Hello, I have ADHD and it sucks sometimes. Most of the time. IDK. My psychiatrist went away and didn’t tell me so now I can’t get meds all weekend. I didn’t want to have extreme executive dysfunction all weekend; I wanted to write a nice blog post about travelling with ADHD, but here’s a jumbly brain fog post about ADHD travel instead.
Also I’m about to turn 30. In a few hours. Obviously, I’m not doing any big celebrations. Such as, opening a card or acknowledging the fact. (Don’t care about the 30 thing – I just rarely celebrate occasions.) Plus this particular year none of my loved ones (or literally anyone I’d ever met before March) is due to meet me until… who knows at this point? 2022? Let’s see, eh? I reckoned challenging my focus into blogging this weekend would be a great distraction. But alas, I shall make do with coffee and dream of one day having a pet rescue sheep.
Note that I’m a solo traveller/living abroad alone lady! So these ADHD travel tips will have a focus on a solo travel… which is a challenge for anyone, let alone someone with ADHD! Although these tips are thus catered for those who backpack alone in some ways, the advice will of course apply to everyone with ADHD (or whose travel buddy has ADHD)! Other neurodivergent folk may also find comfort in some of these suggestions.
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH ADHD
- Constant stimulation for our dysfunctional low-dopaminey brains – every day is different! Even a planned trip has spontaneous moments (especially if you’re a solo traveller!)
- Even our neurotypical mates have things go wrong on the road and have to learn to think on their feet. Who knows what will really happen when you get to a location? ADHDers actually often report feeling GOOD at dealing with a crisis, since these novel situations gives us plenty of stimulation. I also found some NTs could get worried over reeeally small things which would never both me. Like, skipping an activity due to rain or getting a dress in another country delivered in a wrong size (seriously) or losing a camera. Plans being prevented due to burnout and stuff getting lost is just a normal day for people with ADHD. These are the kinda small things that I personally take in my stride. (Hi followers who know i have anxiety – that stems from C-PTSD ok, I’m actually very resilient. :))
- Many people with ADHD are quite adaptable which lends itself to solo travel!
- Less societal expectations – you can be yourself, and don’t have to wear uncomfortable office clothes, etc
THINGS THAT SUCK ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH ADHD
Having ADHD. No I’m just kidding!
It’s really tiring to balance executive dysfunction with the daily organisational needs of travel though.
Hmmmmm OK for me as a travellery bloggery person, I struggle for sure. I fear being constantly judged against the neurotypical solo traveller stereotype, especially when I get burnout on the road. People don’t really understand why… I’ve also been judged for when I couldn’t focus on writing. Gross. I have a lot of rules for not getting addicted to my social media accounts though, inspired by when I took a year off social media. Oh! I have to organise my blog around having ADHD.
Pretty much all advice for travel is based on neurotypical brains, so I had to learn how to do everything from scratch in my own way… I’d say this took about a 18 months of living abroad to realise I simply cannot approach travel/living abroad like other backpackers.
Budget travel and ADHD is kinda a weird mix, I think. Google the ADHD TAX! I was a fairly extreme budget traveller (for my age range – I started travelling at 27) and people judged me sometimes for needing a well-balanced meal or not choosing the absolutely cheapest DIY option (that would have melted my brain from over-organisation).
Also ADHD often comes with some pesky co-morbid conditions such as social anxiety and depression. Personally the lack of deep conversation for weeks on end was actually… not stimulating at all, no matter how much cool stuff there was to see. I need someone to challenge and interject my constant brainfuzz with interesting alternative thoughts. Bleurgh.
Also, the lack of things like good sleep and routine (yes with my ADHD, I both do and don’t need routine hahaha) made both my ADHD and clinical mental health conditions worse.
Burnout. And feeling guilty for burnout because you should be Enjoying Every Second.
The isolation about not being able to talk about your mental health conditions. Ever. Frankly, if you are alone and have depression in a foreign country, people somehow develop selective hearing and just hear ‘foreign country’. Yes, it’s a mystery to me as well.
MY TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH ADHD:
Overall, I’d say the challenges of having ADHD on the road are the same as at home… however, how we manage our symptoms changes. And the steps we must take to stay afloat are different, too. I hope these tips can help you keep up with the constant change of travel, and utilise that gorgeous neuodivergent brain of yours.
TAKE MULTIPLE BANK CARDS
Tip number one: Make sure you take at least several hundred bank cards with you. And still somehow still end up with minus-two.
Okay, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. But I did take out four new accounts with my bank, all identical, so I would have four extra bank cards to lose on my trip! Yay. I now have one left, but also a new New Zealand bank card, so all is well.
