The Travel Episode: ADHD and Traveling

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In this week’s episode, I take you through a recent trip to Palm Springs, Calif. for Bullcon. There’s a lot I did right, a lot I did wrong and I answer travel questions from social media. Want more support for ADHD? Be sure to grab this free cheat sheet!

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This is The Adulting With ADHD Podcast, self-empowerment and tricks and tips for women with ADHD. This is the travel episode.

Before we start, I wanted to start a new segment, just a little new segment where I share anything interesting since the previous episode. I’ve got a doozy. All Things Considered did a really great feature on a Johns Hopkins University team that is studying barn owls to better understand ADHD. I didn’t really think much about this, but I guess it’s true. Owls are hyper-focused, and they’re so still. I never even really spent much time thinking about that, but these researchers did. This is a really cool story.

In one part, the researcher, his name is Shreesh Mysore, he’s an assistant professor, he actually carries this owl into a room with a lot going on. I think there’s other owls in cages and whatnot. You can tell the owl is getting really shifty and active and freaked out, but then when the professor closes his eyes, he’s completely still. I really loved his explanation. He said, essentially, a brain decides, at any instant, what is the most important piece of information for behavior or survival, and that is the piece of information that gets attended to. That drives behavior.

When we pay attention to something, we’re not just focusing on the thing that we want to pay attention to. We’re also ignoring all other important information in the world. The question is how does the brain actually help you ignore stuff that’s not important to you? Thought that was really cool, and I want to know what they figure out because I would love to better ignore things not important to me, so my new mantra is be a barn owl. Go ahead and borrow it if it helps you.

Like I said, this episode is about travel. I recently took a trip to California. It was for a conference. It’s called [inaudible 00:02:37]. It’s basically a place where ambitious women gather to discuss their careers, their side hustles, justice, social justice issues. It was a really neat experience, and I found out there are a lot of women with ADHD which … Of course, I know that, but it was really cool. Anyone I talked to who asked what I’m doing on the side, I would mention the podcast and online community, and so many people have a friend or know lots of people with ADHD, and so I felt really renewed that what we’re doing here is a need, and so that was cool.

I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about travel because, if you travel for business or pleasure or if you have 20 weddings to go to this year, it might help you to pick up some travel tips. It had been a while since I had traveled, and there was some things I did right and some things I did wrong, so I thought it might be helpful to do kind of a post mortem of what went right, what went wrong, et cetera.

Here’s what went right. I did pack in advance. This is something I always do. When I have a task that’s really complicated and really important, and that could be pulling a report at work or packing for a trip, I try to do it enough in advance that I can walk away for a period of time and come back and look at it with fresh eyes and just do one last scan to make sure I got everything.

I did do that, and I have a list in my Asana app, which is a project management app. I use it for my life. I do have a list in there because I take a recurring trip every six weeks back home to visit my family, and I just have a list that’s just lives there. I used that as a starter for my trip to California, and so I made my own adaptations on a piece of scratch paper. For some reason, when I pack, I like to use scratch paper. I don’t know where I was going with that but … Oh, I know what I was going to say. I was going to say it really doesn’t matter whether you use an app or notes in your phone or scratch paper. The method doesn’t really matter. The important things is that you have a list.

The other thing I did really well was that I kept it simple. I only packed what I needed. I didn’t bring everything. I did bring a candle, which might seem over the top, but right before I left, I had a really good pattern going of lighting a candle and meditating, which I need to get back into, and so, obviously, I was really into it to think I needed a candle to go with me. Actually, they ended up checking it at the TSA check-in, and it was a whole thing, but yeah, so maybe not do that, or keep it in your carry-on or whatever, but I had this big gigantic candle I brought with me because I just really felt I needed that. You should pack whatever you want, but one of the things that helps with ADHD, for me, is only sticking to the essentials because, let’s face it, the essentials are hard enough.

As always, use little travel bottles. As you may or may not know, you have to use little travel bottles, three ounces and below I believe. I have the thing pulled here. 3.4 ounces or smaller if you’re going to carry it on, and they have to fit into a quart-size bag. Stick with me. This comes into play later. I did do that on the way in, and I kept it simple. I only packed what I needed. I used little travel bottles. I bought some little reusable plastic bottles and put my little favorite things in there.

