I recently left my crab shell for the first time in a long time to fly to Geneva for a conference. As the world has opened up again and summer is in full swing, lots of us feel the urge to break free from the experienced restrictions and travel again (Have you heard of the so-called "revenge travel“?).
For some, it might be necessary to travel for work reasons, remote work or going on a holiday. If you are an empath or a highly sensitive person, travel might be a double-edged sword for you. You like the freedom and adventure of exploring new places, and connecting with people and different cultures. Travel may even be a pathway to experience yourself in a different way. A way to recharge, shift perspectives and get new ideas and insights…
The other side is the sometimes self-made stress and anxiety that comes with the arrival and departure. There's uncertainty about what might happen along the way. The flight chaos happening at the airports is a good example. If you want more background, google the New York Post article entitled “Summer travel hell”. Sadly, it predicts that this “won’t be fixed anytime soon.”
Why traveling can be challenging in a different way for empaths
As an empath, you have the gift of sensing what is happening with the people around you. The more open and sensitive you are, the more prone you are to pick up emotions, moods and even physical pains of your environment, like a sponge. The different stimuli, noises, smells and impressions we experience when traveling are overwhelming. Being in airports, hotels, and crowded places can be an ungrounding experience.
The good news is that there are things we can do to respect our needs and to prevent travel exhaustion. It starts with an awareness of our sensitive nervous and emotional systems.
Here, I am going to share my personal favorite travel hacks. They of course do not only apply to highly sensitive people and empaths, but address these particular issues.
1. Set an intention for your trip
Usually, my excitement for the upcoming trip is at its lowest a couple of days before. I wonder why I had signed up for the conference, retreat, workshop, etc. when thinking about the energy and planning that goes into it. How to get there, where to stay, changes of routines, schedule, and more.
So I don't drown in travel-related pre-anxiety and worst-case scenarios, I do some planning. I make sure I am prepared for different scenarios, but I also focus on the purpose of my trip. You can also ask yourself, even taking some notes on how you can make the best of your trip. What intention would you like to set? How will this journey help you to grow as you may get out of your comfort zone?
For my latest trip to Porto, I wrote down what I would like to learn and develop during my stay. In the evenings, I took a couple of minutes to reflect on things I learned during the day and the workshop. This reminded me to stay present.
Somehow, I also have some travel routines, like collecting things that I am grateful for during flights or take-offs. This helps me to create a positive headspace. I can relax into things out of my control, like delays or screaming children all around the place. I can truly appreciate the different experiences along the road.
2. Choose the right accommodation
Depending on how much control you have over your accommodation, choose a serene room or place. A spot protected from noise, that has natural light and makes you feel comfortable. Avoid hostels or shared rooms.
During the booking, you can ask for a room away from the street or on the last floor, for example. Check out if you have some green spaces, nature, or even just a park nearby where you could go for a walk.
If I stay longer, I also look for gyms, yoga studios, supermarkets and cafes nearby. Self-catering options with a kitchen and maybe a fridge are also nice if you are fussy about your food (like following a plant-based diet). This is important to maintain your energy.
3. Pack the (empath) essentials ;-)
I don't know how people travel light, it is definitely a challenge for me. I know certain things will give me comfort. For example, things to help you recharge at night like earplugs, comfy PJ’s and an eye pillow.
Other wellbeing packing items are a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated, journal/notebook, Kindle, great playlist or downloaded podcast episodes on your phone. Supplements like probiotics for better digestion, magnesium for better sleep, vitamin C, vitamin D3, and zinc for a healthy immune system.
You can bring your own food on planes, trains, etc. Some doable options are dried snacks like almonds, walnuts, and goji berries, fresh fruits, veggie sticks, hummus and dark chocolate. Instead of drinking a gazillion coffees a day, I try to integrate herbal teas and hot water with fresh ginger, lemon and mint for the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
Super easy for carry-ons are essential oils. At the moment, I travel with lavender oil (on skin, wrists, pillows) for sleep and relaxation. Eucalyptus is great for opening up your nose or your chest. I use a drop for face masks or along with some coconut oil for the chest. Frankincense essential oil for emotional balance and grounding. It is also great for immune support. Pop a drop or two in your cup of water, or even on your tongue.
If you need more emotional comfort, bring a picture of your loved ones. Get your favorite coffee mug or anything else that brings you a sense of home and belonging.
4. Mindfulness during and after travel
Something I discovered in 2019 when I was traveling non-stop, is to research calm areas in airports before going on a trip. Most airports have prayer or meditation rooms where you can sit in silence or roll out your yoga mat. Instead of sitting around, scrolling endlessly on the phone, I try to do some stretches, walk and listen to music or podcasts.
When I had more than 10 hours of layover once in Abu Dhabi, I found a swimming pool with access to a gym and showers. For me, it was one of the best airport experiences ever and really helped prevent jet lag.
Calming playlists or guided meditations are super helpful for waiting times or on the plane, train or bus. Before take-off I like to do the 4-7-8 technique. Breathing in through your nose for four seconds. Holding your breath for seven, and then exhaling through your mouth for eight.
After sitting a lot, a simple yoga flow helps to ground again, open your hips, activate the back body, and reset. This is one of my favorite ones, especially after flights:
5. Slow down
Most of us are not used to spending a lot of time with people in a closed space anymore. If you are attending a concert, workshop, conference or work meeting this summer, make sure you take it easy. Give yourself time to arrive and use breaks to recharge alone, for example going for a walk. Focus on a good night's sleep over FOMO.
Don’t cram your agenda with too many social or work-related activities if possible. During the last conference, we had a super nice room, and some colleagues took their shoes off. We started the day with breathing or shaking exercises, activating the body as well, which helps center the mind. Why not make work events more comfortable and balanced too?
If you are going on a vacation, instead of running from one tourist attraction to another, do things in your own time. Wander around and leave space to flow. Don’t feel like you need to “keep up” with what other people do.
Sometimes, we underestimate that we also need time to arrive back home. Especially if you were with a lot of other people and experienced a lot, you will probably feel a bit low when it is over. If possible, instead of scheduling an early work meeting, give yourself time to rest, unpack, and recover before you jump back into your daily life.
Again, breathing exercises, being in nature, walking barefoot, cold showers or a workout will support your well-being and rebalance after travel.
I hope some of the mentioned tips make your travels more enjoyable and the downsides less painful.
Let me know your travel hacks and experiences this summer.
Wishing you great adventures, and stay grounded! :-)