Experts Share 6 ADHD Travel Tips for a Smooth, Worry-Free Trip

UPDATED: April 11, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 14, 2024
young man with backpack traveling in busy street

Organizing and accessing working memory are all types of executive function skills that are necessary for most types of travel—and people with ADHD sometimes struggle with these skills. This can make traveling for business or pleasure especially stressful. 

There are many factors like weather or traffic that are out of your control, but there are also tasks within your control that can be daunting. If you are flying, you’ll need to remember to bring a passport or driver’s license to get on your flight. But if you forget to bring your proof of identification, then your trip just got even more complicated.

In addition to remembering important paperwork, you will be on the move in less familiar surroundings—so there’s a risk of misplacing things along the way or getting distracted when you’re going through airport security. Then there are the aspects of scheduling and timeliness that you need to consider for meetings, flights or tours, which may also pose a challenge. 

6 ADHD travel tips to help make your trip a success

Those with ADHD can use certain techniques to help improve their executive functioning. But even if you don’t have ADHD, you can use the following expert ADHD travel tips to plan and enjoy a successful trip.

1. Visualize the trip

Before you even leave your house, envision yourself traveling to your destination. “One of the things that trips us [people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] up is what we haven’t thought about,” explains Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., an ADHD coach and founder of the Fundamentals of ADHD Coaching for Families Course at the ADD Coach Academy, who also has ADHD and travels frequently.

According to Caroline, “This pre-planning visualization is like a little movie in your mind” that can help you consider challenging scenarios and then plan accordingly so you create better outcomes. For example, if you picture yourself on the plane at lunchtime, then you might realize you will probably be hungry. This way, you can plan on packing a lunch to prevent feeling angry due to hunger.

During the planning process, Cena Block, a certified ADHD coach and productivity expert, suggests utilizing time-blocking. “Allocate specific time blocks for each activity or segment of the trip, including travel to airports or tour locations. Incorporate buffer time between activities to accommodate potential delays,” she says.

2. Plan your travel outfits

Most people are better at remembering items when they have a routine. When you travel, your routine of placing your car keys in a tray by the door, for example, is no longer an option. You can avoid losing necessary items by keeping them on your person. “I think it’s really important in the planning stage to think about what you’re going to wear,” says Maguire. If you wear outfits with lots of deep pockets, then it’s easy to keep your keys, phone and other documents on you instead of leaving them in the airport waiting area. 

Another great option is to use a crossbody bag that stays securely on your body, even when you’re seated, so you have one less item to forget. “If you have a crossbody bag or [your] money is in a belt on your chest… then you’re not dependent on your memory,” says Maguire. “It’s autopilot, and it’s less of me having to depend on me remembering these external things.”

Another suggestion when packing is to organize your clothes. This will help you remember what you need so you can easily find items when you are at your destination. “When packing clothing, get some jumbo-sized Ziploc bags and pack entire outfits,” says Abigail Levrini, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, the author of Succeeding with Adult ADHD and the owner of Psych Ed Connections. 

She also suggests that you label the bags with the days that you will wear the outfits and put everything you need for that day in each bag. This is more efficient than packing all your clothing in one big heap that you will need to rummage through.

Block adds that you should be a minimalist when packing. “The biggest skill to master is to streamline packing by only bringing necessary items, reducing the likelihood of losing belongings amidst clutter,” she says.

3. Create a “go bag”

If you have a bag that’s always packed with necessary items like toothpaste or Dramamine, then you will be less likely to forget these items when packing for your trip. “It’s just packed so that when I go somewhere, I don’t have to rethink of everything,” says Maguire about her go bag. Another option is to use a travel checklist, but it’s possible to forget to pack something if you get distracted.

Your go bag can also be the place where you store essential travel documents like your passport. “Designate a travel essentials zone,” says Block. “I love to use a plastic Velcro-closed envelope to store all travel documents, reservations and receipts so it’s easy to find, even when you’re not looking.” She also suggests using your phone to take a picture of all documents, just in case you misplace them.

4. Always do a 360-degree sweep of an area before you leave it

Sometimes people with ADHD lose items when they aren’t paying attention to where they placed something or when they get distracted by moving on to the next thing. “Something that I always do with students that I think would work really well here is to take a 360[-degree] view of your environment,” says Maguire. 

She explains that this means you take a moment before you leave an area to search under and behind your chair, or anywhere else within 360 degrees of the space that you were in, to make sure you have all your belongings. If you get into the habit of always doing this check, even when you’re not traveling, then you’ll be more likely to remember to do it when you are traveling—and less likely to leave things behind.

5. Stay hydrated and well-rested

Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause ADHD symptoms to worsen. Those without ADHD also experience attention, memory and decision-making challenges when sleep-deprived, according to research. Similar studies found that a lack of hydration can affect your memory and focus. Due to these reasons, Maguire plans her travel based on when she will be well-rested, which might mean scheduling a later flight.

“I am really difficult when I haven’t had sleep, and it affects my cognitive processing,” she says. She also always brings a bottle of water wherever she goes since she has noticed how dehydration can affect her memory. “People make fun of me for this—when I land, if I don’t have an extra bottle of water, I go and buy one.”

6. Remain calm

Even the most experienced traveler can feel overwhelmed when traveling. “I think my biggest challenge, and I’m sure every ADHD person would agree on this, is to stay calm,” Maguire says. “I get sensory overload in airports.”

When Maguire notices she’s starting to feel overwhelmed, she takes deep breaths and tells herself that she’s OK. Sometimes removing herself from a chaotic place by going to the restroom is also calming. 

Block suggests using “mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or grounding exercises to manage travel-related stress.” This way, no matter what disruptions or delays may occur, you’ll ultimately be in control of your experience.

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