Traveling as HSP & Empath – I

Being HSP

Do you find you are at your best, early in the morning or late at night, when there is dimmer light outside, lesser noise and lesser chances of people approaching you? Not merely for focus alone, but actually feel more relaxed and centered?

Do you dread sudden phone calls or meeting requests at work, and instead prefer emails, texts, chats? If you’re living with family, do you love having “me-time” alone to recharge after exhausting social interactions? In that case, you may be HSP (a highly sensitive person).

Introverts, HSPs (Highly Sensitive Person) and Empaths often have similarities amongst them and sometimes overlap. You may be one, two or all three of them, and I personally see value in them – less as some form of prescriptive classifications – and more as vocabulary to describe one’s preferences.

man in black shirt and gray denim pants sitting on gray padded bench
Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Introverts – People who are comfortable with isolation but need to recharge their energy after human interactions. Generally introverts prefer longer deeper conversations one-on-one as opposed to small-talk in large groups.

Highly Sensitive Persons – People who have sensitivity towards bright lights, sounds, confined spaces, open spaces, or places with lots of people, conversations, music etc. Generally, HSPs are their best, and can be creative in mellow, subdued and quiet environments. You can be sensitive towards one thing, and no towards other. For example, I’m not sensitive to crowds or sounds as long as I’m not prompted to engage in interactions.

Empaths – People who can “feel” other people’s emotions around them very strongly – in fact, so strongly that they have an aversion to aggressive conversations, arguments and raised voices. While some empaths claim to have supernatural tendencies, I personally think Empaths are more aware of non-verbal body languages of people – such as minor tone changes, flickers of the eye, posture of the body etc. and perceive subtle animosities hidden in the subtext of polite conversations. Sometimes, non-empaths who have been around toxic family-members or bullies can also be averse to the same things due to personal trauma.


Places that attract Me

HSPs and Empaths like me are not attracted to high-energy places like sports, parties, beaches and concerts. We prefer the quieter places to unwind and absorb the world at our own pace.

Alviso, CA

Dimmer parts of nature attract us. We love places which are grey, foggy or rainy. Rain is a soothing blanket over the earth, which dims bright colors, dulls sounds and heals the soul.

Ohlone native history | Museum of California, Oakland

For the curious mind, museums are thee go-to. Museums use their focussed lighting, and placement of artifacts in separated spaces help in “zoning-in” – a place of mind where we absorb new information of deep interest.

The chemical substance responsible for the sense of rush and excitement to non-sensitive people is dopamine. However, introverts, HSPs and empaths get overstimulated by dopamine. We respond better to another chemical called acetylcholine. This is released when we think deeply, introspect and learn new things, and provides us peace, satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

Chocolate tasting at Dandelion, San Francisco

Food is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing. When I travel, I have found exploring the local cuisine to be rewarding, nourishing and educational.

Note – Some people have ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), which is a condition that makes one averse to most types of food, such as textures of vegetables and greens. Such folks prefer simple food like pizzas, hot-dogs or potato chips. This is different from picky-easters who are fussy about food due to personal prejudices. People with ARFID, on the other hand, have acute physical reactions to unfamiliar foods and tastes, and should not be pressured.

In large groups, deciding on which place to eat can be overwhelming. Online apps have only added to the confusion because now people spend time arguing about ratings and reviews.

I have found tasting-tours to be a great alternative for this. If you sign up for food-tasting, a local takes you around for small bites from different places so you get the lay of the culinary land. Tour guides also give you recommendations on the best places in the area for different budgets.


Travel Planning

Itinerary Planning

When I travel, I don’t try to squeeze in too many things in a day. Covering a large number of attractions in a hurry, like striking off a checklist induces travel-anxiety, and – let’s be frank – doesn’t create lasting memories. I prefer forgoing some places and instead focus on the few I like the most and savor my time there.

I also make sure I plan things ahead with respect to timing. A lot of attractions like museums, beaches and religious buildings close by evening. Many cafes, pubs and restaurants have busy and free hours. Many traditional restaurants in Japan, for example, open during lunch and dinner hours alone. Many hiking trails in the US close at different times according to the seasons. Being aware of hours and timings beforehand eases a lot of uncertainty and avoids any rushing.

I also make sure I keep some “buffer time” between events, to prevent fatigue. In Japan, I sometimes took a break from constant Shrine visiting, and instead enjoyed a cup of tea in my hostel with a view of the buddhist temple by my window. Or cozied up and watched a few episodes of anime on the local television between nights of eating out, clubbing and shopping.

Group Travel

For HSPs and Empaths, traveling in groups can be challenging and easily draining. Different individuals, often, pull the group in different directions, and one has to negotiate every travel decision and gain a collective consensus through meticulous bargaining. Traveling with people of different needs, priorities and temperaments can also lead to unpredictably changing itineraries which can create stress and anxiety.

Traveling in a group, also sometimes necessitates navigating complex group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, which can be daunting for sensitive people. For example, if you are traveling with family or coworkers, your trip experiences will have an effect on your relations with these people after the trip is over. It becomes juggling too many things at once, and if you are an empath, dealing with grumpy people or people who assert over you can be very distressing.

I generally prefer to travel solo or with small groups of friends I know well and am close to. But I have traveled in large groups and my best advice is – take care of yourself and watch out for your own mental well-being first in those times.


[To be continued …]

One comment

  1. Such an interesting post and unique topic! I learned so much from it, thank you! 😊 I am definitely an introverted person and quite an empath too – I think – and it’s true that someties travelling (especially with others) can be draining and even though I much prefer sunnier destinations and busier places (when not a lot of interacting is needed), I always make sure to recharge a bit with some “alone-time”!

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