Packing Tips for Traveling with ADHD

by | Jun 24, 2021 | ADHD Success Skills and Tools | 4 comments

packing tips

Who is ready to race away from their place of quarantine and head off into the sun to places far away?

My hand is raised, that’s for sure. 

And I’ve heard from many members of the ADHD Success Club and my ADHD coaching clients that they are thrilled to be able to travel, but they are also dreading what comes with it: the packing. So let’s jump right into this inevitable and essential part of traveling.

Four Reasons Packing 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

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. Will you be lounging by a pool? Hiking? Attending business meetings? All of the above? The options are often endless. Plus you need to remember to check the weather forecast. 

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 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 is one of the biggest struggles of ADHD. 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

I don’t mean days ahead of time. 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!)

So now that we know why ADHD and packing is a challenge, let’s talk tips to making it a bit easier!

Favorite Travel Packing Tips for ADHD Adults

1. Make a list.

Type a list of necessary items for every kind of trip you take. Why a separate list for each different type of trip? Because they each call for different clothes and gear. I have a list for business trips, camping trips, ski trips, and family car trips.

Next, print out your lists and put each in a plastic paper protector in a small binder labeled “Travel Lists”. Now put that binder somewhere obvious. Voila! Each time you pack for a trip, there’s no need to print out a new list; simply open the binder to the correct list. As you stick each item in your suitcase, mark it off the list with a dry-erase marker. The checkmarks will easily wipe off your list with a tissue or rubbing alcohol.

2. Plan outfits by the day.

Say you’re going on a business trip and have to dress for the weekend, but also want to do some sightseeing. Take a second, grab a pen and paper, and write out what you’re going to be doing and what you need to wear.

Organize your outfit list like this…

Friday: Travel day: jeans, blue blouse, black sweater, sneakers.

Saturday: Business meeting: black slacks, green blouse, black flats, pearl necklace and dressy watch.

Saturday Evening Dinner: dress, paisley scarf, black pumps, teardrop earrings.

Sunday: Sightseeing, then travel home: jeans, sneakers, pink t-shirt, gray sweatshirt.

Look! You’ve already figured out exactly what to bring! No need to pack your entire wardrobe for a three-day quick trip, just neatly organize your outfits in your suitcase.

3. Choosing outfits around one major color group

Likely blacks or browns and plan to mix and match what you wear. You won’t need to pack as many clothes or as many shoes!

4. The “Smash It” trick

For stuff that doesn’t wrinkle, like socks and underwear or sweaters and bathing suits, put them in large Ziplock bags and smash them while squeezing out the air. They’ll take up less space in the suitcase.

5. Pack a small empty spray bottle.

It’s against my religion to iron. Thankfully, I’ve learned that I can spray most clothes with water and rub out the wrinkles. Also, if you’re willing to spend a couple of extra bucks, there are anti-wrinkle sprays that work very well and come in travel size.

6. Use dry-cleaning bags and hangers.

Of course, you can avoid ironing altogether if you pack smart. When you pack, keep your clothes on their hangers. Next, cover them with dry cleaning bags and do a simple fold-over in your suitcase. That’s it! Not only is this painless to unpack (just hang it up) but no iron (or spray-bottle) is necessary.

And remember this ADHD organizing and packing motto: Less is more. Be really selective about what earns its way into your luggage and you’ll find less mess, and have more fun!

Tell us, do you have any favorite packing tips for ADHD Adults? We would love to know what works for you. Leave a comment below.


  1. Lisa

    Thank you for these tips. I would like to add, I have found packing cubes to be incredibly helpful, in staying organized while traveling. An assortment of sizes/colors makes it easier for me to find what I need. Trousers and skirts in one cube, tops in another. Underwear, pajamas and socks in another, bathing suit, cover up in a different one. Medications and glasses in another. Also, if you’re staying in more than one place, you don’t have to fold and refold clothing as you’re packing/unpacking. Just take the bags out of the drawers and put them into the luggage. Use one of the larger packing cubes as a laundry bag for clothes you’re finished wearing and leave the rest in their cubes.

    I generally travel solo, but couples and families sometimes designate a color to each person so it’s easier for everyone to find their things in the suitcase.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Thanks, Lisa. I, too, adore packing cubes. When flying, I use them in my carry-on to keep my stuff easier to access in those cramped airplane seats. Dana

  2. Jackie

    I also like to stock up (regularly) on travel sized toiletries. I have started investing in miniatures of my daily products. While this can get expensive, I find it saves me time and aggravation when I try to fit too many full size products in a carry on; and also makes my toiletry bag lighter. I find it reassuring to have everything I need at all times, and having things like this at the ready makes packing a lot easier. It’s like a “go bag”. I also invested in a pill case that I can put a few days supply of meds, or supplements, vitamins, etc. There is a company called Mycadence that makes small bottles that stick together with magnets. Highly rated by T&L that are good for meds and toiletries as well. I also am a big fan of ziplock bags! all sizes. I keep empties in my suitcases, too, for the trip home.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Jackie – excellent solutions. I’ve looked at the Mycadence products and get stopped by the price. Thank you for sharing, Dana


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