Most of my friends thought I was nuts.
They’d say, “You must be so excited about going to Italy with your family!”
I’d reply, “Actually, I’m trying not to dread it.”
And they’d respond, “You’re crazy!” followed by some variation of, “If I were going to Italy with my family, I’d be over the moon!”
My fellow HSPs understood:
- “Wow, you’re going to be away from home for nine whole days?”
- “Yikes—the flight is 12 hours each way?”
- “Rome during Holy Week is going to be packed with people!”
Now that we’re back home, I am over the moon to report that all four Highly Sensitive People in our family had a wonderful trip.
Here’s how we avoided common HSP travel problems … and how you can, too.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
The #1 way to prevent the unexpected is to start expecting it.
We expected that …
- … the trip would deplete our physical reserves.
- … we’d feel exhausted by the time we arrived in Rome..
- … multi-tasking in unfamiliar settings would be draining.
- … we’d be over-stimulated by all the sights, smells, and sounds.
- … all the crowds of people would be overwhelming.
- … we’d get short and snappy with each other when fatigued.
Start by creating your own personalized list of realistic expectations.
The unexpected is now expected.
2. Plan Ahead
Brainstorm solutions to pair with each expectation. Here’s what some of ours looked like:
We expected that …
- … the trip would deplete our physical reserves, SO we packed healthy snacks, kept ourselves hydrated, and slept as much as we could.
- … we’d feel exhausted by the time we arrived in Rome, SO our only goal for our first day was to make it from the airport to our Air BnB.
- … multi-tasking in unfamiliar settings would be draining, SO we planned down time every afternoon.
- … we’d be over-stimulated by all the sights, smells, and sounds, SO we chose quiet places to stay and packed super-duper strength earplugs.
- … all the crowds of people would be overwhelming, SO we took full advantage of our separate bedrooms in the evenings, basking in much-needed privacy behind closed doors before venturing out again the next day.
- … we’d get short and snappy with each other when fatigued, SO we chose to extend grace rather than take things personally.
Control what you can … and plan for what you can’t.
3. Create a Personalized Packing List
We aren’t the kind of people who can throw a few things into a duffle bag fifteen minutes before sprinting off to the airport.
We’re the kind of people who have files on our computers titled “My Pre-Trip Shopping List” and “My Packing List” and “My Carry-On List” and …!
Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
Use your lists before every trip. Update them right after you return.
Not sure where to start? Here’s my packing list. It’s downloadable so you can customize and use it.
Your personalized packing list is a vital way to carry your own jam jar.
4. Restore the “Magic” Ratio
I had one primary goal for this trip, and it wasn’t particularly glamorous:
I have far too many bad memories from past trips during which I over-reacted to an unexpected conflict and then spent days ruminating rather than making new good memories.
In the past, my goal was to prevent conflict by keeping everyone happy.
Now, after three decades of marriage, and 27 years of parenting, I’ve finally figured out that there are two things I’m incapable of doing:
- preventing conflict
- keeping everyone happy
Going into this trip, I kept reminding myself:
- conflict is inevitable
- one (or more) of us is likely to be unhappy at any point in time
According to John Gottman, the “magic” relationship ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1. So, I focused on diluting the inevitable negatives with intentional positives.
When you recognize that travel naturally amplifies (and even multiplies) negativity, you can restore balance by intentionally increasing positivity through expressing extra appreciation, laughing heartily at the funny stuff that happens, listening attentively and actively.
Counteract travel challenges with intentional positivity.
5. Check Your Reflexes — Regularly
The biggest travel problem for an HSP is usually her own internal stress reactions to external issues. When I sensed my anxiety level rising, I checked four reflexes and often found at least one in need of adjustment.
Run thru these four areas and ask these key questions regularly:
- Jaw — Am I gritting my teeth (stress reflex) or is my jaw relaxed? Is my tongue clamped to the roof of my mouth (stress reflex) or resting on the bottom?
- Breath — Am I taking short shallow breaths (stress reflex) or deep even breaths?
- Hands — Are my hands clenched (stress reflex) or open?
- Feet — Are my feet cold (stress reflex) or warm?
Watch for, and respond to, your body’s stress signals.
6. Focus on What’s Going Well
I used to obsess over having the perfect vacation.
I would tell myself, This will only be a good trip if _____ doesn’t happen. Then, every little _____ that happened, I saw as ruining the trip.
Now, my goal is to forget problems quickly and focus on what’s going well, such as …
7. Remember Who and Whose You Are
By the third day of our trip, I felt a pervasive sense of being misplaced, lost, fragile, unsafe.
For most of my life, back when I didn’t know that being an HSP is a thing, this feeling used to throw me for a complete tailspin. I can’t tell you how many trips I cut short, rushing home in a panic.
Now I know that even the best of trips can cause an HSP to feel disoriented and vulnerable.
Lacking familiar context, we can become homesick and even feel that our identity is fragmenting.
I rely on ANCHOR verses more than ever when I’m away from home. They hold me steady through the inevitable waves of overwhelm that occur during travel.
To borrow a metaphor from Shakespeare, God’s word is our North Star.
It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark.
And the Psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we travel, we never leave God behind:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)
God is with you wherever you go; with Him, you are always safe and at Home.
Q4U: What HSP travel tips would you add?