Staying Organized on Summer Road Trips with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Family road trips are fun and exciting, but they can also be stressful when one or more family members have ADHD. Some of this stress comes simply from being in close quarters and having to stay seated in the car for long stretches of time. While you can’t do much to cut down on the amount of driving that’s required for your trip you can tackle another source of stress – disorganization. When you’re in the car with kids, especially kids with ADHD, things can get messy quickly. You may start off with a clean car, but buckle kids into the back seat with their games, drinks, and food and the car can go from clean to a disaster zone in 5 minutes or less! This chaos makes it hard for kids with ADHD to keep track of their things, and can be the source of arguments, whining, and even tears. Often this backseat chaos doesn’t get left behind once you reach your destination. When things are disorganized at the beginning of a trip, it is very hard for kids to become organized once they’re on the road. As a result, the hotel room quickly mirrors the messy car.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Using a few simple organization strategies before and during your trip will empower your children to keep their things organized. Kids with ADHD will learn that even though they may struggle to stay organized, there is a lot that they can do to keep track of their own things.

  1. Plan and create an activity bag for each child. Before your trip, work with your kids to make a list of the games and activities that they will keep in the car. Provide each child with a reasonably sized bag and let him or her know that everything he or she brings needs to fit inside. Travel cosmetics caddies can be the best car activity bags. They can hang from a car headrest, they can easily fold up and be carried into restaurants and hotel rooms, and they have clear pockets for keeping things organized. Label each of the pockets with the items that should go inside, and your kids will easily know where their things should be stored. They can also check the pockets before they leave the car, restaurant, or hotel to make sure they haven’t left anything behind.


  1. Clean out the backseat every time you stop for gas. Avoid letting wrappers, food, and other trash build up in the backseat by cleaning out the car every time you stop to refuel. Keep a trash bag in the car to make the cleanup easier. You can put your kids in charge of the clean-outs either by rotating the person responsible for the entire car, or by making each kid responsible for his or her own area. Make the task more fun by playfully scoring his or her clean-out efforts. Your kids will be aiming for 10s in no time!


  1. Wet-wipes are your friend. Deal with spills and messes before they get sticky by keeping wet-wipes and paper towels in the back seat. Your kids can do most of the spill clean-up on their own, but double check when you stop to make sure there isn’t too much sticky goo left behind.


  1. Pack only what you need. One of the best strategies for staying organized on the road is to bring fewer things with you on your trip. It’s always tempting to over pack, but it’s especially tempting with road trips because you’re not restricted by airline luggage limits. Resist the urge to bring everything but the kitchen sink, and pack only what your kids will really need. When it comes to packing kids clothes, try packing each day’s outfit in its own gallon-size ZipLock® bag. Put one complete outfit, including the shirt, shorts, socks, and underwear in a bag labeled with the day of the week and your child’s name. Do this for every day of the trip, and your child will easily be able to find what he or she needs. As an added bonus, you’ll have only packed the clothes that are necessary and nothing more.
  2. Use a pop-up hamper. Dirty clothes can pile up quickly, and before long they can take over a hotel room. Keep the laundry under control by bringing along a pop-up hamper. These collapsible hampers take up very little space in a suitcase, and make it easy for kids (and adults) to see where their dirty clothes should go at the end of each day.

With a little planning and a few good strategies you can help your kids stay organized while they’re on the road, even when they have ADHD. Everyone will feel more relaxed, and your kids will feel proud of how well they were able to keep track of their belongings independently.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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