I’ve often said that the chaos of travel is where I’m most at home. While tolerated or loathed by many, airplanes and airports are among my favorite things. In 2016, I had the joy of being aboard 18 different airplanes in my biggest year of travel yet. Of course, ADHD not only makes these adventures more interesting, it can also make the travel planning process a little more important, as well.
Fortunately, following this globetrotting year, I’ve gathered some tips that, between you and your smartphone, will help you become a seasoned traveler and remove a lot of the stress associated with travel—with or without ADHD! With the exception of one noted upgrade, all of these apps are free, and most should be available on both iOS and Android unless noted.
Planning for travel
My first adventure of 2017 looks a bit like this. I’ve heard that’s the wrong train route and I’m pretty sure that the flight path from Toronto to Winnipeg is more north than that, but whatever.
A seven-day adventure that turns into a nine-day one? No problem. I’d already transformed a simple two-day trip to Philadelphia for a conference into something utterly ridiculous by flying into St. Louis to meet my friend, Kat, and then taking the train to Washington, D.C. first (with a stopover in Chicago). It seemed totally reasonable to add two days in Toronto in on the end after an event invite five weeks prior to departure.
“No problem” wouldn’t have been my response here four years ago! Back then, I couldn’t even figure out how to stop in Toronto en route back from a 30-hour trip to Quebec City. Maybe I’m older and wiser, but now I’ve also got an iPhone in my back pocket. Here is a list of apps that help me travel like a pro these days.
The best planning apps
For me, the free version is just fine. TripIt automagically (yes, automagically!) grabs your itineraries from your e-mail confirmations (or you can forward them to an email address at TripIt) and compiles them into a nice itinerary. It will also give a running total of your costs for flights, train tickets, accommodations, as well as when you paid for them. It also pulls any booking or confirmation numbers for reservations.
TripIt can also import public transit details or walking directions (but I just use Google Maps for that). You can invite travel companions to add details, or people back home (like my mom), so they know where you’re staying and you don’t have to be fumbling around for your flight number when that inevitable text comes in asking for it. (See also: FlightAware in the On the Road section.)
Airline app of your choice
I usually print a physical boarding pass at the airport, since I can tuck it into my passport easily. But downloading an airline specific app allows you to get alerts from the airline before you head to the airport. This can be a timely source of information for things like gate changes or delays. This way you know when you have to book it across the terminal or if you have time to saunter leisurely and pick up some overpriced snacks.
I currently owe my friend Kat, who I’m traveling with from St. Louis to Philadelphia $84.70 for my half of our hotel, a train ticket, and a D.C. metro card. I paid for the train ticket right away, but thanks to Splitwise, it’ll be easy for me to pay back the remainder of what I owe her through deep dish pizza and vegetarian cheesesteaks (and maybe some cash).
Trip Advisor and Yelp
When planning adventures to places I haven’t been, and where I won’t be hanging out with locals, Trip Advisor and Yelp are the way to go. Both apps are helpful when searching for attractions, food, or general recommendations about the area. I also love Trip Advisor’s travel map feature to see where I’ve been.
Searching multiple airlines at once for the best times and prices? Stop right here! Email it to yourself so if you’re not looking right away, you can find it again. Be careful though, the price may have changed from when you emailed yourself, and be aware of the time zone of the company you’re booking with. Once by waiting just 10 minutes, a flight’s price changed by $100 because it was the next day in EST and still 11 p.m. in CST.
You may say, “I don’t need a list.” I used to say the same thing. Learn from my “oops” moments of forgetting the deodorant at home on a school band trip (later found in my laundry basket) and leaving my hairbrush behind (I was coaching my blind athletes that trip, which meant they repeatedly told me my hair looked fine!). A list makes packing much faster and much less stressful. Seriously, I’ve been there and done that. Learn from my mistakes and use a list when packing.
Paper’s not my thing for packing (because honestly, I’d just lose the pen), so here are the apps I like. An important note I make any time I write about packing lists and ADHD: NOTHING gets checked off until it is PACKED. Is it beside the suitcase? Doesn’t get checked off. On the bathroom counter? NO. IN THE BAG or somehow PHYSICALLY ATTACHED to the bag? Yes.
The best packing apps
Not to be confused with TripIt above! I’ve tried all the major free packing lists out there, and TripList wins hands down. I even paid for the Pro upgrade (which has been very worthwhile). TripList not only lets you make a packing list using custom items, but also offers a plethora of different categories (leisure, camping, conference, business, etc.) that will present you possible items you might want to pack with the Pro feature ($4.99 USD). Pro will also give you the weather forecast to tailor your packing and suggest quantities of items you might need for your adventure (which has, on many occasions for me, prevented over-packing without under-packing.) For me, one of my favorite features is the ability to save lists. I go away nearly every weekend in the summer, so “Weekend Away” is a great list to have auto-populate, but I also have ones for “Conference” and “Goalball Tournament.” Another bonus is that TripList syncs with TripIt.
