As someone who was only recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I used to think my aversion to packing for trips was a strange quirk of my personality. It didn’t help that whenever I complained to friends or partners, they’d often laugh. How could I feel such loathing for something so mundane? 

After my diagnosis, I began learning more about how ADHD brains work, and it has made me think differently about my packing struggles. When you consider the deficits, it’s no wonder people with ADHD find it challenging to pack a suitcase—they have two counts against them. Major symptoms of the disorder include poor sustained attention to tasks and trouble with working memory. 

According to ADHD scholar and pioneer Dr. Russell A. Barkley, poor sustained attention might manifest in people with ADHD as “an inability to return to their task on which they were working should they be unexpectedly interrupted.” Packing involves retrieving items from different parts of your home, increasing the potential for distraction and interruption. Plus, difficulty with working memory can involve “being less able to anticipate and prepare for future events as well as others,” which can increase the likelihood of forgetting to pack something they will need on their trip.

With so many impediments to getting it right, it can help people with ADHD to have a strategy in place before leaving. If that’s you, here are some tips to help develop your own strategy: 

Create a standard packing list (and print many copies)

I know—the very act of creating a packing list when you don’t have the urgency of a trip to force you to make it may seem impossible for people with ADHD. But I don’t recommend building the list on your downtime, nor am I asking you to start it from scratch. When your next vacation is looming, here are some pre-made lists you can download and edit to fit your own needs:

Once you’ve personalized your list, make multiple copies to save in many places, including a digital version that lives on your phone and printed-out versions for central places in your house, like an office, bedroom and/or kitchen. How to ADHD creator Jessica McCabe suggests keeping a copy of the list inside your suitcase—a great visual reminder for the working memory-challenged. 

Build in time for breaks

If, like me, you find the act of packing unbearable, start earlier than you usually would, and use a timer. Give yourself half an hour to find some of the things on your list, and when the half-hour is over, no matter where in the process you are, stop. Break for fifteen minutes and do something to reward yourself—just make sure to set that timer again so you’ll know when your break is over. Then, start a new cycle! Adjust this cycle of packing sessions and breaks based on what you know about yourself and how much time you can usually focus on a task. 

Develop a travel go-bag

You may not accomplish this in just one vacation prep session, but a strategy that can help you in the long term is to develop a bag of items for trips that you never unpack at home, that you can always place, in full, in your suitcase. 

Start with toiletries, since you generally need to buy small versions of your larger toiletries anyway. The toiletry bag can fit into a larger bag containing inexpensive items that won’t cost too much to buy in duplicate, like a hairbrush, phone charger or earplugs. 

The payoff? When consulting your packing list for your next trip, you can make a whole bunch of checks! Place this one bag in your suitcase and cross several items off your list all at once. 

Don’t forget your medication! 

If you are taking medication for ADHD, you probably already know how difficult it is to get your regular medication refilled on time, let alone to access emergency medication in a new location. To avoid missing your meds, we recommend setting up as many reminders for yourself as possible: a post-it note on your door, an alarm in your phone set to the time you are supposed to leave for the airport, stickers on your pill bottles that say “put me in your travel bag.” Or, for safe measure, all three. 

The best-case scenario: A week before your trip, count out pills for the number of days you will be away, so you’ll have time to order new medication in advance if you’ll need it. And don’t forget to keep your medication in its labeled pill bottles, so you don’t get stuck trying to prove its identity when traveling by air. 

Traveling shouldn’t be stressful, especially for vacation. Don’t expect to get everything right on the first try. If you allow extra time for yourself to put some of these strategies in place, you’ll be a suitcase expert in just a few trips.  


About The Author

Eve Legato is a writer, seasoned traveler, and self-care advocate. She likes her vacations like she likes her tea: warm and rejuvenating.

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