"Take a vacation, it'll be great, you need it!"
That's what they say, right? Well, that's what we tell ourselves, too. What if planning your vacation is totally overwhelming, what if traveling to and from your vacation is a nightmare, what if being on your vacation is overstimulating and disappointing, what if you return from your vacation more stressed than before you left?
It doesn't seem possible, it's vacation, right!? But, if you're a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you may have a hunch about this. In fact, you may have experienced this first hand. It's such a terrible way to take a much needed break from your life and responsibilities, but it's often a reality.
Is there a way to have the perfect vacation?
I'm still trying to figure that one out... but I know there are ways to take a great one. Keep reading and you'll find information about what makes it hard to vacation as a HSP and how to make it better. To be specific, you'll see the following sections:
HSP vacation blunder examples
What makes vacationing difficult for HSPs
Why do HSPs need vacations
Tips for having a successful vacation
It might be helpful to see the sour side of being a HSP on vacation. Unfortunate for me, I have many examples, fortunate for you, I have many lessons and new found accommodations and improvements. Maybe you've even "been there, done that."
So, let's start with the most recent vacation. It's fresh on my mind and still working it's way out of my body. I'll set the scene: Traveling with a two year old, lots of luggage, airports, Ubers, four different hotels, a cruise, a theme park, covid restrictions, new schedules and routines, new diet, tired, cranky, and overstimulated! Eek. There were some challenges on this one for sure. Being HSP and having a sensitive, and also very loud and busy, child is a challenge in itself. There were moments of complete stress, exhaustion, and rethinking the point of vacations all together. This happened mostly at the start of the vacation, as everyone was still adjusting and slowly transitioning into a new normal for the next week. It got better!
I suppose I could go on and on with different examples, but I'll simply make a list of the challenges I've faced in planning, being on, and recovering from vacations as a HSP.
Making too many decisions when trying to plan
So many written and mental lists about packing and what not to forget
Increased worries, stress, and excitement leading up to the trip
Transitioning too often from one location or activity to next
Moving at a faster pace than usual
Following new routines (or maybe not having one at all), including eating and sleeping schedules
Being around crowds
Constant social interactions
Uncomfortable beds, bedding, furniture, or environment
WHAT MAKES IT SO DIFFICULT?
You just read through a list of challenges for HSPs on vacation and here is more information on why these things create a struggle. To help with this, let's revisit the DOES acronym that breaks down the characteristics of a HSP.
Depth of Processing
Your brain and body take longer to process information.
Traveling can sometimes be at a faster past than normal life. Even if it is slower, you're in a new environment, have a new schedule, and are having new experiences. This is a lot to process. Being that it takes longer to process information, your brain and body are really working overtime. This is mentally and physically tiring and can cause negative mood shifts.
Your brain and body take in more information from your environment, causing an overload.
Depending on your vacation destination, the environment can be very overstimulating. Lets say you're at a theme park, airport, car rental agency, busy city, concert, full beach, or any other number of environments... you're taking in a lot of information! And given that your environments are not the usual environment you are in, your brain is taking in even more information. You may not have the opportunity to hide or take a break in the same way you would at home so your brain just keeps taking in more and more information. This causes feelings of overstimulation, often felt as anxiety, irritability, nausea, headache, or other sensations.
Emotional Responsiveness / Empathy
Your brain is wired (mirror neurons) to be more empathetic to others and the environment. You feel more and feel it more deeply.
For most of us, the hope on vacation is to feel relaxed, joyful, carefree, and maybe even free or excited. Given all the information above, you can see why a state of stress is likely for a HSP on vacation. Well, your travel party may also be experiencing a state of stress... so even more for you to soak in and take on. And maybe you're around other families traveling who also have stress or any other variety of emotions, you can take that in, too. Maybe you've gone to an emotionally moving museum or concert, or you've witnessed something romantic, or a family having the time of their life, or everyone is overly excited, or feeling very grateful and happy..... these are all emotions that you are taking in. So whether it's emotions we consider to be positive or negative, they are overwhelming our system.
Sensitive to Subtleties / Sensory Stimuli
Your brain and body are constantly scanning your environment and picking up on things that others do not. (Anything from the lighting, sounds, clutter, discomfort in others, etc.)
This point has somewhat been covered in the sections above. It's dependent on your environment, but I'm sure you can image how the environments we vacation to can overwhelm our senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch). Consider the following: bright lights, crowds of people, busy or fast paced interactions, loud noises, strong or new smells, new and different tastes, bold decor, etc. Again, because this environment is likely new to you, you are taking in a lot and your system is not used to it. You are taking in all the nuances around your, often the things missed by others. One more time.... this leads to being OVERWHELMED!
WHY HSPs NEED A VACATION
Humm... why does anyone need a vacation? To get away from daily responsibilities, to relax, to experience new cultures, to try something different, to have freedom, to create new memories, to feel happier, to have fun, to connect with loved ones, an so many other reasons.
HSPs are so important to the world and so important to the people around us. We offer balance to the harsh, constantly moving world we live in. We help others and make sure everyone is taken care of. We take in and try to find solutions to the hurt and problems in the world. We feel others pain. We try to be the best we can be. We doubt ourselves, we compare ourselves, and we overthink. We have so much happening in our inner world and find it hard to turn that switch off. We have trouble giving to and focusing on just ourselves.
Vacation is our time to release some of these pressures and just be. It gives us permission to take a break, to have fun, and focus on ourselves. HSPs really need this break. We have to have time to decompress, let go, and relax or we might combust. HSPs crave depth and creativity. Having new experiences in new cultures feeds this desire and helps us feel connected to the universe, not just our small bubble.
TIPS, TRICKS, & LESSONS LEARNED
for having a successful vacation
Plan ahead for overstimulating parts of the trip (airports, crowds, fast paces, etc)
Slow down and take breaks
Book a comfortable place to stay (hotel, house, tent, whatever you will be most comfortable in)
Make whatever decisions you can ahead of time
Choose locations with less stimulation (beach over theme park)
Choose vacations that require less decision making (cruise, all inclusive resort, retreat)
Pick the type of transportation that will be most suitable for you (car, plane, train, etc)
Give yourself enough time to gradually plan/book the trip, not all in one sitting
Take breaks during the day and between eventful days to process and rest
Schedule less things to do than you think you can handle
Have someone else make decisions for you (what to do, where to eat)
Get enough sleep each night
Eat food that helps you feel good, not bogged down
Give yourself permission to change plans and to stop or go when needed
Don't compare your trip to anyone else's
Stick as close to your eating and sleeping routine as possible
Give yourself time to pack and organize bags, not rushed
Give yourself time to adjust back to "real life" after the vacation
Give yourself time for all the transitions throughout the vacation (from one thing to the next)
Allow yourself to put worries aside and enjoy your experience
Listen to your body and give it what it needs
Give yourself time to get away from everyone and have time for yourself to recenter