4 Reasons Traveling is a Nightmare if You Have ADHD

by | Jun 6, 2019 | ADHD Success Skills and Tools | 7 comments

treat ADHDTraveling can be a nightmare if you have ADHD. Oh, so hard to do. Actually, it’s not usually that the traveling is hard for ADHD adults. It’s the getting ready to travel.

One thing you can do to make traveling easier with ADHD is to understand where your ADHD travel nightmares lurk. Awareness is the first step to making living with ADHD easier!

The reality is that combining ADHD and travel can lead to a major case of overwhelm. ADHD coaching clients often ask me for help to make traveling easier. Especially with packing!

They wonder if it’s them or if traveling is hard for ADHD adults in general. I’m happy to report that they aren’t alone.

Once, one of my ADHD coaching clients once told me about a travel nightmare she’d had. “Dana, you know how hard packing a suitcase is for me. Well, last night I dreamed I was packing over and over while two of my problem employees argued about what I should take on the vacation.”

Four Reasons Traveling is Hard for ADHD Adults

One of the big culprits in our traveling struggles is packing. It goes against our natural skills.

1. Packing Requires Planning

In case you haven’t noticed, planning isn’t exactly a strength for most Adults with ADHD. Smart packing doesn’t leave a lot of room for impulsivity. You need to think ahead about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. You need to remember to check the weather forecast.

Will you be lounging by a pool? Hiking? Attending business meetings? All of the above? The options are often endless and sometimes trips combine both business and pleasure activities. Making planning and packing for travel a nightmare for ADHD adults.

2. Packing Requires Decision-Making

Making decisions is hard for ADHD adults. And, even after we manage to make a decision, we start second-guessing what we decided.  Packing a suitcase means decisions galore! “What outfit do I wear Saturday night?” and “How much can I fit into my suitcase?” are just two of many decisions you’ll have to make before you leave.

This is why most ADHD adults approach to traveling is to pack their entire wardrobe. Once, when I was much, much younger, my friend JoAnn and I went on a cruise. I packed enough outfits to change my clothes six times a day! Nope, I’m not kidding. (This was way before I knew about ADHD, and how to avoid those kinds of travel nightmares.)

3. Packing Requires Organization

Yes, organization one of the biggest struggles of Attention Deficit. Have you ever arrived at a hotel room, opened up your suitcase and discovered that someone (you) detonated a small bomb inside? You then have to dig for a pair of shorts, find a matching (now wrinkled) top, and… you know you put a pair of socks in there somewhere (didn’t you?)… By the time you’ve found everything your hotel room looks like someone (you) exploded a bomb in it.

This explosion style of packing is neither efficient nor helpful for an ADHD adult. Organizing your suitcase not only eliminates a need to iron while on vacation (or walk out wearing a wrinkled shirt!), but it means less stress while dressing. I’ve become a big fan of packing cubes . I resisted them for years, but they do make traveling easier for me.

4. Trip Packing is Best Done Ahead of Time

Okay, I don’t mean days ahead of time. You won’t ever be that annoying person who’s suitcase is sitting by the door days before you leave. Your ADHD brain needs that deadline of leaving for the airport before it clicks into gear. This is a true testament to Adult ADHD! I have learned, the hard way, to do what I can to move the packing ahead a bit. So, it’s not left to the total last minute.

The trick is finding a balance. My favorite ADHD travel approach is to do the planning and decision-making in advance. Knowing what’s going in the suitcase a few days ahead. So you can push against that deadline without your house of cards falling down. Also, make sure your clothes are washed and dry before you pack them. (Please, tell me I’m not the only one who has packed a suitcase of damp clothes!)

You aren’t alone in this. Packing challenges us. We avoid making decisions and doing things in advance. Organizing isn’t our best skill. Packing is one of the biggest reasons traveling is hard for ADHD adults. But, it doesn’t have to be. Combine awareness with small steps to make packing easier. Living with ADHD doesn’t have to be so hard!






  1. Barbara

    I can definitely relate too many of the things you said and especially the packing as I’m trying to pack right now and I have everything I own on my bed. I could definitely benefit from your Insight

    • Penny

      I’m packing from one home to another 1 1/2 hours away n I become immobilized!!!!!! Cannot start

  2. Shelley

    Dana, I am new to your blog. You are RIGHT on. I don’t know if you mentioned staying up almost ALL night long trying to decide what to pack. I usually get 2 hours of sleep the night before any trip, then I feel horrible at the start of the trip, even if I think I am “organized”. And sometimes my suitcase is TOO heavy because I usually pack WAY too many shoes! . My 91 year old mother does the same thing with little sleep. She was in a minor one car accident the day after she did this one time! It is SO good to read your blog about this. I get so upset with myself and think “WHAT is the matter with me!” I do have ADD , and I am no “spring chicken”! Thank you! I have heard you talk on Tara McGillicuddy ‘s programs. You are great!

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Shelley, You are SO RIGHT! Staying up all night and over-packing is something people with ADHD do. Often. Glad you like the blog! Thanks, Dana

      • Billy

        I have not been tested for ADHD try but instead was diagnosed with anxiety. But I’m really starting to think I might be more ADHD than anxious. I’m 42, male and when it comes to travel my thing has always been more about being in a strange place and being far from home. I have thoughts like, “what if I wanted to be home right now? It would take me hours to get there!” Lol. I know it’s illogical but it’s had kept me from traveling more than a few hours from home. Could that be an ADHD thing?
        Many thanks.

        • Dana Rayburn

          Hi Billy, thank you for commenting. Our thoughts may see illogical, however, they are real to us. On its own anxiety about getting home fast enough doesn’t come from ADHD. If you experience ADHD symptoms that cause anxiety, do talk to your doctor. All Best, Dana

  3. Syan

    This is a 100% relatable! I’m currently on a trip, I managed (forced?) myself to make the train and housing reservations a couple of weeks before leaving. After that it took me a week to actually start planning my bags, which I’ve done slowly on the last week. That way I could spend multiple days thinking « what if what’s in my bags isn’t enough ? Is too much? ».
    But by far the hardest part of the trip, which involves visiting 7 cities in 2 weeks, has been the afternoon crashes or late mornings. I’m alone so at least I don’t feel like I’m an inconvenience to anyone, but I still feel like I’m wasting precious hours I could spend outside. I guess it’s just a matter of accepting at that point. I’m gonna wake up late, take 2 hours to grab a bite, sleep a bit again, then around 2pm my brain starts and I can enjoy and make all sort of nice plans 🙂



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