Highly Sensitive Refuge
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Why Travel Is Hard for HSPs (and How to Enjoy It More)

Travel is supposed to be magical. It’s supposed to be an “escape,” a chance to reinvent yourself. Or, at least to de-stress on vacation. But if you’re a highly sensitive person, travel is often the opposite: one big source of stress and overwhelm.

There are good reasons for this — and it’s not something you need to beat yourself up over. Rather, travel comes with a number of pitfalls that are hard for any highly sensitive person (HSP). Let’s take a look at why travel can be tough for HSPs, as well as how you can start enjoying it more.

Why Travel Can Be Hard for HSPs

Perhaps the biggest reason travel can be difficult for HSPs is that it pulls them out of their routine. Routine is often a source of comfort for sensitive souls, because it’s the one thing that’s constant and reassuring in a high-stimulus world. Losing that, even temporarily, can be harder on HSPs than it is for others.

But that’s far from the only reason. Most HSPs absolutely loathe being thrown into a new environment, surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds, foods, and situations, and held to an itinerary that they can’t always control. Of course, we all have to endure little difficulties to travel — sensitive or not — like being crammed into a tiny airplane seat or rushing to make a connecting flight. But a highly sensitive person’s system processes everything more deeply, magnifying these normal stresses into completely nerve-wracking situations.

But many HSPs have found ways to make travel less overwhelming, even a source of joy. Below are three secrets from HSPs and avid travelers to manage travel as a sensitive person.

How to Enjoy Travel as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. Resist the pressure to do, do, DO

It seems like every time I go on a trip, there’s a long list of stuff we “have” to do. Things to see, things to experience, even things to eat. If you only have a few days somewhere amazing, don’t you have to see it ALL?

For me, that’s the road to just falling apart and crashing. Too many activities leave me tired, crabby, and unpleasant to be around. Especially if traveling companions have even more things to do next. A little understanding, please?

But here’s what I’ve realized. Understanding starts at home — it starts with accepting my own needs. Part of the reason it’s so easy to get worn down on a trip is because I buy into the idea that we have to see “everything.” But you can never see or do everything in a new location, even if you have a full week or two.

Instead, embrace the fact that, as a highly sensitive person, travel doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it means to other people. You can explore at your own pace. You can have a little adventure… then call it enough. It helps to remind yourself of that before you go, when you’re still making an itinerary.

And if you’d rather read on the beach than snorkel a coral reef, own that and let your companions know. In most cases, if you’re already accepting of it yourself, they’ll accept it too — and they’ll go enjoy doing their thing.

2. Develop a routine (even though you’re not at home)

Few things are more disruptive than travel. It shakes up your work schedule, your home life, your budget, and most of all, your sense of what to expect from one day to the next. So it’s no surprise that, even though many people love to travel, it’s also one of the most stressful things that an HSP can deal with.

Which brings me to a solution I’ve learned from an avid HSP traveller: the life-changing magic of setting a travel routine.

Life coach Ellany Lea has this down to a science. She’s highly sensitive and has been to 110 countries (!). In many cases, she changes locale every week. But on the road, her schedule is the same:

  • Mondays are travel days. Early flights/buses are preferred so she can grocery shop after she arrives.
  • Tuesdays are casual sightseeing days with no obligations — and a chance to recharge.
  • Wednesdays/Thursdays are for working (she works while she travels).
  • Fridays and weekends alternate between outings, like swimming with dolphins, and self-development activities like taking a class or catching up on reading.

That actually sounds pretty relaxing.

To be clear, that’s her schedule. Most of us aren’t location-independent jetsetters and don’t have nearly that level of flexibility. But if you keep your travel schedule on the same rhythm every time you go, it can be a lot easier to adjust. For example, your schedule could be:

  • Day 1 is for staying near the hotel, resting, and exploring the nearby neighborhood — low key stuff
  • Day 2 is for the “big exciting activity” someone always wants to plan
  • Day 3 is for cultural activities like museums

You get the idea. Tweak to fit your own needs, but if you can set a rhythm you follow for trips in general, it creates familiarity and less chaos.

3. Insist on a buffer day

Many HSPs probably already do this — at least when time allows. But I would consider making it non-negotiable. A buffer day is a full day you take at home, after the trip is over, where you’re doing nothing but recovering.

What that means will depend on the person. For some, it means you’re unpacking, cleaning up, and getting some R&R. For others, it will mean you’re spending time with the kids or planning out your work week. But the point is, it’s a day off from “normal life.”

Think of it as a necessity. Every traveler feels wiped after getting home from a trip, and for highly sensitive people, that feeling is magnified times ten.

Here’s the trick: The only way to get your buffer day is to firmly schedule it. It won’t just magically happen, so this is the time to be your own HSP advocate. If you’re flying home on a Sunday, use a vacation day to take Monday off. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, talk with your partner when planning the trip and explain why you need that extra day.

For HSPs, traveling looks different than it does for other people. You can go on magical, life-changing trips. But the highly sensitive version of “magical” might be different from someone else’s “magical.” And it requires plenty of downtime. That won’t always match other people’s idea of a vacation, but really, what could be better than a trip that’s actually relaxing?

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