If you do end up losing things which you took multiple of, it’s worth trying to order your replacement BEFORE you lost the last one, too… Eh, I’ll do it later.
BE PATIENT if/when travelling with others
The lack of structure can be hard, especially when we’re relying on others whose routine constantly changes. (Common if you’re a solo traveller trying to share costs and travel safely by meeting up with others… You can’t exactly tell a stranger ‘No, we can’t do XYZA instead of WXYZ because my brain has already become comfortable with the second option and now I have to spend another five days reorganizing my messy thoughts. Eek!’)
Be patient. Take a deep breath.
If you are travelling with friends, it might be worth explaining things you find difficult in advance (which could include clutter, noise when you need sleep, or sudden changes in routine).
Be flexible with others and know that SOMETIMES things won’t go smoothly. Many people with ADHD actually are adaptable, so pay particular attention to the things which you CAN’T adapt to in your planning.
EAT WELL & STAY HYDRATED
Same goes for physical activity.
OK, this might be different if someone’s travelling at eighteen and can deal with eating only chips for seventeen days straight. Although at any age, some bodies can deal with an inadequate diet more than others.
Personally, I need my proteins, veggies, healthy fats, carbs, etc etc etc. And I feel weaker and fuzzier (and sometimes literally faint on the floor) if my meals are missing a piece. I’ve learned that paying extra for a healthy diet is worth it for me.
LOOK FOR FUN, stimulating ACTIVITIES
Sightseeing is sightseeing. It’s varied and amazing and fascinating. It’s also… always sightseeing. ADHD brains are not easily entertained!
Depending on the country, you might find your brain is craving some fresh challenges. In my case, I found booking specific activities was often a lot more rewarding than general touristing. That could be, booking a boat trip/snorkel day, a street food tour, physical challenge, or (for solo travellers) group activities that allow you to take a break from your noisy, unspoken thoughts.
When I went to the Perhentians, my new friends took time to sunbathe while I got my first Scuba Diving PADI certificate. Despite having panic attacks IN THE WATER. Several times. What an achievement eh. :’) I remember it more than any other time from backpacking through Malaysia. In Japan, I took a unique 4-day solo hike along a pilgrimage trail and in Java… well in Java, it felt like I did everything. These moments are thus far more memorable for me!
Personally, a big change in the way I would plan a future trip, is giving more days a specific purpose. Whether that’s challenging my solo photography skills, taking a day to write my short stories in a coffee shop, or planning a unique activity.
Anyone else LOVE the challenge of learning new things? Or using a creative outlet to express all these lovely ideas that are inspired by those lovely things we are learning?
Having a personal travel blog or journal, experimenting with travel photography, or taking classes abroad can be a fun way to focus our thoughts on the road, and funnel them into something fun!
Many people with ADHD get burnout! If you’re like me, and have awful executive dysfunction, your brain is constantly working overtime to complete even basic tasks. Do neurotypical folk even realise how many overwhelming steps Brushing My Teeth has?
Time-management, organisation, and generally trying to not lose everything each time you move hostel is super tiring. Give yourself breaks. 🙂 Other travellers might not need breaks, and can fit in extra activities when you need to rest from over-stimulation or fatigue. And that’s okay. 🙂 Give yourself time to breathe so you can enjoy next week’s activities even more!
CHECK YOUR DIARY DAILY
I found incessantly checking my phone calendar for flight dates, etc, was necessary haha. It also helped me undertake the (non ADHD friendly task) of prioritising activities and making a route based on how much time I had.
You can also use the TripIt app to save all your bookings in one place; such as flights, accommodations and activities. It saves the dates in a calendar view and you can click in to see things like your reference numbers and addresses.
BACK UP YOUR TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
I emailed myself all my details and documents (such as a photocopy of my passport, visas, etc). This means even if you lose your luggage and devices, you can still access these details on any computer with internet.
I also took a photograph of these items to pull up on my phone. On a flight day, I ALWAYS SCREENSHOT MY FLIGHT BOOKING details. This saves a lot of time during check-in, and alleviates a lot of anxiety, because I know exactly where the details are. You can also set your booking details to your phone wallpaper on travel days.
BE CAREFUL WITH SCOOTERS AND TRAFFIC
Personally I can’t drive because of my ADHD. I cannot focus. My driving instructor used to clap his hands and say THAT’S ANOTHER PERSON YOU’VE KILLED (yeah… he seriously did that). He couldn’t understand how I could not see a lorry driving in front of me.
I got really, really peer pressured into driving a scooter in Southeast Asia and always stuck to my guns and said NO. That’s not to say you shouldn’t! Not everyone with ADHD has such a severe lack of focus (or what I like to see as ‘such a wonderful ability to daydream’). Just do what is right for you.
