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The ADHD Traveller

Updated on July 11, 2011

Adventure vs. Overwhelm: ADHD Travel

Travel can put you in a bind if you have attention deficit disorder. Adults with ADD love travel and adventure -- but we're also prone to overwhelm and anxiety, and few things are more overwhelming than travel.

Traveling requires a lot of attention to detail, and mistakes can be very costly. You need your boarding pass, your ID, and if you're traveling internationally, your passport. You need luggage, well-packed with clothing and toiletries, but not so well packed that you go over the weight limit for bags. You need a personal bag for the plane, with your laptop, cables, and adapters. Oh -- AND you need to be at the airport on time.

And that's not even getting to the stuff you needed to deal with before packing. Stuff like shopping for the things you'll need to bring on your trip, finding a pet sitter, or getting someone to pick up the mail.

For an ADD adult, dealing with any one of these things can be pretty stressful. Travel requires us to deal with all of them at once. Over the course of various travels, I've learned how to prepare for my relaxing vacation without having a nervous breakdown along the way.

Packing can be tough when you have attention deficit disorder. Adults with ADD are prone to overwhelm -- that is, our brains aren't good at prioritizing, so we begin to think of everything as a top priority. This is especially true of something tedious and detail-oriented, like packing for a trip.

For years, I was unable to pack for a trip, or even decide what to bring, without huge amounts of anxiety. Would I have enough underwear? Shouldn't I make sure to pack at least one outfit for every possible kind of weather? Pretty soon I'd have myself worked up to a point where I was convinced I needed to be ready for a black-tie formal event that was being held in a raging blizzard.

Stress-free ADHD Travel Tip!

Keep prescription medications in your carry on or personal item! If you check these medications, and your luggage gets lost, your meds could get lost too. For stress-free travel, keep them with you at all times.

How to Pack with ADHD

Ditch the dress clothes.

After my first several trips, I realized that I only wore about half of the items I had carefully packed and then hauled halfway across the world. When I was a kid, whenever we took a trip my mother made us bring at least one dressy outfit, and this habit persisted well into my adult years. I don't know if it's because life is less formal than it used to be, or if my mom just wanted us to impress elderly relatives, but in my grown-up travels I never dress up.

The lesson I've taken from this is that if you don't ordinarily go places where a jacket and tie are required, you won't need them wherever you're going. This is great news, because dress clothes take up a ton of space, and that's just by themselves -- once you add shoes, make-up, jewelry, and any weirdly-specific underwear that plunged neckline cross-over spaghetti-strap cocktail dress requires, half your suitcase is gone.

I've found that I can easily get by with a pair of jeans, a pair of nicer pants, and four or five blouses. I bring a vest or two and a wrap in case I want to vary my outfits at all. That's it. No skirt, no dress, and best of all, no dress shoes; which means that I have more room for long underwear, if I'm traveling in winter -- and if the weather is warm, I can get away with a lot less luggage.

An ADD Adult Goes to Paris, and ... - doesn't go crazy first

I recently took a trip to France. It was a wonderful trip. I loved the country, and the people, and the City itself.

But whenever I travel, I find that I'm unreasonably stressed out about packing and getting there -- so I decided that I'd get an early start this time. I wrote about it at Well-Ordered Chaos, my blog about ADD Organizing.

Is The Extra Bag Fee Worth It? - Share Your Thoughts Here!

Now that airlines (at least in the United States) have instituted extra fees for checked luggage, a lot of people are paring down their packing list to fit into carry-on luggage. But others can't imagine traveling without their stuff. What kind of traveler are you?

Would you rather pay for a checked bag, and be sure to have everything you might need; or would you rather take a chance, and bring less stuff in a single carry-on?

See results

My Trip to Paris: The Plot Thickens - ... like an artfully crafted chocolate mousse, whipped to soft peaks

I felt pretty proud of myself for getting such a big head start on my trip to Paris. I thought there was a good chance that by the day before my trip, I'd be chilling at home with the cats, packing my suitcase, cleaning the house, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

That is, until an unforeseen circumstance caused the trip to be moved up by a week.

For those of us with attention deficit disorder, time can be a very fuzzy concept. If I'm supposed to be somewhere at 3:30 pm, I tend not to pay attention to when I need to leave to get to where I'm going by that time. 2:30 goes by, and I still have plenty of time, right? A whole hour! Then it's 3 pm. Still plenty of time! Then it's 3:15. So I go to put on my shoes, but I can't find them; and when I've found my shoes I don't know where my sunglasses are; and when I've found THOSE I realize that I still need to print out a map of where I'm going. Pretty soon it's 3:35 and I'm barely running out the door.

This is where "out the door" time comes in handy. If I have a 3:30 pm domestic flight, I can't be thinking about "3:30 pm", which is when I need to be on the airplane, luggage stowed, seat belt buckled. I need to be thinking about my "out the door" time. If my flight is at 3:30, that means that 2:30 is the latest time I can make it to the airport and hope to get through bag check and security. That means I need to catch a train by 1:45 at the latest, which probably means I need to catch a 1:35 streetcar, which means I need to be thinking of an "out the door" time of 1:30 pm.

