How to Plan a Vacation When You Have ADHD4 min read
I love vacation as much as the next person. I welcome the chance to get away, to spend time in nature or with friends. I know vacation can benefit my overall health. But because of my ADHD, the very task of planning a trip is so overwhelming that I don’t even want to start.
It’s no wonder people with ADHD find it challenging to plan multi-day travel. Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty with organization, avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort and distractibility. Planning a vacation often involves accounting for the preferences and needs of multiple people. It requires researching activities, accommodations and travel options—all of which can lead to distraction. It is a project that requires sustained mental effort and attention to detail, and that doesn’t even account for the budgeting part of planning.
Fear not! We’ve come up with some tips that can take the stress out of organizing a great trip.
Consider the Group
If you are traveling solo, you can skip this section. But if you’re planning a vacation for a family or group, your task becomes more complicated. Check in with your companions about their travel style and expectations before you start planning.
Some questions to get you started:
- Do you prefer a structured plan or a loose schedule?
- Do you have any must-see or must-do activities?
- When do you usually go to sleep and wake up when you are on vacation?
- Is there anything else I should know about how you want this trip to feel?
If there are small children in your travel party, you’ll have to answer these questions for them. But it’s still a good idea to write out their needs alongside yours, to make sure you can plan an enjoyable vacation for everyone.
What happens if your travel style directly contradicts someone else’s? Compromise and communicate. For example, if you need more free time, but a travel buddy enjoys a marathon of activities, plan 2-3 things per day that you can do together, and let them know ahead of the trip that you will be resting between these activities, and they will need to plan additional outings for themselves.
Employ a Research Aid
It may seem counterintuitive to seek out a specific source for research when you have the entire internet. But having every website at your disposal poses its own issues. Endless websites about your destination can lead to endless googling, trying to find every available lodging possibility, restaurant and activity (hello, hyperfocus!) without making a single decision.
Consider finding one travel book about your destination. Many well-known travel guide brands (like Frommer’s, Moon, Fodor’s and Lonely Planet) contain useful, vetted information and update their books regularly. If you mainly use a book for planning, and only google when absolutely necessary, it can keep you focused and prevent information overload.
There are also tools that provide ready-made templates to help you organize your planning by day. Apps like TripIt or WanderLog or websites like Inspirock can get you started.
Don’t forget to use timers to keep your planning sessions short and manageable!
Plan According to Your Stimulation Needs
Not everyone’s ADHD feels the same. There are people for whom a full day at the beach is unbearable, because they’ll get bored of the unstructured time in under an hour. And there are people who need to watch out for overstimulation—where too many activities in one day or an activity in a bright, crowded space can send them into a panic. Or both. It’s important to anticipate your needs so you can know how long to schedule activities or do extra planning for activities other people suggest.
If you need more stimulation than average, bring toys and props. A day at the beach can become exciting if you bring your boogie board, headphones, volleyball and Nintendo Switch. Or make sure you have enough transportation so you can leave early, and so people who want to stay and veg can have that option, too.
When trying to avoid overstimulation, make sure not to schedule too many activities back to back. Build “chill time” into the schedule, and add extra to the period after you do something high-intensity, like a theme park or difficult hike. It’s also a great idea to plan the end of vacation early enough to give yourself a recovery day at home before you have to return to your regular routine.
Make Time to Pack
If you’re like me, packing a suitcase always takes longer than you think. However much time you generally allow yourself, double it. And if you can, start packing two days before you have to leave—not the night before. That way, you’ll have time to run out and buy any last-minute supplies you might need. Check out our ADHD packing tips for additional advice on how to make the process easier.
Chances are, you probably will leave something behind. Build time in the vacation schedule on your first or second day for a drugstore run to buy that small but useful missing item.
Finally, enjoy it! Once you organize, vacation planning can turn into a fun activity—a way to escape long before you leave.