Also if you’re rubbish at crossing roads and you’re in a big city with no traffic lights… walk towards the locals who are waiting to cross and then just walk with them haha.
GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
Some people might prefer to plan a holiday with a travel agent, who can help you with all the boring details. Another option is to book a tour! Many companies, such as GAdventures, promise trips which retain the ‘adventurous’ feeling of backpacking, while doing the hard work for you.
However, budget backpackers like me would rather plan their own adventure. In fact, planning is part of the fun… That doesn’t mean it’s not hard though! Thankfully, I was able to hyperfixate on reading up on how people travel on a low budget for MONTHS and the necessary obsessive organisation followed. Yay. Though, admittedly, I did give myself plenty of time – a full four months between booking my one-way ticket to planning my first month on the road. I actually wrote a task list where I had to plan ONE THING A WEEK over those months. This included everything from bookings, to buying items to, ‘download spotify playlists.’
Although I don’t usually book accommodation more than two days in advance, I do have a ‘loose itinerary’ planned in my head and a vague idea of how to get around. This stops me getting too overwhelmed…
THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO PLAN EVERY DETAIL!
Some of us thrive on spontaneity. Others would get total overwhelm and anxiety doing too much in one go. I’m somewhere in between – I loosely plan my ‘dream itinerary’ but only book the flight and first hostel in advance. I hate the idea of having a planned structure I have to stick to. It makes me itch.
But googling the itinerary I COULD do in advance is not only exciting, but I don’t have to worry too much about constant planning on my trip… And still don’t feel locked into an itinerary!
Itchy fabrics in hot weather?? TAGS ON CLOTHES IN HOT WEATHER? Oh, God no.
Not everyone with ADHD has sensory issues, but even just being able to move around comfortably will help anyone. I like 90% practical clothing, 10% pretty dresses (I’m including most of my loose, hot-weather friendly dresses in the PRACTICAL percentage – they ain’t just made for looking cute you know)… And 100% comfortable shoes! I live in walking sandals in hot weather, and sneakers and hiking boots the rest of the year.
Also I hate flip flops cuz I hate the way they feel between your toes. Anyone else?! URGH.
GET A BANKING APP ON YOUR PHONE
And check your funds regularly.
It may also help to put emergency funds in a different account (for example for emergency medical costs, accommodation, and the cost of a flight home if you didn’t buy a return ticket). If you left your job to travel – or were planning on finding a job abroad on a working holiday visa – you should also keep a few months emergency accommodation costs to assist you while you look for work.
Having a separate account with money ‘I wouldn’t touch’ is the only thing that stopped me from having a financial meltdown.
This is a great idea for anyone who struggles with money management and/or executive dysfunction. Because you can enjoy a new culture, and experience many of the benefits of travel, but without worrying about blowing your budget or planning everything in one go.
You could do this by finding an online job such as teaching English online and moving to a ‘digital nomad’ friendly country, or getting a temp job while on a Working Holiday Visa in somewhere like Australia or New Zealand.
I did my TEFL well in advance of travel so that if I wanted to teach English online or in a school abroad I wouldn’t have to get this on the road. I also had my CV ready in advance to save time! Also my 120-hour TEFL course took 7 days, around my job, and I still got 93%. Hyperfocus, anyone?
On that note, slow travel (spending weeks or months in a single place, rather than rushing around several countries) is also a great option for my ADHD brain. I feel very overwhelmed if I feel I have too much to fit into a short space of time. Prioritizing and time blindness are challenges for us, so leaving bigger gaps between your flights takes away the pressure.
Having more time in each location also means you won’t panic for the days which are inevitably lost to fatigue, burnout, or having to replace stuff you lost on the road.
TAKE OUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
This goes for anyone, really, but it’s definitely worth making sure you find one which makes it easy to claim. Otherwise, you know you’re gonna end up just not doing it and lose the money haha.
If you’re taking expensive items, get baggage insurance.
If you’re not sure what activities you’ll be doing, try a company like True Traveller or World Nomads – you can change the policies on the go.
Also, personally I need to know they have a responsive customer service team that communicates by EMAIL.
PACK LIGHT IF POSSIBLE
Many people with ADHD were accidental minimalists before Marie Kondo was even a thing; having less stuff to organise, makes it easier to organise your stuff. Another advantage of carry-on only travel is you can take the single bag with you on planes, as well as public transport, meaning you can skip the step of baggage claim.
I travelled carry-on for six months in 2018 and still go carry-on when backpacking, though a 60L bag may be more suitable for someone who wishes to be more flexible with what they carry.
