Aerial view from airplane

Tips for Easier Travel and Down Time with ADHD

Let’s Take the stress out of Travel and Downtime with ADHD-Friendly Tips so that you can refresh and recharge!

No matter where in the world you are, the odds are very good that you’re in need of some quality down time to recharge and refresh, right about …


There are a lot of reasons many of us with ADHD don’t get enough—don’t take enough—down time to recharge and refresh. Some of it may be that internal pressure we feel to “do do do” when there is so much left undone, that steals our peace. Some of it may be related to the guilt and shame we feel for poor productivity, time management or procrastination. Or it could be that everything that’s required to travel just feels like oh-so-much more than we can bear to make our ADHD brain do.

But here’s the deal: No matter what you’ve done (or haven’t done)…

You deserve a break!

And you need to take it. And you need to do it proactively, before you burn out.

But, when your break involves travel of some sort, what it takes to plan and get ready for the “break” can take quite a bite out of the benefit of the break before it even starts! 

It really is sad that many of us will experience such strain and stress in preparing to do something that’s supposed to be relaxing and restorative!

But, I get it! Getting ready to take any amount of time off, especially when it involves travel, can be more than a little stressful when you have ADHD. (I used to believe that I had to pay the proverbial “piper” before I could take time off, but now I know that it doesn’t have to be that way!)

If you get overwhelmed or dread what it takes to get ready to take a break, I want to help you turn that around. 

It’s time to Stop Letting the Planning and Preparation of your time off steal the benefit! And you can do that with some simple strategies.

ADHD-Friendly Tips for Easier Travel and Down Time…

As always, I want you to take these tips as ideas you can use to make your life easier, YOUR way! First, 

Rethink Planning.

Most of my clients with fall on either end of a planning continuum: they’re either Over-Planners who wear themselves out creating elaborate plans they can never execute, or they are Under-Planners who avoid planning like the plague and prefer to fly by the seats of their pants. Unfortunately, neither extreme has any less stress or any more benefit than the other! The most effective way to plan so that it actually helps you and reduces stress is somewhere smack dab in the middle.

Try to think of planning as simply you present-time self hooking your future-self up. It doesn’t need to be perfect or elaborate, just what the future version of you would want the present version of you to have taken care of. (More on that in a bit…).

Next, make sure you…

Get it Out of Your Head.

The planning and prep for travel is an Executive Function activity that tends to be a greater challenge for those of us with ADHD—especially when we try to do it in our minds. Mental planning pulls on our long-term memory and retrieval (trying to remember what we need to remember from past experiences, and so on); it pulls on our working memory (trying to hold onto bits of information in our minds as we use it); and it requires prioritizing and sequencing and putting things in order in our minds, all of which can be exhausting when you have ADHD. The good news is that we know that the best way to work with these Executive Function challenges is by externalizing them, or finding things outside our brains to serve that function.

Externalize your vacation prep by creating a list somewhere that you can refer back to over and over again. I love to create my lists electronically and add to them gradually over time as I think of things, but there’s no single, perfect way to do this. Do what’s easy for you, and what you’re most likely to keep track of and find again when you need/want it! If you like to hand-write things out, but end up with multiple random, partial lists in different places, try taking a picture of your hand-written list and attach it to a note on your phone that you can keep adding to.

There are probably a million different ways to do this, just make sure you keep it somewhere you can easily put your hands on it again. If you can’t find it, it can’t help you! I like to keep my vacation to-dos and packing lists all in one document (which I’ll tell you more about in a minute…)

Use your imagination.

Most of us have great, creative imaginations when we allow ourselves to engage them. Put yours to work for you so that you can really hook up your future self for a refreshing trip. As you’re creating your list, pause to think about your trip and imagine how it will unfold. Visualize the car trip or the plane ride, and think about what you’d like to have or what you’ll need. Visualize the weather and what kind of activities you’ll likely do and what you’d like to have or what you’ll need when you’re doing them. Think about how present-time you can hook up the future version of “Vacation You” and make life easier. Remember: that’s all planning is!


(I don’t think that’s a word, but my spell-check didn’t correct it, so it’s staying.) Don’t waste your time and your Executive Function energy making a new list every time you plan or pack for a trip. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Save your lists somewhere you can easily find them again, and re-use them each time you travel. It’s always easier to start with something that’s already partially done than to start from scratch. Plus, knowing you’re creating something that will be useful in the future can make the planning feel a little easier when you know you’ll be using it again.