The feature I find so fabulous about TripIt for ADHDers is the percent packed feature—as you check off items, the circle graphic on the app’s homepage ticks around to show you what’s left to do. At least for me, it’s highly motivating.
Another great free packing list app, I used PackPoint interchangeably with TripList for a few years, until I decided to pledge my loyalty to TripList. It’s also a great packing app with many features similar to those available from TripIt and certainly worth trying for yourself. I ultimately chose the visual of TripList over Pack Point, so keep in mind that it’s a totally solid contender available for both iOS and Android.
Note, as well, that you can use these apps in reverse by “un-checking” checked items when you leave the hotel or whatnot to make sure you have everything. (I don’t and only do a room check—usually—but you can be smarter than me!)
On the road
Some apps are only useful once you’ve made it to your destination. Here are my favorite picks to use on the road.
This is easily my favorite map app. This app may or may not have induced singing. Maps, they don’t love you like I love you, wait, they don’t love you like I love you, maaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaaps, wait! (P.S. I highly recommend this cover by Ted Leo—it follows “Since U Been Gone”). I highly recommend the Add to Calendar feature with public transit if you use Google maps and Google calendar, as well—it simply makes those pre-planned travel details easier to find. Know as well, that if you’re checking Google maps from a different time zone, it automatically adjusts the times for you (which can be confusing). Ensure the local transit system is supported by Google maps prior to travel, if you’re going to use it for this reason. If you’re using Google maps or a similar app for driving directions, know that it may cause both battery or data drain. An offline map app, like the popular Maps.Me may be a good choice to avoid at least the latter.
The best miscellaneous travel apps
I connected at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport twice last year, and flew in once. I was fortunate to have a friend who works there field my many questions by iMessage. If you don’t have a "personal airport concierge,” it may be worthwhile to check out the app of the airport you’ll be visiting, as they can have helpful tips for parking, public transport, finding gates and food, and maps to help you get where you’re going quicker. Here are my favorite miscellaneous apps for when you’re traveling.
For those pre-flight and still on the ground, FlightAware has a unique “meeting the flight” option that ensures those meeting a flight are alerted if there is a delay or cancellation. Bonus, you can sign people up for e-mail alerts, meaning if my mom is picking me up from the airport, I can plug in her e-mail or phone number for her to opt-in to alerts, and she just has to confirm. It really takes the tech pressure off.
Major attraction app of your choice.
Sometimes these are questionable, sometimes useful. One notable app I used last spring was the Mall of America app, which helped me be less lost wandering around a giant mall by myself for four hours. Investigate these before you go, so that you don’t waste time when you see the giant signs once you get there!
If you, like me, don’t have Uber or Lyft at home, downloading these apps and getting set up before you go can be helpful to make getting from point A to B quick and easy. (I usually run Google Maps while I’m en route with Uber or a taxi, to ensure we’re headed the right direction!) If you turn on your “location” setting, it can make it easier to help your driver pick you up when you’re in a new place.
I have most of these apps (as well as Hotels.com and Airbnb.com) stowed away on my iPhone in a “Travel" folder. They’re out of my way when I’m not traveling, but easy to find when I need them. It’s important to note, that there may be a bit of a drain on both your battery and data plan depending on how much you need to use these apps, especially those that require location services. Connect to WiFi whenever possible, and know your data usage levels and overage costs. If you’re traveling abroad, look into your carrier’s travel plans ahead of time to avoid any surprises! The only time I’ve gone over my 5 GB of data was on a trip to Alberta this summer, where we used my phone as the GPS in our rental car for dozens of hours—the $15 data overage fee was well worth it (but an offline app might be a better choice!). Many airports offer phone rentals, or picking up a cheap pay-as-you-go device on a local carrier may be an option if you don’t have an unlocked phone—it’s about weighing out cost and convenience.
Are you a frequent or not-so-frequent traveler with ADHD? Which apps do you use that I’ve listed here? Let me know in the comments!
Kerri MacKay is a Canadian, writer, quantified self-er, and ePatient with ADHD and asthma. She is a former hater of gym class who now holds a Bachelor of Physical & Health Education from the University of Winnipeg. She loves airplanes, t-shirts, cupcakes, and coaching goalball. Find her on Twitter @KerriYWG or KerriOnThePrairies.com.