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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.