How Introverts Can Stay Calm When Travel Chaos Hits

An introvert listens to music as he waits for the train

Traveling can be stressful, and introverts might feel overwhelmed by crowded airports. Here’s how to stay calm.

“But you love traveling!” People frequently say these words to me, acting as if my resistance to (or dread) of upcoming trips is personally offensive to them. I quickly correct them, clarifying that I enjoy exploring new places or returning to destinations that have become favorites. However, I hate the traveling part. That’s mostly due to the number of things that can go wrong — and often do. 

There are so many things outside our control, ranging from turbulent flights to lost luggage. (And, as my fellow introverts know, we love having a semblance of control!) However, I live on a different continent than my family. So, simply deciding not to travel isn’t a viable option. It’s also not one I want to pursue, considering how fantastic some of my travels have been over the years. 

That said, the trips are often a lot more chaotic than I’d like, and usually not because of anything directly related to me. Here’s how I keep calm when everything around me feels — and is — hectic.

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4 Ways Introverts Can Stay Calm When Travel Chaos Hits

1. Keep all records and documents together for easy access.

Luckily, we introverts tend to be planners, which almost (almost) makes organizing travel documents fun. Most of my trips have a seemingly endless assortment of documents associated with them. Luckily, most are digital these days, which saves printer ink and paper. I’ve found it works best to keep all the information for each trip in Google Drive folders. 

For example, I might have a main folder called “Washington Trip 2024,” and then I create subfolders within it. Making one for flights, another for hotel confirmations, and a third for transit tickets allows me to quickly pull up documents I might need.

I have a physical disability, and airlines require that I disclose the kind of assistance I need while booking a flight. On a recent trip, no one from the airport assistance team showed up to provide help, and the gate attendant asked me if I was sure I’d gone through the right process for getting my request in the system.

I didn’t appreciate her accusatory tone, especially because I was certain that I had requested assistance months ahead of my trip. However, it made me feel calmer and better-equipped to be assertive (not my strong suit!) because I could instantly pull up the document that proved it. Once she saw my confirmation, she and another flight attendant used an internal communication channel to let someone know I was still waiting and needed help. Miraculously, two people arrived about a minute later. 

In another case, I’d purchased a late checkout option at a hotel. Even though doing that allowed me to stay until 2 p.m., I received a phone call from the front desk at around 12:30, asking why I hadn’t left yet. After explaining that I had purchased the late checkout, the employee said there was no evidence of that in her system. I offered to come down to her and show her my confirmation email, but she took my word for it. 

Something I’ve learned, and get reminded of time and time again, is that it’s always best to have all the specifics for my trip easily accessible. Then, if anything goes wrong, I can stay calmer just by relying on the information I’ve gathered and have ready to present. The text of my confirmation emails typically says everything for me.

If you’re going to be traveling somewhere that may not have reliable internet connectivity, I’d suggest capturing screenshots of each travel document you might need to use on a given day. Then, store them in a photo gallery or other app you can use without an internet connection. 

Take a minute or two to do that whenever you have a strong mobile data or Wi-Fi signal. As I often say, “Technology works great, until it doesn’t.” A little extra preparation keeps the information ready to retrieve, even with a spotty or non-existent internet connection. 

2. Always build extra time into your schedule, because things happen that you can’t control.

When I still lived in the area, I used to travel frequently by train from Virginia to Washington D.C. to visit friends, go to events, and check out museum exhibits. The journey itself wasn’t long, but I often dealt with delays. Usually, these issues happened before the train ever got to my station and not after I’d boarded. 

It was bad enough trying to determine how much the problem might affect my plans (and remember, we introverts love our plans!). Being in a train station full of people trying to travel for work, medical appointments, and interviews — who were also feeling anxious — didn’t help my stress levels. 

I eventually learned that taking a much earlier train than I needed was the best way to keep my stress levels low. That usually meant I’d arrive hours before meeting a friend or doing whatever activity had necessitated the trip, but I didn’t mind. After all, getting to where I needed to go early would minimize the impact of any unexpected issues. I typically used the time to take a walk in a quiet area or otherwise do something that would help me relax

Although I’m a frequent public transit user, I get uneasy when the trains and buses become crowded or people forget they’re sharing the space with others. It becomes more than a little overwhelming if I have to go straight from public transit to a meeting or other event — even if I’m generally looking forward to the activity.

