ADHD affects every part of my life: what time I get up in the morning, whether I remember where I’m supposed to be for the day, whether I have overloaded my schedule with a million things to do, or whether I say something I don’t mean. I don’t get to leave it behind for a day when it’s not convenient for me, and I don’t get to take a break. It’s a part of me that I’ve had to learn to accept and work with over the years since my diagnosis.
Because ADHD comes with me everywhere, it can present a few unique challenges when I’m traveling. Hello, distraction! There are all types of new sights, sounds, and smells coming your way when you’re traveling. It’s all very exciting, but can also get a bit overwhelming.
There’s also the constant inner dialogue: Am I going to remember everything I need? Am I going to make my flight on time? Will I read my ticket wrong and go to the wrong gate?
Despite the nervousness, I’ve found a few tips that help me to stay focused while I’m on the road — or at least long enough to reach my destination safely, with my luggage and most of the things I meant to pack.
Leave the essentials in the bag
There are certain items that you’re always going to need when you’re traveling, like soap, lotions, deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste.
After forgetting these very things on several occasions (only to have to run out to a local drugstore and replace them once I got to where I was going), my rule of thumb is to just keep these essentials stocked in my travel toiletry case, which is inside my suitcase at all times. I can’t tell you how much time (and money) I’ve saved from not having to replace items that I always need but never seem to remember to pack.
Give yourself time to pack
I’m already prone to forgetting things, so if I wait until the last minute to pack (hello, stress!), then it’s almost certain I won’t have what I need in my bag. I tend to start packing two days ahead of my departure, that way I can double-check the night before just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Double-check (maybe even triple-check) your itinerary
Keeping track of time and paying attention to fine details are an important part of travel — and they are also things many of us with ADHD struggle with on a regular basis. This means you’re going to need to put in a little extra work in that area.
Review your itinerary more than once so you can get well acquainted with it. Put those details on your calendar and set reminders! It may also be worth downloading your airline’s app so that you can get notifications for any changes or updates.
When you know your itinerary fairly well, it may help you to avoid mixing up the details at the last minute.
One thing at a time
Even when you’re traveling, it can be tempting to try to check in on work or get involved with things going on back at home. That’s a great way to confuse yourself.
Do your best to concentrate on arriving at your destination safely, instead of trying to multitask, especially when you’re in transit. When your attention is split, you run the risk of missing important changes to your itinerary or losing track of time. Traveling requires as much of your attention as you’re able to give, so make it your primary focus until you arrive safely.
You’re going to forget something — and that’s OK
When I’m traveling, my primary source of anxiety is the fear that I’ll forget something at home. And the truth is, I often do. I want you to take a deep breath and repeat after me: I am going to forget something. That is OK.
In my opinion, traveling with ADHD means making peace with the idea that I may occasionally misplace an item I needed to bring despite my best intentions. Make a contingency plan for whatever you need, and try not to be too hard on yourself.
Familiarize yourself with the airport
Some airports are fairly easy to navigate, whereas others are basically a small city. It’s a good idea to check out the airport map online ahead of time, especially if you have layovers with gate changes or need to access transportation.
Once, on a trip to Miami, I rented a car. While picking up the car was pretty simple, dropping off was another story. I didn’t realize that I would have to take two trains to get back to the terminal to catch my flight home, and I hadn’t given myself much time before takeoff.
Give yourself a little cushion for the unexpected, whether it’s time (because who expects two trains?!) or a little extra money for incidentals that may arise.
Stick to a schedule (for the most part)
Spontaneity can lead to some awesome discoveries, like the time I got bored driving home from South Carolina and ended up at an amazing truck stop that was also a mall. But impulsivity combined with focus issues can spell trouble on the road. When you’re in a place for a limited time, you have to have some type of plan, or you may end up running around in circles.
I once took a weekend trip to Philadelphia with no particular plan. Sounds freeing, right?
Here’s what really happened: I wanted to do about 10 different things that all sounded amazing but couldn’t settle on anything, so instead I drove myself and my companion nuts trying to land on the most perfect thing. By the end of the weekend, we hadn’t done a single thing on the list and spent more time arguing than doing anything fun.
Take some of the pressure and distraction off of yourself by balancing your schedule out. Make sure to schedule a few activities, but give yourself time to explore your destination and go where the day takes you.
Get some rest
I also have sleep apnea, which can be especially challenging when I’m traveling. To be honest, I hate taking the CPAP machine along, so sometimes I leave it at home. I never rest well when I do, and I always regret it. For me, not getting a good night’s sleep throws my day off entirely — and often exacerbates my ADHD symptoms.
Being on vacation doesn’t mean your body needs less sleep. Go out, party, do what you want to do — but make sure that you’re leaving yourself enough time to rest, or you may not be very pleasant to be around.
Traveling with ADHD can be an exciting (and even relaxing!) experience, but it’s not without its challenges. I’ve found that one of the best things to do is think about which of my ADHD symptoms is most exacerbated by travel and work backward from there to plan accordingly.
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
ADHD-US-NP-00042 JANUARY 2019