By Mary Fetzer
Anyone who has ADHD — or has a loved one with ADHD — knows that traveling can present special challenges, beginning with how and what to pack.
Take it from Alex Smith. Smith is a dad who blogs about traveling to Disney. He and his wife, who has ADHD, travel a lot with their family.
“Packing is a big struggle for my wife because she often gets overwhelmed, packs twice as much as she needs, and forgets certain items,” Smith says. “This gets compounded when packing for the kids as well. Then, when we get there, all of our stuff ends up all over the hotel room.”
Smith says he tries to help as much as possible (“while carrying all the stuff and getting food for everyone”). But there’s no question that ADHD adds its own dynamic to the mix.
Leanne Turner from New York City is a lifelong travel enthusiast who’s been in the hospitality business for more than two decades. She’s the chief operating officer and co-founder of Alō Index, a sustainable hotel sourcing tool for enterprises. She also has ADHD.
Turner says she traveled nearly half of the time in her previous jobs. In those days, she focused mainly on carrying a full second set of toiletries and makeup in the “best hanging organizer” she could find. Now, with a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, her travel routines have become more complex.
We asked Smith, Turner and several other travel experts — some of whom also have ADHD themselves — to offer their best tips for tackling the packing monster.
Here are their tips:
Embrace Packing Cubes
Turner recommends using small packing cubes.
“Organize your suitcase by using smaller bags for chargers and cords, snacks, passports and so on to avoid the bottomless pit that a big bag can become,” she says. “Packing cubes make it so easy to pack and unpack and keep my suitcase and hotel room tidy. I use one cube for dirty laundry to make sure it all goes straight to the washer when I get back.”
Smith’s family takes the organize-by-bag tactic a step further.
“Our solution, especially for the kids, is to pack daily outfits — Child 1, Day 1 — in labeled Ziploc bags,” he explains. “Then we use more bags as we move on to bathing suits and toiletries. This helps us pack in an organized way so that we can easily find what we need at the hotel.”
Take a Vocal Inventory
Turner recommends saying things out loud while packing. (“I’m packing our sunscreen and swimsuits.”) This tactic helps to improve focus so you’re not continuously second-guessing yourself, she says. (“Did I already pack that?”)
Ask for Help
Turner recommends leaning on your traveling companions without ADHD for help. “Handle the things you know you’re good at and ask for help with anything else,” she says.
Color Code by Traveler
“Even my 3-year-old knows at a glance that anything blue — from his suitcase to his toothbrush — is his,” Turner says. “It cuts down on the ‘whose is this?’ questions and is a nice visual cue for all of us.”
Color coding is also something recommended by Amanda Kruger, a licensed professional counselor in Denver who specializes in ADHD. Both she and her 4-year-old son have ADHD. Kruger and her partner have traveled extensively — domestically and internationally — with their three small children.
“For people who have neurodiverse brains (like those with ADHD), visuals can be key,” she says. “Print or create virtual packing lists, itineraries, and important information. Add colors and pictures to these, especially for children.”
Parenting coach and sleep consultant Christine Brown, founder of Bella Luna Family, a New Hampshire parent coaching company, echoed Turner’s suggestion about asking for help on most travel logistics. But even as a mom with ADHD, she likes managing the task of packing.
“I rely heavily on my neurotypical husband for planning our trips,” she said. “Where I come in is in the planning of what to pack and the packing itself. Shiny new things definitely get me excited!”
Brown makes a list of what she needs and shops mostly online.
“As the items arrive, I wash them and place them directly into a plastic tub,” she says. “When it’s time to pack, everything new that needs to be included is in one spot so I don’t forget anything!”
Brown says that her friends who don’t have ADHD tend to pack well in advance of the trip, but she prefers to pack the day before because a short deadline works better for her.
“I make sure that I cross items off my list as they get packed so when I am packing up last-minute items, I have an accurate list and I don’t forget anything,” she says. “If I do forget something, I give myself lots of grace and tell myself that I can get something similar at our destination if we really need it.”
Hans Mast, a travel adviser at Golden Rule Travel in Hutchinson, Kan., seconds Brown’s advice.
“When it comes to planning and packing, it’s essential to have a checklist of all the things you need to bring to avoid forgetting anything important,” Mast says. “Also, pack a bag the night before you leave. This can reduce the likelihood of forgetting items at home while providing enough time to remember something important you may have missed.”
Pack for Your ADHD Too
Chris Watson, the chief executive officer of MyAdventureDiaries.com in Glasgow, Scotland, says that it’s important to keep in mind the needs of travelers with ADHD.
“This could include packing items that help to reduce stress or anxiety, such as noise-canceling headphones or a fidget toy,” he says. “This can help to reduce stress and make the trip more enjoyable.”