However, getting some fresh air and finding less-populated areas work wonders for helping me recharge and feel balanced again, an introvert must. If I’m not familiar with the area, I try to research parks or smaller coffee shops in advance as potential places to visit when I need to use up some time and also get some much-needed alone time.

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3. Bring soothing, introvert-friendly distractions, like your favorite playlists. 

When you can’t control the external factors disrupting your trip, compensate by relying on introvert-friendly activities that’ll help you cultivate as much internal peace as possible. 

Once, my sister and I were headed for a weekend away, but heavy snow was making that harder than we expected. However, the bus company determined it was still okay to travel, so everyone boarded with their luggage. Unfortunately, when the driver tried to leave, the bus was stuck in the parking lot, due to the snow and ice. 

The driver and bus company staff tried various measures to deal with the situation, all with limited success. One of the main problems was they didn’t have a snow shovel, so people were trying to dig out the bus with a broom instead. My sister and I rolled our eyes, stifling our laughter at how ridiculous the situation had become. It was clear we weren’t getting anywhere any time soon.

However, the staff assured all the passengers the trip was still happening — probably because they didn’t want to have to give us refunds! I then realized that the best thing to do in the moment was to pull out my phone and listen to music through my earbuds. Otherwise, I knew I’d get too anxious due to all the factors outside my control. At the very least, I could listen to songs I knew would keep me calm. And, sure enough, that did the trick until we — finally — got on the road. 

Another thing that works well is to bring a roll-on bottle of an aromatherapy product with a relaxing scent — I’m partial to lavender or patchouli. That kind of dispenser allows me to unscrew the cap and take an intentional deep breath, without disturbing others near me with the aroma. 

4. Wait in the less-crowded areas (when possible).

I’ve always had a strong dislike of airports. It’s primarily due to how crowded they are and how many things associated with flying are not within my control. My airplane seat might be across from a toddler who screams for hours. The airline could lose my luggage. My flight could get delayed or canceled. Definitely not great scenarios for anybody.

But something that has helped me tremendously is to spend as much time as I can in areas that are less crowded. That means I don’t go inside the airport until it’s absolutely necessary. Then, once I’m in the airport, I look for the quietest places. That might entail choosing a seat near a restaurant or shop that’s closed for the day or hasn’t opened yet. I’ve also found that multifaith prayer rooms and chapels are great places; plus, I can get in a quick meditation

On my most recent major trip, an air traffic control system fault prevented most planes from leaving or entering the airspace. That news came to me several hours before my flight was supposed to depart, but all information about the matter suggested it didn’t have an easy fix and would likely still affect my flight. 

I quickly decided I’d prefer to wait outside the airport for as long as possible, enjoying the fresh air and smaller crowds. Although I’m not a smoker, I stayed near the smoking area because there weren’t many people using it, and I could stay out in the open air and get some alone time.

When I started to get hungry, I checked out a sandwich shop that was close to the airport entrance. Within a matter of seconds, I knew I’d be taking my food to go and heading back into the smoking area. The inside of the airport had become so crowded with people waiting for flight updates that it was difficult to even find a path to walk through them and get my food. 

My flight eventually did depart, albeit hours later than it should have. The whole situation wasn’t ideal, but I was a lot less stressed than I might have been because I strategically looked for the most appealing places to wait. If your upcoming travels involve passing through an unfamiliar airport or transit station, try pulling up a map of it before leaving home. You’ll then get an idea of the layout and the best places for you to pass the time. 

Keep a Balanced Perspective and Plan, Plan, Plan

I’ve definitely had more chaotic travel experiences than trouble-free ones. If you can relate, try not to let it get you down. There have been plenty of cases where the travel was an absolute mess, but the things I did at my destination were incredible. 

Besides using these tips, I plan everything as carefully as I can and well in advance. Having those details of what to expect makes it easier for me to adapt, even when things go wrong. I know they will, but I also know how to cope with those circumstances and hope that some of my experiences can help you, too. So bon voyage!

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