I looked up the flight information and the airport information. I found out exactly how early I needed to be there because, depending on whether it’s domestic or international and depending on your airline and your airport, they give you recommendations. This one I know a lot of people are loosey-goosey with. I don’t roll the dice on this one. I like to know what they recommend because you can never predict the future, but I want to know what’s expected of me before I go.

This one said get there an hour and a half in advance, so I planned backwards from that, and I said, okay, what time do I need to leave the house? Okay, what time do I need to go to sleep to get seven hours because I need seven hours? When do I set the alarm? Well, I don’t go to sleep right away. It takes me about a half hour to fall asleep. That’s super optimistic. It takes me a long time to fall asleep if I’m putting pressure on myself to go to sleep for a flight. Anyway, I did that really well.

Let’s talk about what went wrong. A lot of things went wrong, and most of it was beyond my control, which I always important to remember, but let’s talk about what I could have controlled. Okay, super important new rule for Sarah. When I’m booking flight information, double check, triple check, wait a week, double check again. Make sure I’ve got the departure date right and the return date right because I somehow had it flipped in my brain. I don’t really know how I missed this because I’m prone to doing stuff like this, so I should have known to check, but I had my return flight happening on the second day of the conference, which means I would have missed the second day of the conference if I had departed when I scheduled my flight.

I lucked out and discovered this before I left, so that was the good thing is I was going through my flight information two or three days before the trip, and so I did do that right, but I did catch it. It’s a very expensive mistake. They were going to charge me an extra thousand to leave the day I wanted to, and I said, “Hell no,” to that. I don’t have that kind of money. I was able to slash that in half and leave a day earlier.

That set off a whole chain of events because I mean, okay, it’s not a bad thing to be an extra day in Palm Springs, let’s face it. Okay, so that’s not the problem. The problem was I didn’t want to be gone from my family too long. My daughter is still very young. She’s not even two yet. We do have a very good support system. I have fantastic in-laws who love spending time with her, so I had the childcare, but I just didn’t want to be away that long. I just wanted it to be … It was a two-day conference. It was going to be just a quick jaunt, so that screwed things up, and I had to leave a day early. Turns out I needed the extra R&R, but that’s beside the point. If you know when you want to leave and come back and then that doesn’t happen, it can be jarring. That was the number-one thing I did wrong.

The other thing I did wrong was … Remember the rule about the fluids on the carry-on? Here’s the part two of the rule. Part one of the rule was the bottles need to be 3.4 ounces or less. The part two of the rule is they all need to be able to fit into a quart-size bag. I have a gallon-size bag. I had a ridiculously-sized bag. I don’t know how they [inaudible 00:11:22]. I had acquired a bunch of different hotel samples and little thingies at the conference, and so I had this gigantic bag of little things.

That’s not going to cut it, so yeah, the TSA, they had to take my stuff, go through it all, and then I had to pick enough things to fit into a quart-size bag and throw the rest away. It took extra time, and it was totally not necessary. I didn’t need all those little hotel samples. This comes into play if you’re on a time crunch. I luckily was not, but if you’re trying to catch a flight and then you have to go through this whole ordeal because you didn’t stick to that one-quart bag rule, I mean that could really hang you up.

The last thing I did was I didn’t leave room for things that I acquired during the trip, which I’m not a big shopper. I don’t buy a lot of things, but I did accumulate quite a few things. There was a swag bag, for example, and then if you’re going to get souvenirs for people, or if you are going to go take advantage of whatever shopping there is in your area, you need to either mail that stuff back to you or you need to have room in your suitcase for it. I thought I was going to be cute, and I had this little … My mother got a little girl suitcase for my daughter that I’ve been borrowing. It’s perfect because I like carrying everything on with me. I don’t like checking bags in because, to me, that’s just one more thing I can screw up, and I just like to have my things with me.

