7 Ways a Professional Traveler With ADHD Manages His Mental Health While Exploring the World
Brandon Berkson of Hotels Above Par shares useful advice for those who travel with ADHD — so, like him, they never have to miss a trip.
If there ever was a traveler you’d want to emulate, it would likely be Brandon Berkson. Since his youth, Berkson knew his calling was to travel the world.
“While all the other kids were playing baseball and soccer outside, I preferred playing ‘imaginary hotel,’ forcing my brother against his will to pretend he was a guest while I worked at the front desk,” Berkson told Travel + Leisure. And, in an incredibly charming turn of events, he actually made that dream come true.
“I started my career as a bellboy at a boutique hotel in San Francisco, then worked at hotel and travel-oriented PR agencies in Paris, London, and New York City,” he said. That is, until the pandemic hit, and he was furloughed. But rather than wallow, Berkson dove even deeper into his passion for hotels and created Hotels Above Par, a website dedicated to the best boutique hotels and destinations around the globe, which also produces easily digestible three-minute articles designed for a busy millennial audience.
Berkson is certainly a well-traveled person, and one who deeply appreciates every global experience he has and seeks to share that joy with his readers and followers. And he also happens to be someone who does it all with what he describes as severe Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“I've had severe ADHD since I was a kid — and it can make life overwhelming, especially with my job. As a CEO, I wear 20 different hats and am always traveling,” he said. “With my ADHD, I've had to learn how to manage the incessant distractions, impulsiveness, and disorganization that come with the disorder. There have been so many times, between school, work, and travel, when I can't pay attention to my life, causing me to miss important information and directions, which, in turn, is humiliating as I end up doing what I was supposed to do completely wrong.”
When it comes to travel, Berkson said, he can sometimes feel all over the map, both physically and mentally.
“I zone out often on guided tours. For example, we'll be doing a tour at the Vatican, and while the tour guide is explaining something super intriguing, I realize midway through that for the last 15 minutes, I've been thinking about what I ate for lunch yesterday. I’m fantastic at leaving items behind, from room keys on restaurant tables to forgetting one of my two suitcases at JFK a few years ago after I physically collected it at baggage claim. Not one of my best moments.”
And lastly, he noted something many with ADHD can relate to: “I’m a palpable procrastinator, so I’ve had to find ways of making my days more structured and efficient.”
However, this has never stopped him from pursuing his dream trips thanks to a few tricks he's learned. He shared them with us in hopes of helping every kind of traveler, including those with ADHD.
Berkson meditates for 15 minutes a day, which he says helps calm his mind. “I’ve done this on flights, in the passenger seat of cars, and in my hotel room by myself,” he said. “When you pick something specific to return to, it makes you more grounded. This method is a great choice in comparison to approaching meditation with a ‘whatever comes to mind’ approach, being that, when you have ADHD, so many thoughts come to mind, and you realize a couple of minutes into the meditation that you've been thinking about what you ate for breakfast or what you're going to do this weekend, as opposed to the present moment and the breath.”
Have a dedicated “Instagram phone.”
“I bought myself a cheap yesteryear-generation iPhone that I exclusively use for Instagram, nothing else,” he said, noting that Instagram is a huge part of the daily work at Hotels Above Par. “With this boundary, I don’t get distracted by having the notorious procrastination-fueling app on my 24/7 personal phone. Learning how to set limits for yourself on social media is a must; you learn how productive you can be when Instagram isn’t readily at your disposal while you're trying to get tasks done.”
Invest in a few Apple Tiles.
"With my ADHD, I’m often losing things," Berkson said. "While I’ve gotten better with it, making sure I leave my keys in the same spot each time, I slip up a fair amount. So, to help resolve this problem, I bought a Tile for my keys and wallet — it’s basically this small square chip you can attach to important items. If you can’t find them, you can ring them from the Tile application on your phone."
When he travels, Berkson makes sure to bring the right type of bag to help him stay organized. "Buying a crossbody pack to collate my personal items has been a lifesaver," he said. "You don’t have to stuff your pockets with oversized items such as your phone and wallet, as the pack stations them into one pouch that doesn't leave your chest."
Find a workout that grounds you.
When you land in a new destination, make time for a little sweat session to find balance. Berkson said he finds hot yoga particularly helpful. “Whenever I’m in Manhattan or traveling in a big city and feel all over the place, I look for a Bikram Yoga studio where I can take a class," he said. "With the nature of Bikram, due to the heat and inability to escape the practice, this type of hot yoga forces you to focus on your body and mind — you leave everything that's worrisome or distracting outside.”
Write things down.
Need to organize yourself before a trip? Grab a trusty pen and some paper and write out a to-do list so you can check things off one by one. “Call me old-fashioned, but I like to have them on a paper notepad,” Berkson said.
Listen to music.
If you need to hit a few work deadlines before a trip, Berkson suggests finding your destination’s local tunes and playing them while you work to get things done. He likes to listen to techno music while working, which studies have shown can be beneficial to ADHD. "Sometimes, to be thematic, I’ll look up a techno DJ from the country I’m visiting — I must say the best mixes have been during my time in Amsterdam.”
Find destinations that suit your style.
While Berkson adores cities, he said sometimes “taking the time to reset somewhere slow and calming" is what he needs to reset his focus. "My unhurried happy places, and the boutique hotels that come with them, include laying on a lounge chair under a lemon tree, looking towards the sea, at the luxe Casa Angelina on the Amalfi Coast; getting my dose of mountain air at Forestis in Italy and Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Switzerland; decamping to the desert, a landscape I find quite cathartic, at Paradero Todos Santos in Mexico’s Baja California Sur region; and last but not least, walking around my favorite small Mexican town, San Miguel de Allende, where I like to stay at either Hotel Matilda or Casa Hoyos.”
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