It was over 10 years ago that I first discovered the phrase “highly sensitive person” or HSP.
I was sitting at a doctor’s office thumbing through a women’s magazine as my eyes flicked across the page to the article Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? I read the description and felt a sense of intrigue mixed with relief as I realized, OMG, this is a THING. The thing I had been all along: more sensitive to sights and sounds and stimuli, more aware of my own emotions and the emotions of others, built to feel and care very strongly — and, yes, to get overstimulated at times. I was a highly sensitive person, and I didn’t even know it.
It took years of growth to fully understand and embrace my high sensitivity, but doing so allowed me to navigate life much more easily. One thing that never seemed to get easier, however, was travel – especially highly stimulating trips like spring break in college.
Here’s what makes these trips particularly hard for HSPs, and what HSPs can do to stop being overwhelmed and actually enjoy them.
Why Spring Break Trips Can Be Hard for a Highly Sensitive Person
As an HSP, traveling can be stressful in and of itself. You’re off somewhere, living differently, most likely on other people’s schedules, absorbing their many emotions, exposed to all kinds of new stimuli… what was supposed to be “fun” quickly becomes overwhelming.
But the bigger the group and the higher the expectations, the more overwhelming travel can be. For me, that means family vacations or, of course, the annual spring break excursion. These trips were marathons of being emotionally “on.” In typical HSP fashion, I wanted to be a people-pleasing, low-maintenance travel companion, and I let that overshadow all the things I needed to feel comfortable and relaxed.
But HSPs are at our best when we stand up for our own needs and value ourselves as much as we value others. Once I took a step back and thought about my needs as a highly sensitive person — about the things that allow me to be happy, relaxed, and comfortable — I was able to start doing spring break and other trips very differently.
And they started to become, well, fun.
Partying and HSPs Don’t Always Mix
Let me acknowledge something important for any HSP considering going on spring break: yes, it has a reputation for partying. Yes, your friends may be going specifically for the partying. And yes, it’s possible that you will also be expected — or even pressured — to go to some pretty wild parties while you’re there. And I think we all know that the wilder the party, the rougher it is on most HSPs.
Plus, if you’re anything like me, you may be a little sensitive to alcohol. In other words, wild partying may simply not be your scene — and that’s okay. If your picture of the perfect spring break looks more like a cozy ski weekend with a few close friends rather than wild parties on the beach, consider trying to organize something like that.
And if you do end up going with party animals, there are still ways to enjoy yourself as an HSP. You might even find that people want to join you for more mellow activities! In a large gathering, settle into a small space and have a thoughtful conversation. Find somewhere that’s playing soothing music instead of something loud and intense. Stay hydrated, and if you have a sensitive stomach, try one of my favorites: ginger ale with a splash of rum, or water with lemon.
Above all, always remember that you do not have to do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s okay to be the one who stays in, leaves a party early, or simply finds something different to do.
10 Tips for Enjoying Spring Break as an HSP
Here are 10 more tips to help you not just survive — but actually enjoy — your spring break trip as an HSP:
1. Get your own room
If at all possible. I cannot stress this enough; HSPs need a space where they can be away from stimuli, including other people. Whether it’s your own hotel room or bedroom at the place you are staying, it provides a place for you to retreat and rest, and the physical boundaries can be a temporary sanctuary. I also find that having my own room has a positive mental effect — even if I am hardly in it, the fact that it’s there if I need it relieves a lot of anxiety.
2. Go to “bed” early
I used to be afraid that going to bed earlier than everyone else would come off as rude or antisocial, and I didn’t realize that sleep is crucial for HSPs. It also didn’t occur to me that it’s OKAY to go in your room and not go to sleep immediately. Take 30 minutes to wind down, read a book, have a cup of tea, and carry on your normal nightly routine. Others will be fine without you.
3. Take loooong showers
The shower is a great place to have some alone time — which is to say, one more form of sanctuary in a stimulating group environment. When it’s your turn to shower, take a few extra minutes to reset. Enjoy the hot water, steam, and serenity.
4. Go for a walk
Not only will you get in some exercise and have the potential to do some exploring, but taking some time to yourself in this form can be incredibly uplifting. Yay endorphins!
(Walking also stimulates the creative mind, and simply being creative can make a trip much more enjoyable for HSPs.)
5. Volunteer to run an errand (yes, it makes a difference)
Inevitably, someone will forget sunscreen or run out of piña colada mix. Offer to go get it if you can. By volunteering to run to the store, you’re not only helping others (which makes us HSPs feel good), but it can also serve as a little escape. Put on some music in the car, roll down the windows, and enjoy the time to yourself.
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6. Plan a shorter trip than everyone else
Yes, it’s okay to come on a trip and leave early. I’ve found that during my time away, around day 4 or 5, I start to get a little antsy and ready to go home. Your limit may be different than mine, but in general, HSPs will get more and more worn out, and more ready for their home and routine, the longer a trip goes on.
If your friends’ spring break trip is planned for 7-10 days, consider joining for a shorter portion of time that is optimal for you.
7. Bring along familiar comforts
Nothing is worse than a scratchy, uncomfortable hotel blanket! Consider bringing along items such as your favorite robe or pillow to keep your environment peaceful and conducive to a good night’s sleep. If you’re sensitive to noise, consider a noise machine or noise-cancelling headphones. And a sleep mask to block out light is indispensable for many HSP travelers.
8. Pack an emergency snack — always
For HSPs, hunger dramatically affects our mood. I have been caught too many times in a situation where food or meal times were out of my control. Throw a granola bar, protein bar, or other snack in your bag — you’ll thank me later.
9. Soak it in
Feed your HSP-ness! Too much of the travel advice for HSPs focuses on the negative, but we are people who like discovering small joys, experiencing beauty, and forming connections with others.
So fit in an activity that nourishes your soul. Check out the beautiful scenery, listen to moving music, visit an art gallery or historic site. Get creative and try a new experience offered in the area. Bring people along for the ride with you. Have a meaningful conversation with someone that you are traveling with. These are the perfect opportunities to get closer to those you love.
10. Switch your focus
The time you will spend on your getaway is finite. You are there. Instead of counting down the minutes until you can leave, try switching focus to intentionally enjoying each moment. Laugh at what’s driving you crazy. Embrace the hectic chaos. Remember that getting out of your comfort zone is healthy. It will be over soon and you will have wonderful memories to look back on!
These simple, mindful strategies have helped me turn spring break and other group trips into experiences I cherish. But, no matter what kind of trip you’re planning, remember: be gentle with yourself, keep checking in, and don’t be afraid to speak up for your needs.