Are you easily overwhelmed by noise, crowds, bright lights, and bad smells? Are you jumpy and tend to worry a lot? If you are like me, and are biologically wired to be sensitive to your environment, then little things may tend to bother you more than the “average” person.
Basically, I sweat the small stuff. I’m not good at rolling with the punches. Or going with the flow.
But somehow, I’ve found a way to travel the world for the past year without losing my mind. In fact, people who know me well are often surprised that I travel as much as I do.
HSPs are strongly affected by their environment. Changes in their lives can shake them up. Being around crowds, traffic, strong odors, extreme temperatures, and loud noise can be overwhelming. For example, riding in a cramped, hot bus for hours can produce anxiety because the HSP can’t stop focusing on how uncomfortable they feel. And, yes, HSPs can have intense emotional reactions because they are so dialed-in to other people’s moods.
When you are highly sensitive, the idea of traveling the world—where it’s certain you will sometimes be uncomfortable and in unpredictable situations – can seem daunting. There are just too many things to worry about and too many things that could go wrong! Will it be dangerous? What if the hotel is dirty? Are there lots of mosquitoes and bugs? What if I get sick? Is the weather too hot? How will I get around? Did I pack the right things? Will I be able to meet people? What if I miss something great?
Will I be able to handle it?
Have no fear, because I’m here to tell you that independent, long-term budget travel does an HSP good. Yes, travel is probably more difficult for HSPs–but it’s worth it. For me, travel forces me to get out of my comfort zone and gives me confidence. At times, the constant change and adversity of travel gives me anxiety, but it also makes me crave learning and expansion of my life experiences.
In order to survive on the move, I do need to take care to manage my surroundings. To that end, I may never be a super-adventurous “hardcore” traveler; I won’t ever take a 15-hour bus ride, attend a full moon party (not again, anyway), or sleep in a bamboo hut in the jungle – but that’s okay. I have to accept and adjust to what works for my temperament. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I need calm, quiet, and a clean bed to reduce my stress, increase my energy levels, and help me enjoy the wonders that surround me.
If you have read this far and thought to yourself, “I can relate,” then I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned from being on the road the past nine months that may be able to help you, too. These tactics have helped make travel less stressful for an HSP like me.
- Stay in one location for a long period of time rather than moving quickly from place to place.
- Avoid dorms in hostels and get your own room. AirBnb is great for renting full apartments and can help you feel more stable and comfortable.
- Make sure you have what I call the “HSP Travel Survival Kit”: eyeshades, earplugs (try Mack’s brand), a hat, sunglasses, and, if you are shameless, maybe a neck cooler or personal fan.
- Don’t feel like you have to see every tourist site. The best parts of most vacations aren’t the sites you see, but the interesting stories.
- Give yourself downtime to relax, read a book, or just wander. Take a nap in the middle of the day to recharge from sightseeing if you feel like it.
- Research. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll have about something unexpected.
- What about organized tours? I avoid tours because I like to explore on my own and be in control of how I spend my day. Others may like tours because they remove the stress of having to plan things on your own.
- When you are going out exploring for the day, plan ahead and carry anything with you that you might need: a sweater/jacket, umbrella, hat, sunscreen, insect spray, water, a snack, or anything else that might make you more comfortable during the course of the day.
- Buy health/travel insurance if it will help you avoid extra anxiety.
- When you first arrive in a new country, take a taxi from the airport to your hotel instead of trying to navigate local transportation. A taxi might cost more, but after a long flight, you just want to get to your hotel, relax, and recharge.
- Make sure the person/people you are traveling with understands your feelings and needs. If you say “no” to partying late into the night, they’ll understand it’s not because you are boring, but because it’s overwhelming to you.
- Give in to the fact that there will be times when you will be uncomfortable and that there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how well you prepare or plan ahead. When I know I’m going to be uncomfortable, I handle it much better than when I’m unprepared. For example, I knew I’d be sweating profusely all day at the tropically humid Angkor Wat, and I was fine with that. But when I got caught unprepared in a sudden heavy downpour in Budapest, I did not deal with it well.
- Use Chris Guillebeau’s $10 rule. When spending a few extra bucks can make your life much more comfortable, stop worrying about the money and do it. Decision time: take a $6 taxi, or walk to your hotel in the searing heat wearing a heavy backpack? Get a taxi! If it’s only a little more dough for a lot more comfort, DO IT!
- Fly long flights in business or first class. How? Using frequent flyer miles from credit card signup bonuses. When you upgrade, air travel changes from a tedious cattle-car slog to luxury. Your seat reclines a lot (or becomes completely flat) and you can actually sleep! You also get access to comfortable airport lounges when you fly business/first, which are an oasis of calm (and free snacks) in the midst of airport craziness. It’s a total game changer.
