Are you a highly sensitive person? Or do you suffer from anxiety? I am. Living with myself for 30 years has shown me that I possess many of the characteristic traits of what is termed a Highly Sensitive Person. The idea of the highly sensitive person (HSP) is a relatively new concept. In 1997, Elaine Aron’s well-known book The Highly Sensitive Person was first published, finally giving a name to the trait of those who have often been called “too sensitive.” When I first heard about the idea of the HSP, I felt like I could fully relate. Finally, I could explain why I cry so easily and why little annoyances like the toe seam of my sock drove me BONKERS as a child. I am a highly sensitive person, and I believe Nathan is too, though we exhibit different traits of the HSP personality. HSPs vary greatly, so even if you identify as one, your experience may be quite different than mine. Yet with my experiences, I wanted to share these tips to have success and happiness traveling as an HSP.
Because we travel so often, we’ve learned how travel impacts the HSP differently, and we’ve both discovered ways to make situations work best for our individual needs. (Highly sensitive people often suffer from anxiety, too, and while traveling with anxiety can be a challenge, it’s often an experience that can have an amazingly positive impact.) According to Aron, 15-20% of the population are HSPs. That means a good portion of you out there reading this will identify with many HSP traits. To that end, we’ve created this guide to help you travel happier as a highly sensitive person.
Pre-Trip Tips for the HSP
There are many different and varying traits belonging to HSP’s, and one of these is a tendency to get overwhelmed easily. HSPs are more aware of their surroundings and are alert to sensations in the environment. This means that when there is an onslaught of sensations and stimuli, the HSP can feel stressed, panicky, or even have the instinct to flee.
It’s easy to imagine that a busy places such as an airport would not be the dream spot for a highly sensitive person. Crowds, noises, an energy of tension in the air, the worry of missing your flight. For most people this situation causes consternation, but especially so for the HSP. A great pre-trip preparation piece is to get to the airport early. This will give you plenty of time to move through the crowds at a leisurely pace, and when you’re not dealing with time as a factor, the noises and other disturbances seem more manageable.
For me, traveling as an HSP tends to irritate my intolerance for physical discomfort. Pebble in my shoe? Not a minor annoyance. Blood rage-inducing. I hate to feel late or worried at all about my flight. But more than that, I get super physically uncomfortable at the airport. No matter the season, I get extremely antsy warm. Standing in line at security, I’m trying to balance my heavy carry-on, jumbo purse, and (if it’s winter, God forbid) cradling my jacket over my arm. As I approach security, the tension mounts and I scramble to extract my laptop, remove my shoes, and somehow hold onto my Passport and boarding pass with a free finger. Suffice it to say, at this point I am sweaty, cranky, and not at all fun to be around.
Physical discomfort seriously throws me off kilter, so to prepare for travel, the HSP in me needs to plan ahead. Here’s what I should remember to do:
- Wear slip on shoes
- Check any coats or other annoying-to-carry objects
- Check my bag! (So important to let me feel unencumbered at the airport).
- Bring a small carry-on that can hold my purse. (If I just have a single item to worry about, I’ll be ok).
- Breathe and take my time.
Accommodating Your Own Needs as an HSP
Sometimes HSPs are confused as introverts. While these can coincide, it is not always the case. But like introverts, HSPs generally need peaceful time alone to relax and recharge. This is more descriptive of Nathan than me, but I certainly appreciate a respite from nonstop action.
If you feel this way, HSP or not, be sure to factor this need into your trip. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing to not be on the go constantly, and, despite what your non HSP travel mates might tell you, you won’t be missing out. A good trip is one in which you feel happy and at ease. There’s no sense pushing yourself when you know in the end you’ll be strung out and morose. And even if its not introversion, you may have a somewhat shy personality. Could be that engaging with lots of strangers makes you downright scared and exhausted. That’s ok. Here are some tips for shy solo travelers.
When traveling as an HSP, design your travels so that they suit what you enjoy and what will make you feel your very best. Another trait of HSPs is a sensitivity or a finer understanding of art, music, and culture. These may engage you emotionally or perhaps just especially appeal to you. Include them in your trip. Make room for slow fine dining, aimless museum wandering, or any other pursuit which strikes your fancy. Maybe you like to take your keen HSP powers of observation and explore the backstreets and neighborhoods of your current location. To me, that sounds wonderful. Don’t let guidebooks or other pressures make you feel you aren’t “doing enough.” To journey into a place more deeply and attentively is actually a more significant and meaningful way to travel.
Honoring Your Sensitivity
Some highly sensitive people love travel, but will always find it a bit unnerving. This is because adapting to change can be difficult for HSPs. Travel, in many ways, is the epitome of change. But you can take measures to make the transitions less jarring.
Travel more slowly.
For those easily overwhelmed by a frenzy of activity, city-hopping on a whirlwind trip probably will not be the most enjoyable. Instead, honor your sensitivity, and adapt your trip accordingly.
Start close to home.
If you’re new to travel and change really bothers you, don’t take the leap right away and jet across the globe. Start in a region not terribly far from home, or choose a foreign country with a similar culture to your own. Being able to cling to aspects of familiarity can help make your time adventuring much more fruitful.
Treat yo’ self.
I’m not talking about a shopping spree; what I mean is practice self care. Often, HSPs can be affected negatively by caffeine, lack of sleep, and other stimuli. Know your body and treat it with extra special care, particularly at the beginning of your trip. Staying hydrated on a long flight, for instance, can help ward off jet lag, which could exacerbate tension and anxiety.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
The highly sensitive person usually experiences intense emotions and may have strong reactions to events, conversations, or even films. Here is an area where I can completely relate. I avoid excessive violence in movies and TV, and can go from laughing and ecstatically happy to tearful and worried in a matter of seconds. Why? Simply because I feel things more deeply. My emotions are not tempered and generally hit me hard. If this is you, know that travel can bring up emotions in you. In a new environment with endless sensory input, it’s not unexpected to be hit with waves of feeling. My advice for HSPs is to allow this to happen. Don’t squelch down your feelings, but embrace them. Let them happen and let them pass. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by allowing your emotions the freedom to emerge as they will.
HSPs can have tremendous travel experiences, same as anyone. Traveling as an HSP is simply about recognizing the opportunity to shape your own journey. The key is to know yourself and your needs. Plan ahead. Be kind to yourself. And adjust your schedule, atmosphere, and circumstances as needed. Travel is best when you embrace who you are and what that means for you as a traveler.