Why Van Life for Nomads with ADHD

Are you a nomad with ADHD/ADD or share some of its manifestations? Have no fear - van life is here!

OK, if regular folk have challenges developing good habits, they’ve got nothing on a person with ADHD. So, while most of us ADHD’ers have the DNA make-up that designs us for wanderlusting, that very same genetic make-up is best supported by van life. Let me explain…

ADHD and Environmental Design

The amount of effort required for a person with ADHD to maintain a healthy routine is quite literally goliath. And one of the primary ways we ADHD’ers support ourselves in our efforts at maintaining good habits is through environmental design – thank you James Clear (strongly suggest audible or kindle/audible through whispersync if you are a nomad to save on space and always have your reading on the ready)

"By changing your surroundings, you can place a hurdle in the way of bad behaviors and remove the barriers to good ones." - James Clear, Atomic Habits

Examples include having a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter, instead of a jar of cookies; placing your morning vitamins next to the water dispenser or on the breakfast counter/table; having laundry baskets wherever it is that you take clothes off in your house (bedroom and bathroom); meal prepping for the week to stay away fro ordering take-out; and, so on.

Priming our environment in that way makes it more likely that we will continue with forming and maintaining our desired habits. For those who appreciate more suggestions, How to ADHD's "ADHD friendly House Hacks" is a great resource.

a bowl of fruit on a kitchen counter
This environment primes you to eat fruit as a healthy snack, rather than the jar of cookies you SHOULD hide on the top shelf of the pantry if you're trying to develop healthier eating habits!

If our environment is constantly changing because, say, we’ve chosen a nomad life by means of Airbnb, couch-surfing, work-exchanges, house-sitting or the like, and we’re also living out of several suitcases/backpacks, etc., I’d say we’re pretty screwed on trying to maintain any sort of routine, let alone build new habits into that routine to move us in a healthier direction.


a really messy living space with objects everywhere
This is what happens when our environment isn't primed and everything doesn't have its own place

Speaking From Experience

And I don’t speak that just from conjecture, but from actual experience!

We’ve been going back and forth between Los Angeles and Idyllwild for the past few months and maintaining any sort of routine has been near impossible! Even something as basic as teeth-brushing has been disturbed a few times because the toiletries bag has been left at one or the other location.

Another factor that contributes to the breakdown of that routine? A lack of consistency in the physical environment. In one location, the bedroom, bathroom and toiletries are all upstairs. So, the routine is wake-up, get dressed, brush teeth and hair, and then go downstairs for breakfast. In another location, everything is on one floor and the preferred order of wake-up get dressed, eat breakfast and then brush teeth and hair is followed. But upon return to an environment where there is an upstairs and downstairs, the compulsion to follow that preferred routine wins out and we’re battling the kids to go back up and brush teeth and hair OR battling them to do that before going downstairs, or forgetting all together!

a basket of toiletry and bathing supplies
Everything needs its place for ADHD'ers to keep the habit going!

I know, people, these are simple things. And yet, in the life of an ADHD’er, they are a struggle. And there are at least 2 people with ADHD in my family, if not more, haha.

If that routine has been interrupted, you can only imagine how it’s been going with vitamins/supplements/medications, especially for a family of 5 where each of us takes something different, at different times of day, some liquid and some chewable/pill. The first challenge is just making sure to pack all of them. The second, is making sure to un-pack all of them at the new location in a way that facilitates remembering to take them at the right time (again, environmental priming). The third, is to actually take them given there is no consistency to the environmental cues.

Results, we’re constantly trying to establish new routines in new environments every 4 to 5 days! What’s the current research? 21 days to set a new habit? And that’s for a neurotypical brain. For someone with ADHD? Maybe 10 times that.

So, what is an ADHD’er to do? Our very same ADHD pulls us towards never-ending travel, while also making it impossible to lead any sort of consistent lifestyle that will facilitate healthy habit formation and maintenance.

Answer: CREATE and then BRING your stable environment with you WHEREVER YOU GO!. . . AKA Van Life!

Our family in front of our Sprinter van
We can bring our primed environment wherever we go!!!

I can have our family’s vitamin/supplement shelf come with us, organized the exact same way, labeled the exact same way, no matter where we go. I don’t have to worry that there it too little counter space in one place or that we’ll overwhelm the hosts with putting so much of our stuff on their counters or even, that we’re just lacking motivation to put out the supplements in a similar way as our home environment to “prime the environment” sufficiently to set up all our ADHD’ers and Queen ADHD’er (aka me – because I have to somehow keep track of everyon else) for success.

Our dirty laundry goes in the same place no matter where we are – avoiding the vomited mess of a bedroom/bathroom we often have when hopping from one location to another because there is no consistent location to drop it.

Hygiene? Not a problem – don’t have to dig toothbrushes out from the luggage (which sometimes doesn’t make it out of the vehicle until the day after because we’re too tired the night of arrival) and skip a brushing or two.

Keeping track of dance clothes or parkour shoes? Easy! They go back into their same spot every time. We don’t have to worry that one house has a shoe rack by the door, or an entryway closet or not. The dance bag goes in the same spot every time. The shoes go in the same spot every time. End of story!

By the by, this is one of the other unnamed reasons why we went for van life rather than any other type of nomadism. It seemed the only sane option for me to be able to keep track of everything that I need to keep track of and make sure gets done in an ever-changing location.


So, for all you fellow ADHD wanderlusters out there, how do you create the routines and habits you need to keep yourselves healthy and sane? As more and more of the van takes shape, I'll be sharing how we organize ourselves and prime the van environment to support our healthy habit formation!


And, if you're needing some motivation to create some environmental shifts for forming more desired habits and kicking undesirable ones, James Clear's Atmonic Habits, which I've only had time for on audible (because of how insane life is!!!!), is a great read with actionable steps along the way!


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