The past couple of years I’ve consciously tried to limit the amount of travel abroad I have to do in a year. With family and friends in Denmark and work that sometimes involves travelling abroad I can’t avoid it completely. But I have to think carefully before committing to travel – especially for longer trips.
Work can have a tendency to come in clusters so my partner and I do a lot of talking things through and prioritising.
In some ways it feels like a privilege that our life is stable enough for us to choose what to do and what we turn down.
In other ways I feel resentful that I cannot just throw myself into every opportunity that comes along.
My partner and I have just spent a week in Greece – working, travelling and socialising -and now we are back home I am trying to process all the experiences and the impact they have had on me. I am feeling pretty spaced out but also intensely grateful, inspired and emotional.
My routines went out the window, I didn’t get enough sleep and I probably did more socialising in a week than I have done in the past 2 months. Yet I feel strangely nurtured. Parts of me that don’t get much space in daily life seemed to have enjoyed themselves… My extroverted part, my going-with-the-flow part, my children-loving part, my workaholic part, my networking part, my risk-loving part, my adventurous part…
Some thoughts on travelling as a highly sensitive person with chronic pain and fatigue
I love travelling but it has always felt daunting. I spent about 3-4 years practicing travelling with a colleague and friend before I felt able to go solo. In the past 10 years I have travelled more than I could have ever imagined I would.
Travelling is still a massive challenge for me. Being highly sensitive means that most things involved can feel overwhelming. Even all the good stuff.
Booking tickets… I quadruple check everything and then again. I hate checking in online as I worry I might do something wrong or make mistakes when I put in my passport details.
Going to new places… Entails a lot of preparation. Looking at reviews, maps and websites to get a sense of what to expect. Preparation can lower my overwhelm somewhat.
Packing… With carry on luggage restrictions I worry about getting things wrong. And making sure I bring exactly the right clothes can involve a lot of repacking.
Transit… I don’t like rushing and I want a buffer in case anything doesn’t work out due to traffic incidents and delays. So I can end up spending a lot of time planning the travel and making sure I have enough time.
Luggage… Carrying luggage is another thing I struggle with because of my pain and fatigue. I prefer to carry stuff on my back – rucksack style. I have suitcases on wheels but they can also cause problems because they create asymmetrical pulls in my arms and shoulders and they are a nightmare to lift when you have to lift them up and down steps, into trains etc.
Airports and railway stations… Sensory overstimulation and overwhelm just from the sheer amount of noise, lights, colours, smells and the density of people in closed spaces. Security is a nightmare. The queuing especially tires me out.
Planes, trains and busses… The noise from the engines and friction and from people is exhausting. And The air is often poor and makes it unbearable to be in my skin which gets tight and itchy.
Toilet facilities… Public toilet facilities are just stressful. End of.
Food… My gluten free diet present its own challenges and I never know how easy it will be for me to get food I can eat safely. Planning food and snacks for the journey and for emergency situations while away is stressful and means added weight to carry which then has an impact on my pain and fatigue. One of the first things I do in a new place is to check out supermarkets, health shops and pharmacies to make sure I have options. Eating out is anxiety provoking because I have to trust that people understand what gluten free means…
Arriving… Orienting myself in new places is hard work but I have to do it because if I feel I can find my way around it reduces my anxiety.
Making sensible decisions… I am rarely able to create a routine when I travel (except when I go on holiday on my own). So everyday is a challenge in terms of checking in with my self and my energy and making wise decision throughout the day.
Sleep… I usually have to rethink sleep when I travel and accept that I will end up getting a lot less sleep than my body needs. So many things factor in to whether I get good sleep or not and in strange places a lot of them are out of my control. Weight and warmth of the duvet. Pillows. Mattresses. Noises. Air and temperature of rooms. Curtains. Natural light in the morning.
The joy… I can get overwhelmed with the joy of exploring. The excitement of the beauty I see in new places and the fascination with different cultures.
Coming home… The transition from travelling to coming home can be very disorienting and I can feel quite confused and dissociative for a couple of days because I have to switch modes. And also often its only when I arrive home that I have space to process all that I have experienced. So I usually try to schedule in less busy days after coming home.
And the list goes on…
I know that when I post this I will remember other things that challenge me when I travel – and yet, nothing in this seemingly endless list can take away the gratitude I feel for getting opportunities to travel, for being physically capable of travelling and for all the things I get to experience and learn. About people and the world…