, but you should keep in mind that this train will only take you to the Paddington station, where you will likely have to transfer to another line. If you’ll notice on the map below that Paddington is just the beginning of the rest of the London Underground.

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You can also gain price breaks on the fair by purchasing your ticket through their app, or certain windows at the airport since they are competing against the budget-conscious masses that will often default to our last option.

London Underground (60 min)

The world famous London subway is the slowest and most affordable option by far at £5.10. I took this route on my last trip, and it was nice to see another side of the journey from zone 6 Heathrow to the center of London. My biggest mistake is that I broke my personal rule and packed a large suitcase which sucked to move from train to train and manage it when the car became more crowded with each stop. My tip is this isn’t a bad route if your backpacking or you were disciplined and only brought a carry-on size of luggage.

Oyster Card

The Oyster card is an incredibly helpful contactless payment card used to pay for some trains (not Heathrow Express), buses, and subways.  The cards are free and can be found at almost any metro station. The card allows you to move through the metro with incredible amounts of ease. The video below highlights how to use this form of payment. Make sure to watch the balance of your card when you exit the station to ensure you have enough the next time you’re rushing off to get into a museum before it closes. I personally like to keep a balance of £20 for peace of mind.

This should be enough to get your to your hotel, look for more posts highlighting things to do, and how to find the hidden side of London. If you have any life hacks for getting to London, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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