A guide to flying if you have ADHD

Written by Travel Adventures

Travelling might seem like a joyful experience to many, but to those with ADHD, it can be anything but. From staying organised and managing time blindness to coping with impulsivity in unfamiliar environments, travel can be a huge source of overwhelm for neurodivergent travellers.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that affects almost 140 million people worldwide. People with ADHD might seem restless, struggle with concentration, or appear impulsive and inattentive. They might also have other comorbidities like OCD, autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia, as well as sleep and anxiety issues.

Although travelling can be exhilarating for people with ADHD, it also presents some pretty unique challenges. Conditions like ADHD can make travelling a stressful experience. However, with the right strategies in place, it can also become an enjoyable one. I am a Condé Nast Traveller editor with ADHD, and I’ve collated my top tips for navigating travel smoothly so you can make the most of your future adventures

Wide shot of smiling woman relaxing in alcove of ornately decorated riad while on vacation in Marrakech

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Plan way ahead

Think about your trip as early as possible. Even if it is months away, planning your trip well in advance can help alleviate any last-minute stress. Set aside time to create a list of what you need to do, and split it into three sections: before you go (for things like packing lists or vaccinations), during the trip (for itineraries or bookings) and when you arrive home (unpacking or clothes washing, for example). It’s also worth putting regular time slots and reminders in your calendar for trip planning as soon as you book. This will help keep you accountable, making you less likely to procrastinate and push the planning back.

If you’re a nervous flyer or have additional needs, then now is the time to research which airplane seats best suit your needs. If turbulence bothers you, the seats between the wings tend to be the most stable. Many airlines also offer simulated flights to reduce anxiety, which are particularly good for children. American Airlines has “It’s Cool to Fly American” events that allow children and their families to experience every aspect of air travel before their trip, from boarding the plane to picking up baggage. Others, like Belfast City Airport, have videos you can watch to learn more about the airport process.

Do the boring stuff first

Your “before” list should factor in things like currency exchange or currency card top-ups, visa information and vaccinations, for example – basically, all of the tedious chores you must do before travelling. You’ll also need to check with the relevant embassy that you can travel with your ADHD medications, as they’re often listed under controlled substances. That means you may require official letters from doctors, so it’s best to get that sorted now. Make sure you have enough medication for your trip, too. After you’ve done all of this, reward yourself afterwards to get a dopamine high – people with ADHD have issues with dopamine receptors that fire when a task is finished, unlike neurotypical people.

Enjoy the research

Once the boring stuff is out of the way, feel free to hyperfocus on the fun parts of your trip. Plan things to do when you’re away, and perhaps start booking tours and activities. It’s worth checking local customs and cultural norms so you’re less anxious. For example, in Spain, some places may be closed for a while in the afternoons, and in India, you’ll need to remove your shoes and may need to cover your shoulders if you visit the temples, so it’s wise to do your research so you can plan accordingly. To put your mind at ease, research anything you need to know about the place(s) you’re visiting that might affect you.

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