The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: travel

USPS strikes again, & why I over-prepare

Recently, someone asked why I wanted a passport for my three-year-old. My husband asked the question, too. We have no immediate plans to travel abroad. Why would I add to my already-full to-do list?

Here’s why: our household’s adults have ADHD. Bureaucratic processes take longer than I’d like to admit. Minor setbacks have a disproportionate effect on us. Sometimes, we answer the call to adventure with an impulsive, “yes!” Other times, we have time to plan in advance, but we don’t.

This isn’t my first time to the passport rodeo. I’ve been burned before. I’ve learned that adults with ADHD should err on the side of preparedness in these situations, not wait until we’re under the gun.

The passport that almost kept me home

My grade-school best friend spent a college semester in Ireland. Of course I went to visit him. After all, I had an opportunity to travel abroad for nothing but the cost of airfare.

Did I plan ahead on this, knowing he’d be studying abroad? Nope.

I had plenty of time to renew my expired passport, but I didn’t do it. I had misgivings about being able to afford my plane ticket. My ADHD brain settled into a rut and failed to consider possible solutions to this problem — like borrowing frequent flyer miles from a family member who flew a lot for work.

By the time my family learned of my plight and offered me the miles, I was in a bind. I barely had enough time to renew my passport with expedited processing. It was expensive and stressful. Even after paying extra, I bit my nails while I waited. I expected to receive it only days before my departure. Any hitch in the process could’ve cancelled my entire trip.

From that day on, I vowed never to let a passport expire again, even if I didn’t think I’d need it for a while. Impulsive, last-minute adventures have always been kind of my thing. This didn’t need to be one of those times, but it ended up being so because I didn’t plan ahead.

Government paperwork & ADHD

Fast-forward to 2016, when I renewed my husband’s and my passports. While I was at it, I applied for one for our son. First-time passports for minors require parents to fill out the application, take a picture of the kid, and show up together at the Post Office to take an oath. Easy, right?

Not if you have ADHD. Then, every step of the process feels like a roadblock: printing out the forms. Sitting down and filling them out correctly. Remembering to take a photo. Remembering to pick the photo up from Target. Picking up the phone to make the appointment at the Post Office. Finally, getting our entire family to the Post Office, together, at the correct time, during a work day.

It took us at least six months to execute all these steps.

A snag, but not a disaster

Once we successfully presented ourselves at the Post Office, guess what? The woman at the desk told me we a.) weren’t on the schedule, b.) had never been on the schedule, and c.) had called the incorrect number to make our appointment.

Only a.) ended up being correct, but can you imagine? Six months of fighting my ADHD, and someone tries to send me out the door at the last moment? I had a fresh dose of Concerta in my system, but I still fought mightily not to make a huge scene. I didn’t want to be rude to the woman, but I felt like she was trying to ruin my life.

It turned out someone else had called to cancel their appointment and ended up cancelling ours by accident. Who could’ve guessed? We ended up completing our application after all, and I didn’t have to apologize for too much bad behavior.

Low stakes? In ADHD-land?

Reflecting on the Post Office incident, I could only feel thankful that I didn’t have a vacation on my calendar. Unlike my trip to Ireland, I had nothing hanging in the balance. I could afford a SNAFU. Knowing our ADHD family, if we were applying for passports to prepare for actual travel, we’d be doing it last-minute. The stakes would be higher, and our little misunderstanding at the Post Office could’ve led to an epic meltdown. I may not have felt comfortable going to that Post Office ever again.

In other words, I was grateful I didn’t actually need the passport I was applying for. I almost pitched a fit, but I fought it off because I had no reason to panic. Being an adult with ADHD is hard. It’s not often I get to take my slow, ADHD time with no repercussions. If I have an opportunity to struggle through red tape when the stakes are low, why not take it?

What chores and processes tend to mesh poorly with your ADHD? How do you keep them from causing unnecessary stress? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments!

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Returning home from a trip: There’s ideal, and then there’s…

When I read this post on Unclutterer titled “An Organized Ending to Your Trip,” I definitely nodded along.

I’ve tried leaving a half-unpacked suitcase on the floor for several weeks after returning home from a trip, and it doesn’t feel great. It’s tough, but I force myself to unpack right away every time. Letting it go until tomorrow too often means letting it go until next week around here.

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Well, our holiday travels didn’t go that way this year. Our toddler was the only healthy one in the house last week. Christmas may have been 10 days ago, but there’s still a suitcase in the hallway.

It happens.

As much as I swear by consistency, habits, and routines for ADHD’ers, circumstances will intervene.

