Holidays. Love them or hate them, if you’re going on one and you’re highly sensitive, or you have highly sensitive people as your travel companions: get prepared!
HSP flashpoints typically occur when:
- your body is out of whack
- there’s a lot of people-stuff going on around you that’s new to you, or different from what you usually experience
- you’re in a new place with lots of novel sensory input to process
- your daily rhythm changes and your regular home-work-life activities aren’t structuring your experience
Holidays can involve all of these AT THE SAME TIME, leading to overload, anxiety, meltdown, and plain old just not having a nice time of it.
Let’s see how you can make your holiday as HSP-friendly as possible.
Avoid the hangries (angry-when-hungry) at all costs! Make sure you have plenty of snacks with you when you’re travelling. Too many is better than too few.
I go zombie when I’m hungry. This is a slow slide into being unable to think straight or quickly – sub-optimal when trying to choose a cafe from the myriad options in the city you’re daytripping in.
Snacks, plenty of.
I also have a ‘rule’ about food: if any of us is hungry, we eat. Even if it’s an overpriced bag of crisps – if we need it and it’s the only thing available (and we’ve run out of snacks, shock horror!), we buy and we eat.
Did I mention the snacks?
Dehydration can make you dizzy and uncoordinated. Be sure to carry a water bottle, or cash to buy refreshing drinks when you need them.
Travel throws your sleep routine out of whack. New beds (or no beds), time zone changes, a different daily rhythm to the one you’re used to. All of these can take their toll.
Do what you can to get enough sleep, and keep your sleep pattern close to the one you have at home.
If you’re not usually physically active, and you go on an adventure holiday: rest!
If you’re usually physically active, and you go on a beach holiday: walk, run, swim, play volleyball…
Watch out for getting physically over- or under-tired. If your body says rest, let it rest – even if your companions are pestering you to go out and do something exciting. And if you’re itching to get out and do something, go and do it.
People: Social dynamics
If you’re travelling with friends and/or family, and you don’t usually have so much time with them (e.g. from working full-time), allow yourself some solo time.
Negotiate with your travel companions. You can keep it simple and say something like “I need to have some time by myself every day”
Environment: getting used to everything
New place, new scenery, new food, new climate, new buildings… All of these, for the highly sensitive person, can be demanding on resources.
Keep an eye on how you’re doing with all this new stuff. Pace yourself.
Repeat daytrips and activities you’ve already done so you can avoid taking on any more novelty for a while.
Having a safe base
Whenever you’re somewhere new, knowing that you have a safe base to go back to, whenever you need or want to go there, is so reassuring and valuable.
Your safe base might be your hotel room. Or your tent. Your campervan. Or a favourite bench on the nearby hill.
Somewhere accessible, safe and reliable.
Identify your safe base and make use of it.
Bringing it all together
Processing and down-time
Know how and when you process. I lie on my bed (my safe base) and daydream my way through it all.
You might process more actively: go for a walk, swim, or bike ride.
Social processors need to talk it through with someone – one of your travel companions or someone back home.
Listening to your favourite music or having a good dance also helps you assimilate new experiences, and shake off whatever needs shaking off.
Find – or create – a daily and few-days rhythm that works for you.
With kids, especially small ones, your life is often structured around their wake-up, eating, and bedtimes. Use that rhythm to your advantage to structure your day.
Thinking in terms of 2-4 day rhythms helps to pace energy/novelty/processing levels.
Weave days with new activities, people, or places in with quieter days back at base.
If you and/or your travel companions occasionally have HSP meltdowns or overload-dysfunction-shutdown (hangries, tired, dehydrated, too hot…), make a back-up plan.
The simpler the better.
For example: if it all goes wrong, we’ll head back to the hotel and go to the pool.
Or: if I have a meltdown, you can take the kids for an ice-cream while I have a walk around to settle myself down again.
Or: if this daytrip really doesn’t work, we’ll cut it short and go back to the place we all liked two days ago.
Put snacks everywhere, just in case, and plenty of water, too.
If this seems like a lot of work – it is, and yet it isn’t.
When you compare it to the emotional/mental work of sorting out hangry-meltdowns, social or environmental overload, or getting completely overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying yourself at all, it”s not so much work. Prevention is better than cure, and all that.
Have a great holiday!
And if it sucks – take the lessons you need from it and plan differently next time. It doesn’t have to be perfect – just good enough that you and your travel companions can enjoy it and relax is good enough.