By the way, that doesn’t work on the smaller planes, but that’s a whole other ordeal. I had exactly enough space for what I needed to depart, but when I came back I had more things, so I had to figure out where to put all those things, and it was stressful. I would take whatever kind of size suitcase you need, but I wouldn’t pack it to the brim. I would leave a little room for it to breathe because you might be accumulating some things.

Before this episode, I reached out to the followers on various social media networks to ask what kind of challenges they’re having when they’re flying. Laura on Facebook asked, “How do you handle long flights? When I came back from Germany, the eight-hour flight was so hard. I kept walking around, tried watching movies, and colored. For the daytime flying, I get so antsy.” For me, I don’t really go on that many … The last international flight was like 2000, okay, so that was like 18 years ago, so I’m not the best person for that question. I did take your question back to Twitter because everybody on Twitter has an opinion, right? I got some really good answers. A lot of the answers were what you’re already doing, which, unfortunately, you’re already doing everything you can be doing.

One person said make sure you have an aisle seat so that you can get up and walk around. Sounds like you’re doing that. Then someone else said just have a ton of interesting things to read and listen to and watch too. The key here, it has to be fresh to you, not some TV show you’re not going to be compelled to watch. It needs to be like … For me, for example, I had a podcast that I was really addicted to at the time. Before the plane departed, I downloaded a few episodes, so I was completely transfixed the whole time from this podcast, although it was only a two-hour flight, so not the same thing.

Other people were asking about the packing. I took you through my favorite tips. I have a templated list I use every time, and then I customize it for my particular situation. I use a list. I check it twice. I pack far in advance so I have to check my work. This helps. I think, through all the activities during the trip, I take myself through the trip mentally, and that helps jog things loose.

For example, this was a fail I forgot to mention. I had packed everything and then, at the last minute, realized I didn’t pack my swimsuit, and the whole event was planned around this humongous pool, so you want a swimsuit. I even ordered a special cover-up for the swimsuit, neither of which were packed until I remembered as an afterthought. That’s something I would have immediately … If I had taken myself through the activities, I would have immediately said, “Oh, I’m swimming.” Then I would have also remembered sunscreen, which I did forget the sunscreen, and that’s more expensive at the hotels and airports, so bringing sunscreen on your own is nice if you can, but it needs to be travel-sized if you’re going to bring it on as a carry-on.

Well, it sounds like that’s it over here. I know, for me, anxiety plays a lot into travel. I’m also an introvert, so being around people plays a lot into it, and so not only these practical tips of packing correctly and not screwing up your flight scheduling, but also things like making sure you do give yourself alone time if you need it, if you need to recharge and breathe. That was one thing I really loved about the conference I was at was it was a very introvert-friendly conference, and so there was lots of padding if you needed to go back to the room and breathe a little bit. There were lots of opportunities to kind of decompress and get away and then return, and so I found that to be very useful. I find things escalate and unravel very quickly when you’re burned out, you’re stressed, you’re around too much stimuli, you’re around too many people. I find that that can be really jarring, especially on flights, and so that’s really helpful.

The only real anxiety I had was, on the way back, my flight got delayed, and I was going to miss my connection, which as … If you might remember, I wanted it to be a quick trip, and I had already added in a day to the trip, so then to find out I had to add another day to my trip I actually teared up a bit. The lady behind the counter was super nice and asked if I was okay. I said, “Oh, I’m okay. I just miss my kid.” I kept my cool. It was just sad, and things like that happen, and you try to roll with it. I think those are the triggers that you have to look out for is control the things you can, which are being well rested, making sure you are well fed.

I remember I had one … Yeah, on the way back, I didn’t properly plan ahead for my meals, and so I ended up in a situation where I had to switch flights, and I didn’t have a layover where I could go get a meal, and I didn’t pack any snacks, and so on my return flight back, I had gone the whole day without really eating. I had a bag of M&Ms in the morning, and that was it until very late afternoon. You want to make sure you’re well fed, you’re well rested, and that you do have … I’ve been really into mindfulness activities lately, meditation or just quiet time or … Make sure you’re giving yourself those things you need so that the things you can control are controlled so that you can better handle the things out of your control.

With that, I’ll talk to you next time, and happy adulting.

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