So how do we get back on track?

Prioritize first.

Did you know the very act of prioritizing saps our mental energy? For ADHD adults, that may sound like we’ve lost before we’ve even begun.

Not necessarily. We just need to remember to prioritize, well, prioritizing.

Deciding what to eat for dinner, checking your email, and making sure your kid has everything he needs for school tomorrow all require energy. Brainpower doesn’t come free. If you do to these things before thinking through your priorities for the day, you may be left with too little attention.

Of course, I’m not telling you those other tasks don’t also need to get done. They do. But nothing is as important as that moment you take to pause and ask yourself, “what’s most important for me to do today?”

When you come home from a trip, you have a long list of things to do: laundry, opening the mail, unpacking, watering the plants, turning off your out-of-office message. Tie up those loose ends and you’ll save yourself a lot of chaos.

Prioritize first. Don’t shortchange the importance of wrapping up your trip completely. When you feel yourself getting distracted with another project, gently guide yourself back to your intended focus.

Oh, and if you’d like some tips on ending your trip in an organized fashion, check out the original post on Unclutterer.

Here’s to a peaceful holiday

A few years ago, I stopped looking forward to the holidays. However, as I’m signing off today, saying farewell until after Christmas, I’m feeling downright excited again.

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When I was younger, I loved this time of year: first we had Thanksgiving, then my birthday, then Christmas and New Years. The weather got chilly and the smell of wood smoke greeted me when I stepped out the door.

In college, the holidays meant nearly a month home from school, visiting with friends and picking up shifts at my old job.

Even in the real world, I got a job that provided paid time off between Christmas and New Years. Friends and family eyed that free vacation time with envy, but I rarely enjoyed it. We spent the whole time traveling, trying to make sure we visited each branch of our family for equal time. My husband, who didn’t receive such a generous leave package around the holidays, turned down opportunities to take summer vacations so he could save his vacation time for Christmas.

To be fair, to be able to do all of this was a blessing. And maybe some people — some families — can do it all. Maybe this is sustainable for some. Not for us.

For ADHD families especially, traveling has a steep cost: projects and maintenance stagnate while we’re away. We lose our daily routines. Regular chores are left undone as we prepare for our departure. We have to remember to stop the mail, tell our neighbors we’ll be gone, shut off the water to the washing machine. Even if it doesn’t overshadow — or even begin to compete with — the benefits, these costs create stress.

This year, I decided to stop making our holidays about stress. I decided to be real about our family — who and where we are at this moment — and focus on spending quality time with the people we love. Period. That means we’re seeing fewer people this year, or inviting more of them to come to us. It means not overstretching ourselves. Learning to say no. Prioritizing our family over my desire to do it all and my fear of disappointing others.

With so many distractions removed this year, I can finally look forward to Christmas with an open heart.

And sometimes that’s what we need to do: simplify. Remove distractions. Stop measuring ourselves against others’ standards.

I may not have that job anymore, but I’m giving myself some time off anyway. The ADHD Homestead will resume its regular schedule on December 29. Until then, I hope you have a lovely Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, or whatever celebration you’re planning. Don’t forget why you’re there: to fill your heart and be a light to those around you. Keep stripping away the distractions until you get there.

Happy holidays!

Couldn’t-live-without-it moment: the packing list

Our family recently flew for the first time as a party of three: two ADHD parents and a toddler. R. had a fabulous first plane ride thanks to our good travel habits and I was really impressed with everyone involved.

But — there’s always a but. You know the moment when you realize how quickly a situation could have turned from mildly inconvenient to critically overwhelming?

We’re all familiar with the latter. Our non-ADHD companions wonder at the minor setbacks we manage to transform into full-blown disasters.

I’d like to start a habit of sharing the positive side of this equation — our crisis averted moments, if you will.

On our return trip, the airline lost one of our bags. I forgot to ask how it ended up somewhere other than our baggage carousel, so the details of its journey from Orlando to Baltimore will remain a mystery.

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Here we stood, peering over the ledge, clearly at the brink of a meltdown. Our flight had landed just in time to get R. home for an on-time afternoon nap. Everyone was hungry and tired. The baggage attendant had left us to sit and wait patiently (ha!) while she looked into the situation. I kept thinking — and saying — “I just wish I knew what was going on.”

Then the attendant called me up to gather some identifying information about our bag, including the contents. I approached her desk carrying a battered copy of our packing list.

This moment was the tipping point. Despite having meticulously packed the suitcases myself the night before, I would never have remembered what was in there. I would, however, have had an anxiety attack about what might have been in there, or about the fact that I didn’t even know what was missing.