- Don’t feel like you need to “keep up” with what other people do. There are no rules to traveling. Go at your own pace and do what you want to do.
There’s nothing “wrong” or “weird” about being highly sensitive. Don’t let being highly sensitive prevent you from doing what you love. Traveling will help you better understand the world, but more importantly, yourself, and what you need to be happy.
This article was published on Bootsnall.
Thanks for this great post Kelly! I wish I had read it 25 years ago when I first started traveling internationally. I had to learn (like you) mostly the hard way and after reading your post I can confirm that every one of your suggestions is valid!
I have an additional one: lots of international airports now have ‘business class lounges’ which any traveller can enter if they pay, costs around $25. Inside you find a haven of calm, free wifi, tv lounges, clean, spacious toilets and shower rooms, and often, rather good buffets of snack foods, a wide variety of drinks, soups and sandwiches. There’s usually also a special ‘quiet’ area where the lights are low so you can relax (and no mobile calls or loud conversation.)
All included in the price, which when you ‘add it all up’ is in my view a good deal, especially for an HSP!
If you have to spend more than a few hours at an airport and the crowds are getting to you, this is definitely the way to go.
Happy travels and happy holidays to you!
Go well, (or Hamba Kahle as we say in Africa)
I’m not sure I’m a full HSP, but I certainly have a lot of these tendencies, and found I needed a lot of these coping strategies (especially downtime – lots of it).
This was such an interesting read! I hadn’t realized all the effects of being HSP, but good on you continuing your adventures!
Thanks Silvia; glad you enjoyed!
Thank you for this good post. I’m traveling long in Southeast Asia.
I really need how do i take care of me in recent days.
love this site and your text, and your voice 🙂
Thanks Akira!! I’m so glad it could help.
I would also add these tips:-
Go to sleep early and get a lot of shut-eye.
If doing tours, choose one day or half day ones.
If I have to spend days with strangers in groups, definetly get my own room for much needed alone time. Also, tell people that I meditate so that I can get to go off on my own! -sadly, one time, a person who I tried to be frank with I think interpreted my wish to be alone as a snub!! – can’t win if you are a very sensitive introvert – even other introverts can assume you are subbing them. But at least people may accept the explanation of needing to meditate. then, I’ll go find a quiet spot, preferably near a river, and just chill out.
Thanks Elisa, great tips!
I agree with every point you’ve made! Be prepared, limit the locations and number of activities. Spend an extra few bucks here and there to be more comfortable.
One thing that you don’t mention struggling with (but I’m guessing many other HSPs like us do) is sleeping in a foreign place. I have a strong “first night’s sleep insomnia” (see link below to Atlantic article.) I’ve learned that despite taking sedatives (which I mostly don’t do well with for a variety of reasons), there’s pretty much no way I’m going to sleep well on vacation. So I accept it. Because I’ve also learned that it is possible to enjoy myself anyway. Is it perfect? No. But it’s not a deal breaker, and accepting how I am in this way (as in so many other HSP ways), makes the discomfort and stress so much less intense and easier to bear.
Argh. The link didn’t work right. Sorry! Trying again http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/why-we-sleep-badly-on-our-first-night-in-a-new-place/479091/
Hi Vanessa! Thanks for sharing and for the link! Since I first posted this, I have developed insomnia. I never used to have difficulty sleeping until recently. It definitely can be an issue when traveling. I do use sleep meds sometimes, but I do it as little as possible. But just knowing you have them in case of “emergency” can make it easier to relax. I also meditate and use white noise (on my phone) to help me sleep with traveling.
This is so great to read. I’m also a hsp, but one that loves adventure. Not an easy combination. I planned 2 months in Asia and then some weeks later the worries came: how am I going to survive? What have I done?! Your post really helped me. I do wonder tho if staying in a room is not really a lot more expensive and does it not interfere with meeting people? I’m afraid I get lonely…
Hi Shanti, if you want to meet other people, you may want to stay in a hostel. At least give it a try and see if you like it! Depending where you are, it may be much cheaper to stay in a shared hostel dorm than an individual room. (If traveling as a couple, sometimes it’s just as much to pay for 2 hostel beds as it is for one separate room). You can also hang out in the hostel common room to meet people! Your trip sounds super fun!
thank you so much for your reply ! 🙂 (sorry mine is a bit late) i think i’ll try for a few nights but i will keep the option open to stay in a an individual room. maybe i will just need to recharge once in a while, and that will be enough. oh, and i’ve decided to start with a max of 4 in one room, just to try and see how that works out first. already looking forward to it again! 🙂
I can also suggest that staying in a 4- or 6- person dorm room is a lot easier than a larger 12- or more person room and not that much more expensive. You get the best of both worlds: meeting people but still getting a lot of privacy! Have a great time!