Summer’s on the horizon, and a lot of people are gearing up for travel and vacations. Whether you may be heading out to enjoy some time in nature, relaxing on the beach or hopping on a plane, travel for a sensitive person can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. However, for highly sensitive people, it’s so necessary to take a break from the grind of life.
In fact, Elaine Aron—the researcher who coined the term HSP and has spent her career studying this trait—recommends that HSPs take 4 weeks off from work each year, if possible. These weeks certainly don’t need to be spent traveling, but the key is to ensure that we HSPs have regular breaks in our schedule. These breaks can also look like long weekends or the occasional midweek day off. It’s okay to adapt the break-scheduling into what your life allows, but it can also be necessary to actually block time out for yourself throughout the year and hold to it. Otherwise, it can be so easy for other tasks to creep in . . . especially because we often put others’ needs and wants ahead of our own.
So, you recognize the importance of taking time off to recharge, you’ve got some vacation time built into your schedule and you’re got a trip planned that you’re looking forward to. (Yay!! I get jazzed about traveling. :)) Now, how can you honor your sensitive needs AND make the most of your vacation?
- Take a moment to recognize that you’re going to have different needs as an HSP than your partner, friend or loved ones who are non-HSPs. This is normal. Just like introverts and extroverts or Type A verses Type B personalities will have different pulls and draws when traveling together, so will HSPs and non-HSPs. This is just part of life. We all have different temperaments, traits and needs. Allow for this. Perhaps this means that you and your travel companion(s) pick some different activities to do on the trip. You might love a quiet morning in the hotel, instead of hitting another museum. Or, you might prefer to take in a movie while others go out. Totally fine. Give yourself permission to not have to do all the same activities as your fellow travelers.
- Sleep. HSPs really need their rest. This is because our brains and bodies are constantly taking in so much information about the world around us. When we’re traveling, this sensory input can be amplified. So, it’s essential to rest. (I know, this may not be what you want to do on vacation. I hear you—I’d rather be doing fun things too! However, getting rest will truly help you enjoy your travel, rather than becoming overwhelmed, moody or exhausted. And, I hate getting moody when I’m on vacation!)
- Have snacks. Many HSPs easily get hangry, and I mean haaangry. I’m raising my hand here! My husband will be the first to tell you that I need to eat regularly. Otherwise, my blood sugar drops, and I can get worked up, mad or overwhelmed by really minor things. Sooo not what anyone wants on vacation! To this end, I’ve started traveling with snacks. I usually carry a protein bar or some trail mix on me. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s not always easy to figure out where to get a snack, or it may be hard to fit it in if no one else in your group wants to eat. (Then, as HSPs, we can be likely to ignore our own needs to make others happy.) If you make sure you have something to snack on with you, this can give you the freedom to eat when you need to without having to interrupt your travel plans. This is self-care.
- Take micro breaks throughout the day. If you’re spending a lot of time in public places or around your travel companion(s), you may really need some alone time. You can give yourself mini breaks to be alone. If you’re in the act of traveling—on a plane, bus, train or riding in a car—you can put earbuds in and listen to soothing music or nature sounds. Carry earplugs with you, and you can put these in and close your eyes, whether or not you intend to sleep. Depending on how gregarious the people you’re with are, you may need to let them know that you’re tired and are going to sleep, so they won’t disturb you. Or, if you’re out and about, you can go to the restroom and close the stall door. Then, you can take 10 deep breaths, imagine roots growing from your feet down into the earth to release any stress or tension you’re feeling, stretch and touch your toes or do any other mindfulness practice you like. If possible, sitting on a park bench can be an even better option for practicing some mindfulness. In a pinch, even something as simple as closing your eyes for 10-15 seconds can offer a micro break from all that information you’re taking in.
- Do advanced planning, if that works for you. While I love to travel, I find that I can get overwhelmed with making decisions in the moment. After I’ve been spending time exploring new things, having to make one more decision can feel like “too much.” It helps me to have a restaurant or two picked out in the area in advance of that day to narrow the options or to have an activity in mind that I want to do that afternoon. This helps me not feel bombarded with information that I have to try to sort through in the moment. After all, we HSPs tend to want time to pause and reflect. Planning some things in advance gives me that much needed time for reflection. (Plus, if you’re traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, it can even help to study up on words for food that you’re likely to see on the menus. This can help minimize some of that overwhelm of wondering what in the world you’re ordering!)
Be curious and explore what works for you. So much of the key to managing the overwhelm that can come with being an HSP is recognizing your needs and developing the strategies to meet them. As you live and learn, you may want to journal or keep a notebook just to jot down your own recommendations for next time. In fact, if you have other suggestions for traveling as an HSP, I’d love to hear them! Just drop me an email.
I’m wishing all you sensitive souls wonderful life-breaks and vacations! May you get the rest and rejuvenation you deserve!
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
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