Everyone loses their passport from time to time, but for the 1.5 million people who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), such accidents are all part of daily life. Distraction is just one of a myriad of frustrations that plague those of us with the condition.
Brain scan studies have shown that our particular gray matter lacks enough dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure; this means that we are constantly looking for the kind of stimulation that normal brains take for granted. The reason we struggle to focus, for example, is not because we are stupid, but because our brains are a tangle of competing impulses that all require immediate attention.
Executive brain functions such as the ability to plan, prioritize, and make decisions – all essential skills when planning a vacation – tend to dissolve in a fury of indecision and procrastination. Add in the lack of impulse control and the inability to regulate emotions, and the holidays can quickly turn into super-spreading anxiety.
The typical brain with ADHD falls into three main categories: “mainly hyperactive and impulsive”, “mainly inattentive” or a combination of both. I mostly fall into the distracted group which means I have a scattergun approach to being organized. Deciding which suitcase to pack is stressful enough without the added burden of coordinating flights, car rental, insurance, accommodation and – oh – remembering not to forget my passport.
I was diagnosed with the condition three years ago, and while I manage to live a full, functioning life, travel has always been a sticking point, which isn’t great for a travel writer. “Make abundant lists” my ADHD specialist keeps reminding me, but making lists requires concentration … so you see the problem. And it’s not just in the planning stage that my brain starts to trifle, it’s also during all things that happen once I reach the other end.
Having to spend so much brain energy on boring and humble things means I’m not good at managing expectations.
This year I decided to tackle my ailment and discover the least stressful way to spend time away. Over the span of two weeks, I was on a multi-vehicular trip through Italy, measuring my anxiety levels as I went and traveling alone to avoid distractions.
Facing the nightmare of packaging
First, I had to face every ADHD sufferer’s worst nightmare. For me, packing is a form of mental cruelty that usually involves weeks of anxious chatter. Paralyzing indecision can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of ADHD, so it was vital to limit my options. For the purposes of this trip, I made it super simple by investing in 10 identical T-shirts, four pairs of identical shorts, a light jacket, and a pair of trainers … and that’s it.
The first leg of my trip included the usual ADHD-aggravated panic of arriving at the airport on time. In my experience, time speeds up once I reach the departure lounge, so I tried not to worry about arriving with a ridiculous amount of free time. So takeoff was delayed, of course, which meant an extra three hours trapped inside a noisy metal tube.
In these circumstances, my doctor recommends various breathing exercises. He also put me on a course of antidepressants to help reduce anxiety. I would also suggest investing in a pair of noise canceling headphones. Another common attribute in people with ADHD is hypersensitivity; we feel overwhelmed by certain physical and emotional stimuli. With my trusty headphones in place, however, all extraneous booth noise, including the screaming baby in row D, faded into the background.
In a stuffy Naples airport, I experienced my first panic shot in the stomach; I had managed to leave a shoulder bag with the essentials, including my debit card, on the plane. It has happened before, of course, but this time I would be prepared with a spare debit card as well as a credit card – vital when I have to present the paperwork for my next mode of transport: the rental car.
Take the road in Italy
Research suggests that around 50-60% of people with ADHD also have a learning disability. The most common of these is dyslexia, and for me that means struggling to distinguish between left and right, which made that first turn with my rental car on a busy highway in Naples particularly hair-raising. However, the mind-boggling complexity of Naples’ outer ring road system soon gave way to the lush hills of the Abruzzo National Park and I felt the tension of the morning flight dissolve into a glorious sense of liberation (ADHD’s brain thrives on adventure. , when he does not crave order).
Eventually I came to a city that was apparently designed with ADHD in mind. Home of the Renaissance painter Pietro Vannucci, Città della Pieve in Perugia has only one hotel, a couple of restaurants, a single ice cream parlor and a discreet bar: all ideal for those most averse to choice. A couple of nights at the beautiful Vannucci hotel in the city center prepared me for a happy afternoon wandering the medieval streets and squares.
Then I started to catastrophize myself. Did I have enough gas to get to the next destination? Would I have been lost on the way? A bolt of panic struck in the form of an urgent message on the dashboard ordering me to “immediately head to the nearest garage to check the tire pressure”. I drove at a steady 40 mph to avoid a major blast which meant I arrived at one of the world’s most lavish train stations with only a few minutes to leave the car and run to the right track – not at all good for the brain with ADHD.
For the last leg of my ADHD journey, I left all the heavy decision making to the professionals. Citalia is an expert in organizing train travel in Italy, offering pre-programmed and tailor-made itineraries with hotels and transfers included. I had previously told them about my condition and left it to them to come up with something appropriately stress-free.
Soon I was whizzing through the Dolomites aboard one of the luxurious Italian trains to Sirmione, a pretty spa town on the shores of Lake Garda with a delightfully Disney castle and plenty of ice cream parlors. From there I continued to Verona, where a thrilling transfer brought me to the renovated Hotel Touring, a few steps from the architectural splendor of Piazza Erbe. Then he returned to St Pancras via Milan and Paris.
And this is my great memory of the experience. If you have ADHD and can plan extra travel time, my advice is to avoid air travel altogether. Renting a car and heading into the unknown will deliver plenty of dopamine shots (although in my experience it can lead to bouts of catastrophe). However, a tailor-made rail package virtually eliminates all the apprehension you might feel about the high cost of tolls and the inability to access the city; it also offers a heady combination of freedom and order that should satisfy even the most demanding brains with ADHD.
How to do it
Citalia (citalia.com) offers an eight-night train holiday from London to Lake Garda for the price of £ 2,099 per person, including one-way train journey and one return flight to London, private transfers, accommodation and breakfast all the days. Alternatively, the return journey by train to London with an overnight stay in Paris is £ 2,435 per person.
Sixt has the BMW 1 Series for £ 62.81 per day or £ 439.67 per week (sixt.co.uk). Check the one-way delivery rates.