Visual Countdown Timer - Complete with pretty colors.

Learning Resources LER6900  Time Tracker Visual Timer & Clock, Blue
Learning Resources LER6900 Time Tracker Visual Timer & Clock, Blue

Getting anywhere on time can be a problem for someone with attention deficit disorder. Adults with ADD tend not to have a firm grasp on the passage of time -- however hard we try, it just drifts by us until, before we know it, we're running late. A visual timer solves this problem by color-coding the time you have left. Green is "plenty of time", Yellow means "wrap it up", and Red means it's "out the door time"!


ADHD Travel for the Whole Family - Adults, kids, and everyone in between.

ADHD can make travel tough on the whole family. Adults with ADD are more likely to have kids with ADD, which means that everyone is trying to negotiate a situation that exacerbates their ADHD in different ways. These links can help you have a relaxing vacation for the whole family.

Top Ten ADHD Travel Hacks - Simplify.

If you read this, there's a good chance you have ADHD. Which means you maybe didn't pay such close attention to everything I've said so far. That's OK. Here is everything I've ever learned about travel, in a convenient numbered list.

  1. For longer trips, get a medium-sized toiletry bag. Keep it well-stocked, and store it in your suitcase. I used to waste a ton of time chasing down all the toiletries I need to travel. I solved this problem with a permanent toiletry bag that lives in my suitcase.
  2. For shorter trips, get an airport-friendly toiletry bag. Fill the 3 oz. bottles with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or whatever else you need to bring with you. Store it in your carry-on. An airport-friendly toiletry bag comes in a one quart size with several bottles that are clearly marked "3 oz". It's easy to reach into your carry-on and grab it when you go through security.
  3. Ditch the dress clothes. Unless you're going to a wedding, or have tickets to opening night in your very own box at at La Scala, you can probably get away with casual clothes.
  4. Get an airport-friendly laptop case. You've already taken your laptop case out of your carry-on. Now you can avoid taking your laptop out of its case.
  5. Make a packing list on your word processor and save it.This way, you only have to make the list once, and it's easy to make changes depending on the specifics of your trip.
  6. Be at the airport at least one hour before your domestic flight, and two hours before your international flight. You need to leave yourself enough time to go through security and possibly to check luggage.
  7. Pick an "out the door" time and stick to it.In order to manage the previous item, don't think about when your plane leaves -- think about when you need to be out the door to make your flight, check your luggage, and go through security.
  8. Check in for your flight online, and print your boarding pass before you leave the house. This is one less line to stand in at the airport.

Store Your Clothes On Site!

Is there a particular place that you visit a lot -- like your family? Leave full-size toiletries and a few changes of clothes at your family's place. My mother-in-law has a set of clothes and sundries she keeps at her mother's house. She says she just LOVES the feeling of boarding a plane with only her purse!

Bon Voyage!

The most important thing I've learned is that there's really not a lot to worry about.

Leave travel tips and comments here. You don't have to be a squidoo member -- anyone can participate!

What are your favorite travel tips?

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    • callinsky lm profile image

      callinsky lm 7 years ago

      When I go on a three day trip -within the US- I plan weeks in advance. I plan for cat care, home sitters, people to cover my customers at work. I will check and print my travel route. I book hotels and pay for them in full based on the travel route. I even pack early, leaving only enough clothes to get me through at home. I make a list, lose it, start a new list, lose it again, but when the day comes to head out I am out like a ghost.

      If it's a big concert in the middle of summer my route and hotels are set months in advance. I have to be able to walk to the concert because I don't drink and drive. If I cannot walk... a taxi is a must. In bad areas I may not want to walk after dark, again a taxi is a must.

      So yes. I agree. This is a wonderful lens. It's okay to be "super well prepared" when you prepare early. Rock and Roll I say!!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      It's excellent! I always stress whenever I have to travel, mostly in my home country as I don't like to travel, but if I go on holiday somewhere away from my house, then I must have everything needed in any kind of event! I often almost bring my entire house with me, lol. Always stressed to forget something... and the same goes when I have to leave and get back to home, hahaha.

      Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 8 years ago

      Excellent tips for anyone, let alone someone with ADD! 5*

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 8 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Really enjoyed this lens! 5*

    • Ceeshell profile image

      Ceeshell 8 years ago

      I don't have ADD (at least I don't think so), but time is a "fuzzy concept" for me as well. Getting an airport shuttle with a set pickup time that's beyond my control helps me with this. I also keep a packing list document on my computer, like you suggested. It has my standard items, and then I add on things that are specific to the destination. Great travel tips!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Loved your travel tips -- everything you mentioned works for any traveler, ADHD or not. A good way to leave on your trip feeling relaxed and in control. I once went on a tour in England; my first overseas trip. Having no real understanding of the dress requirements, I WAY over-packed. A friend who traveled often told me to "pack light" and if I didn't understand what that meant, I should 'pack' my suitcases, then take one-half of the stuff OUT. Naturally, I didn't believe her, but she was right! I never needed half the things I took.