Templatizing your list gives it a bigger long-term payback for your efforts in the short-term. I save my travel lists on my computer in a folder called “travel lists” (duh!) so that I can pick the one that fits most closely to the trip I’m getting ready to take (like a business trip alone vs a family vacation, etc.), but there are a bunch of ways to do that, too! If you like to hand-write your lists, you can take a picture of them, save them on your phone in a note or an app and type some text into the note that makes it easy to find—like family beach vacation packing list 2021.

The more detail and information you include, the easier it will be for you to find it. You can also make copies of the list and save them in a dedicated binder, or put copies of the lists in a few of your suitcases. There are also apps that you can use. Whatever makes the most sense to you and feels easiest is key. The objective is to not have to reinvent the wheel every time you travel.

Keep it together.

I like to keep my list of things I need to do prior and after a trip with my together with my packing lists. My travel to-do lists starts two weeks out, and I keep the same one and tweak it each time I use it. The Pre-Vacation list includes things like lining up a pet sitter, stopping the mail, and all the things that require some lead time, as well as the things that are for the last day and the last minute, like checking doors and windows, adjusting the thermostat, watering plants, etc. in a checklist alongside those last-minute, double-check items that are not replaceable (glasses, contacts, medications, etc.) or things that I tend to forget or worry about forgetting.

Start Early.

I resisted this one big time, but it has come to be one of the most important parts of a low-stress trip for me over the years. If I wait to start to plan until I’m stressed or worrying about getting ready for a trip, I’m really putting myself at a disadvantage from the start. Yes, I may feel less resistant and more motivated to plan when I have that pressure of the looming departure, but I’m definitely not going to be my most effective or efficient self. It took a long time to accept that, but it has made a world of difference (and not just in my travel planning)!

If I’m honest with myself, I know that I am much more likely to forget things or to over-pack and create much more stress for myself than when I start earlier. I have a 24-hour packing policy for myself. When I am fully packed at least 24 hours in advance of leaving, I always take less and I rarely miss or forget something. It’s become like my Golden Rule of packing, and makes a huge difference for me.

Plan for Re-Entry.

While you’re using your awesome imagination to set yourself up for a great vacation, don’t forget to use your imagination to think about how “Present-Day You” can hook up “Post-Vacation You” to make re-entry into life as usually a little easier. Return to “life” after any interruption can be difficult, but it can be especially difficult after a vacation. My Post-Vacation list includes things like paying the pet sitter (and yes, I have forgotten before, and I hated getting that text from my teenage neighbor asking when they can stop by to pick up their money!), as well as things that will help me jump right back into projects and other activities at work. It never ceases to amaze me how just a few days out of my normal rhythm can disrupt a great habit or forget things!

So, I encourage my clients to also leave notes for themselves about anything they’re working on (including what systems or new habits are at risk of being shaky or being forgotten when they return) so that they can jump right back in more easily. And don’t forget to build in transition time for yourself where you can! It’s not always possible to clear as much as I’d like, but I always try to make at least the morning of my first day back at work a little lighter on myself so that I can get back in the swing of things with a little less stress.

And finally… I know some of you are going to HATE this tip, but do yourself a favor and…

Unpack FAST!

I also have a 24-hour policy for myself for unpacking. From many years of personal experience, I know I need to unpack as soon as humanly possible and get everything put away. Otherwise, I will turn the task of unpacking into this insurmountable, dreadful thing in my mind that will be infinitely harder than it should be. I hate it. The word dread just doesn’t cut it. And the longer the trip and the more people from my family who were with me (meaning kids!), the worse the job of unpacking is.

But, I also know that the longer I take to do it, the more disproportionately, almost exponentially, harder it gets.

I have to talk myself into it (rather than out of it) very consciously, reminding myself… “You really don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to deal with this damned suitcase.” “I know you’re tired, but you know how this ends if you don’t get it over with now. Let’s see how fast you can do it.”

I hope you’ve found something in here that is helpful for you!

More than anything, I hope you’ll take some time to refresh and recharge yourself this weekend!

You deserve it.

You’re worth it.

And you, and everyone who relies on you, will be better for it on the other end.

Until next time…

Take care,

Lynne Edris

Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach

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