ADHD & Travel: Chasing the Dopamine
While traveling, I am never in my comfort zone and I find that, well, comforting. Being thrown into an unfamiliar environment can be a stressful thought for many with ADHD. But, for others, like myself, the thought of being pushed out of my routine and traveling to a new city is exactly what my dopamine deficient brain seeks.
I love that traveling brings me the constant stimulation that ordinary life lacks.
Being among a new culture, language, and scenery all just add up to that dopamine release my mind craves. Literally every second there is something new and different happening. And while some may find this chaotic and stressful, I have come to realize I enjoy a bit of mayhem.
In fact, this is probably why I prefer living abroad so much. Some of my neuro-typical friends have explained to me that they can't imagine living long term and feeling relaxed in a country where they can’t speak the language or are unfamiliar with the culture. However, I can’t imagine the utter boredom of living somewhere where I feel so comfortable and relaxed on the daily. It sounds like torture to my dopamine deficient brain.
I find comfort in the discomfort.
And I’m not the only one. Oddly enough, among my other foreign friends in Prague, I have found myself surrounded by more people with ADHD than I ever did back in my hometown.
Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe we're all just chasing that environmental stimulation and constant dopamine release that we receive from living outside our comfort zone.
Being the dopamine chasers that we are, travel tends to be a favorite hobby of many with ADHD. But an opportunity I don't think enough of us take advantage of is solo travel. The thought may be scary. The ADHD brain can already be disorganized and scattered so traveling with others can be a great way to avoid missed flights or getting lost. And while traveling with friends has resulted in some amazing experiences for me, traveling with other people can also be restricting.
The beauty of solo travel is you can truly chase the dopamine release exactly as you seek it. You don’t need to ask for other’s opinions or follow what the group wants to do. You’re never rushed by anyone else and you don’t have to struggle to lay still on a beach for a full day of “relaxation”. You can be spontaneous and spend a whole day exploring new areas, trying new foods, or meeting locals. On the other hand, with all the stimulation of travel, the ADHD brain can burnout after a while. When you’re solo, you don’t have to hold anyone back while you take a mental break.
When you travel with others you may end up frustrated, anxiously waiting for others when you're so ready to just get on a scooter and go explore. Or on the flip side, when you're trying to organize your thoughts and go through mental checklists before doing something or going somewhere you yourself may become the one holding up the group which can be anxiety-inducing. When you're traveling solo you can go exactly at your own pace, regardless of how fast or slow that pace may be.
However, it is important to be aware of how ADHD manifests itself in you before you travel, especially solo. I can’t tell you how many times I snapped out of a hyper-focus marathon realizing I had just spent 5 hours researching and building a daily itinerary out of everything there is to do at my next destination.
That being said, I have also impulsively boarded a bus to Budapest without even having booked a place to stay that night. Being aware of how ADHD impacts you means you are first of all better prepared to not only tackle the planning. And second, and certainly more importantly, to know what to expect before you find yourself in the middle of a foreign city. It could be executive dysfunction causing you to pack 15 minutes before you need to leave for the airport. Time blindness in the airport causing you to nearly miss flights. Or, object permanence causing you to carry around 15 extra items at the bottom of your bag because you totally forgot you packed them. Understanding how my ADHD manifests itself in me has saved me a lot of stress when my travel date rolled around.
Solo travel has allowed me to grow as a person and learn so much about how I think and what I enjoy. When I moved abroad and started to travel my independence and confidence grew immensely. I was always on such a dopamine high my social anxiety has all but disappeared. Maybe it’s just growing up or maybe it's personal development but I do not face the same anxiety I once did back in my hometown. I find myself loving life while I’m abroad far more than in my comfortable hometown and that has led me to become a much happier person. And for these reasons, I encourage all us ADHD travellers to give living abroad and solo travel a go.