Instead, I calmly reviewed my list. I compared it to the items I had just seen in the other suitcase. I provided three unique items that would identify the contents of my bag. We left the airport feeling under control.

When we got home, I highlighted each item on the list as I unpacked it. The result: a complete inventory of the items we were missing, just in case the bag never turned up.

I use my packing list to keep calm while I’m packing up at either end of my trip, but its usefulness in the event of a lost bag had never crossed my mind.

If you’re placing your bags in anyone else’s care, do yourself a favor and use a detailed packing list that will double as an inventory if anything goes missing. As someone who is routinely embarrassed by memory problems, our list definitely saved my day.

What seemingly trivial item has saved your day lately?

6 ways to reduce travel stress

Traveling with ADHD — especially if your family is blessed with multiple ADHD’ers — doesn’t always feel like a vacation.

You forget to pack that one thing you couldn’t afford to leave behind. You have an epic fight with your spouse before arriving late to the airport again.

Feel like the non-stop stress-fest isn’t worth it? You’re not alone. Traveling hits so many ADHD sore spots: prioritization, focus, and time management, to name a few.

This fall, resolve to do better. Instead of dreading your holiday travels, identify common flashpoints and find ways to prevent chaos and disaster from ruining your day. Here are six tips to help you reach your destination with sanity intact.

  1. Take your meds on travel days.

    Never assume being off the clock means you don’t need your meds. My husband and I used to get into arguments — I’m talking serious meltdowns — before leaving for every trip, even a routine weekend visit with our parents. This behavior isn’t impossible with stimulant medication, but let’s be realistic: it’s far less likely. Think about when you’ll need to be at your best: last-minute packing, getting through the airport, driving a long distance, etc. Plan your meds so you’ll experience their peak benefits at these times.

  2. Assign bags first.

    While we were still in college, I began accompanying my husband’s family on their annual ski trip. The night before we departed, my mother-in-law handed me a small duffle for the week’s personal items and clothing. I still use this bag-assignment strategy today. Handing each family member a pre-selected bag prevents overpacking, helps you manage cargo space in your vehicle, and forces everyone to think about priorities. Do you want to take an extra pair of jeans, or would you rather have a book to read? Can you get by with a tablet and bluetooth keyboard instead of a bulky laptop? A hard limit forces these choices and prevents a lot of wasted time during packing.

  3. Keep an evolving packing list.

    ADHD’ers struggle with forgetting even the most basic supplies, especially when the whole family is bustling around creating distractions. A checklist safeguards against forgetting, allows everyone to help with packing, and alleviates anxiety caused by the fear of leaving something important behind. Not sure where to start with your list? Download my template and save it to your Google Drive. Make a column for each member of your family so they feel a sense of ownership. As your family evolves and your needs change, so will your list.

  4. Prep all week.

    Keep your packing list open on your computer and/or smart phone. When you think of something you need to pack, write it down immediately. You will not remember after you get out of the bathroom, so go ahead and use your phone on the toilet if you have to. If you don’t already do a load of laundry a day, this is a good week to try it so you’re not washing all night before you leave.

  5. Assign jobs. Avoid “helping.”

    At first glance, our household’s division of travel-day labor may seem unfair: my husband plays with our son while I pack and load the car. This is what works best for us. I need autonomous control over the situation to feel relaxed, and too much chatter around me leads to distractions and forgetting. Learn each others’ strengths and assign jobs at the outset. Put one person in charge of delegating tasks and managing your packing/travel checklist. Remember that distractions, even in the form of innocent questions, can wreck an ADHD’er’s focus and cause her to forget something important. Don’t insert yourself into a one-person job if you haven’t been invited.

  6. Keep schedules and routines intact.

    If you have a schedule that works for your family, do everything you can to preserve it on travel days. Your and your children’s bodies will still expect to eat and sleep at their appointed times. Honoring this will make for a smoother trip. If you’re driving, identify a few possible snack/meal stops on your route ahead of time. Make sure your hosts and travel companions are clued in — never just assume they’re on the same page. This is especially true if you have kids and they don’t. If someone is cooking you dinner when you arrive, mention your usual mealtime and any dietary restrictions. Don’t wait until your child is starving and/or overtired to mention that she’s used to eating an hour earlier.

Of course, these habits haven’t made travel days stress-free for our family — we’re still ADHD humans, after all — but they have made travel far more manageable, practically and emotionally.

Want some advice on your travel struggles? Have another tip to share? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments.

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