For Introverts, Vacation Overwhelm Is Real (Do This Instead)

an introvert relaxes on vacation

Has this happened to you?

You spend months — or years — planning the perfect get-away. You’re finally taking a much-needed break from work and life. You’re going to explore that place you’ve always dreamed of visiting.

Bliss and relaxation will finally be yours.

But then the long-awaited trip arrives, and you feel anything but relaxed. In fact, you feel downright exhausted, frazzled, and stressed. As the saying goes, you’ll need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.

What you’re experiencing is “vacation overwhelm,” and it’s real, especially for introverts and highly sensitive people (HSPs). Here’s why it happens — even though introverts and HSPs are drawn to travel.

Why Introverts Are Drawn to Travel

Although travel can be overwhelming for introverts and HSPs, there are plenty of good reasons we’re drawn to it. Losing yourself in a faraway place is magical. And not only does travel capture our imagination, but it’s also rich with opportunities for meaning.

Introverts and sensitive people are “often drawn to the sense of meaning and inevitable transformation that comes from experiencing a new part of the world,” travel expert Melissa Renzi told me. Renzi leads retreats to Peru and Guatemala for introverts and HSPs.

And, because introverts and HSPs tend to be highly observant, “travel can be enriching as we take in the details of our surroundings. And sometimes, when we step into unknown territory, we feel greater permission to be ourselves.”

If travel is supposed to be magical, why do introverts and HSPs often end up stressed?


Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our newsletter. One email, every Friday. Sign up here.


Introverts Process Things Deeply

For introverts and HSPs, the stress usually begins before they even leave the house.

That’s because they process things deeply. For HSPs, this looks like processing all kinds of stimulation deeply — including emotional and environmental stimuli — according to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. For introverts, it has more to do with them having a very active mind.

This causes both introverts and HSPs to think deeply about things and to look at issues from many different angles. And this can lead to stress and anxiety when getting ready for travel.

When planning a trip, there are so many things to consider — where to stay, what to do, what to pack, etc. Not only do introverts and HSPs think about the fun they’ll have on their vacation but also about all the things that could go wrong. What if it rains? Will I be safe? Will my shoes be comfortable? And on and on.

Pre-travel anxiety can shut down our wildest vacation dreams before they even take flight. Or, at the very least, it can leave us worn out before we even reach our destination.

The Problem of Overstimulation

If we manage to actually get out the door, introverts and HSPs then face overstimulation at their destination.

“Travel situations with an abundance of sensory stimulation can overload the HSP’s nervous system,” Renzi explained. “Introverts forced into constant socializing can wind up depleted.”

That’s right, travel can actually be quite unpleasant for introverts and HSPs.

Highly sensitive people pick up on subtleties in their environment — again, it has to do with their depth of processing. They notice details that others might miss, from the way the sunlight looks on an early autumn morning to the anger emanating from a pair of strangers having a fight.

Noticing these subtleties enriches the HSP’s life, often making them highly creative. But when you notice every little thing, it can add up fast.

It’s a similar problem for introverts, who can also get overloaded in busy environments.

Many introverts and HSPs find comfort in routine and familiar environments because familiarity is less stimulating. When you’re vacationing in a new place, all that familiarity goes out the window.

Introverts and HSPs aren’t the only ones to experience tiredness and stress while traveling. This well-documented phenomenon has been dubbed “travel fatigue” or “vacation overwhelm” by others. 

“A bout of travel fatigue can be just as bad as the flu when it comes to enjoying your trip,” writes travel blogger Jessica Festa. “You started your journey with sheer excitement, but suddenly the idea of leaving your bed, let alone exploring a new city, seems daunting.”

And it can be even worse when you’re an introvert and/or HSP.

What to Do Instead

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five tips from Renzi to help you actually make your next vacation relaxing.

1. Avoid over-scheduling by making deliberate choices.

Think about the environments that feed you. Then think about the environments that drain you. Does a casual stroll through an art museum sound relaxing, whereas partying at Oktoberfest sounds like a nightmare? Make deliberate choices about your travel destination and the kinds of activities you’ll do once you get there. The choices you make on your trip should always make you feel good.

2. Tell others about your introversion or high sensitivity.

When traveling with others, be upfront about your needs. Introverts and HSPs often feel the need to hide their personality traits. But casually sharing in conversation that you’re an introvert and/or HSP does a few things:

  • It sets the stage for having your needs respected.
  • It offers a chance to dispel myths about introversion and high sensitivity.
  • It serves as a bridge to deeper conversation (something both introverts and HSPs crave).
  • It helps us find other like-minded companions, which can lead to new compatible relationships.

3. Narrow your list of “must-sees.”

Busy environments and crowds can overwhelm introverts and HSPs, so give yourself permission to skip them. Try choosing just one or two tourist hotspots then calling it good.

4. Build buffer days into your vacation.

And make them non-negotiable. You might make the first day after arriving at your destination a buffer day. Or the day after the trip is over, where you’re doing nothing but recovering.

Your buffer day might mean relaxing in your hotel room and ordering room service. Or doing an activity on your own (being alone lowers your stimulation level). After the trip, it might mean unpacking, cleaning up, and getting some R&R.

Here’s the trick: The only way to get your buffer day is to firmly schedule it. It won’t just magically happen, so this is the time to be your own advocate.

5. Give yourself permission to change plans. 

Even when you build downtime into your trip, it may not be enough. You may need to let go of some things and adjust your plan when necessary to take care of yourself. When we allow our trip to adapt to us instead of the other way around, we can find ourselves in a much more meaningful experience.

Introvert and HSP Retreat to Guatemala

Want to take the stress out of travel, and experience what it’s like to vacation with other introverts and HSPs? Renzi has spots available for her upcoming retreat to Guatemala, November 16-23, 2019.

Soak up the stunning volcanic backdrop over Lake Atitlán, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Immerse yourself in the culture as you learn how the local women weave their textiles, prepare authentic Guatemalan dishes, and engage in meaningful cross-cultural dialogue. Explore the colorful beauty of Antigua with its colonial architecture and cobblestone streets.

What is it really like to travel with other introverts and HSPs?

“It was an acceptance I’ve never felt before in my life and I’ve been searching for since I was a kid,” said Marian M., who recently returned from one of Renzi’s retreats. “It was reinforcement that there are people out there who understand.”

The final deadline to book is Aug. 31, 2019. Introvert, Dear readers can get $50 off using the code INTRODEAR50. Book here.

You might like:

This post contains affiliate links.

Shop our introvert apparel:

Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. Jenn is a contributor to Psychology Today, HuffPost, Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, Upworthy, The Mighty, The Muse, Motherly, and a number of other outlets. She has appeared on the BBC and in Buzzfeed and Glamour magazine. Jenn started Introvert, Dear because she wanted to write about what it was like being an introvert living in an extrovert's world. Now she's on a mission: to let introverts everywhere know it's okay to be who they are.