I also found it useful to create a list of everything in my backpack, so if I felt overwhelmed with sorting through my stuff, I could just check the list to remember what I’d packed.
Oh and any time I had a flight coming up, I packed like… 2 days in advance… Or I knew I’d be really really anxious until I’d done it. Believe me, this isn’t an organisational thing, I just find packing very very overwhelming.
Example packing checklists:
Although my clothes may be a mess INSIDE my packing cubes, I do feel more organised by having my clothes stored inside these separate, material containers. Otherwise everything would be a giant mess in my bag. They become particularly useful if I accidentally spill snacks after shoving them into my backpack, since the packing cubes keep my clothes clean.
Honestly I think I would have lost everything without them.
PLAN HOW YOU WILL GET TO YOUR ACCOMMODATION IN ADVANCE
Arriving in a new country or by plane or public transport can be stressful for anyone. However, this can be particularly overwhelming for travellers with ADHD (particularly if you also struggle with sensory overload). Fatigue after a flight stirs up the worst of my executive dysfunction too. Yikes.
Yeah… I try to avoid planning anything after a long journey. By the way, this is also one of my solo travel safety tips, especially useful for if you’re arriving into a new country after dark.
GET A SIM CARD
Or portable WiFi.
idk I remember getting so lost constantly on my Japan trip because I didn’t have data.
NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES AND SLEEP MASKS
Especially useful for those of us with sensory issues and/or insomnia!
I also find earphones and predownloaded playlists SO HELPFUL FOR LONG JOURNEYS.
Fidget toys might help you on flight days too. Personally I just pass the time by cracking every bone in my body over and over and over again. You’re welcome.
INCLUDE AN ‘ADHD’ BUDGET EVEN IF YOU’RE A BUDGET BACKPACKER
It’s okay to pay extra to get another company to organise your visa. It’s also totally fine to take tours or day trips organised by your hostel if it helps you cut a few corners in organising your trip.
But more to the point… travellers with ADHD may need an extra budget for:
- replacing things we have lost
- replacing things we have broken
- cancelling flights we booked incorrectly (or changed our minds about)
- taking taxis instead of several buses/trains when suffering with executive dysfunction/sensory issues
- extra nights accommodation for burnout or fatigue
- massages. idk I just feel like massages are nice ok?
WHAT ACCOMMODATION WORKS FOR YOU?
Bad sleep makes my anxiety AND adhd worse – not to mention my sensitivity to hearing every last noise in the hostel dorm room. But being me, I decided to put up with this for six months… The idea of spending too much money at once just freaked me out. Also I was bitter about how private rooms for singles ends up double the cost, I think, haha! Anyways… I’d plan shorter trips and take the good sleep on a future adventure!
That said, there are some advantages to hostels, as an introverted solo traveller. Here are 14 methods I use to survive hostels as an introvert.
Oh, also airbnb stays with locals are too much for me. Too much overwhelm after a day of activity/travel to talk to a host. Let alone my social anxiety kicking in. Yikes.
DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS
I literally follow the map to check i’m going in the right direction and didn’t miss my stop haha.
I prefer Google Maps but in some countries Maps.Me works better,
More Useful apps for ADHD travellers:
The airline you’re flying with
TripIt – for managing bookings
HappyCow for vegan or vegetarian travellers
SplitWise (if you’re splitting costs and are bad with money)
Calm or headspace for dealing with anxiety (I use Calm)
Entertainment – Spotify, Netflix, YouTube premium, etc
Your favourite booking websites (such as SkyScanner or booking.com
Personally I try not to have too many apps on my phone in favour of digital minimalism. I would rather search up certain websites manually or my phone screen is too overwhelming haha.
DON’T FEEL LIKE A FAILURE IF YOU CAN’T DO CERTAIN THINGS
You might have to plan things differently from neurotypical travellers.
You might suffer with fatigue, overwhelm, or need to take things slower than other travellers.
With that in mind, PUT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH FIRST
I have struggled with both social anxiety and depression on the road… Here is what I’ve learned along the way:
SEEK ADVICE FROM A PROFESSIONAL BEFORE YOU GO
If you usually take medication, you’ll need enough for your trip. In some cases, you may also be able to bring an extra prescription on the road.
Since 2020, we’ve learned that therapy is possible over Skype after all. Speak to a healthcare provider or specialist if this is something you’d like to continue on your trip. It’s worth trying to schedule in advance if you do, since the time difference can make this difficult if you’re travelling to a different time zone.
Your doctor should be able to give you advice on how to reach out to them, or another healthcare provider, while you’re on the road.
CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORIES
Planning a trip is an enormous feat for anyone, let alone if you’re also doing it with ADHD!
Well done! You’re doing awesome.