Why Family Vacations Get Absolutely Exhausting for Introverts (and How to Cope)

IntrovertDear.com introvert family vacation exhausting

A couple of summers ago, I spent a week on the North channel of Lake Huron with 85 family members and friends. By day three, I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. I’ve gotten more introverted as I’ve gotten older, and I just couldn’t deal with the level of social interaction.

I was upset. This was supposed to be my vacation. This was supposed to be relaxing and reinvigorating. I felt drained — and I felt like it was everyone else’s fault. Why were they subjecting me to this? Even though I love my family, I felt like they were predators that pounced when I wasn’t expecting it. They were vampires that sucked me dry. I felt brittle, withered, and helpless.

Like me, why are so many introverts exhausted by family vacations?

Why Family Vacations Drain Introverts

First of all, when everyone gets together to cut costs, often multiple people are jammed into one room. For extroverts, that’s no problem. But for those of us who are introverted, it’s an absolute nightmare, because we lose our only private space to recharge.

During my vacation, I shared a room with my mom and my aunt, and the cabin held 10+ other people. There were people around constantly.

In addition to around-the-clock socializing at the cabin, there were group hikes up the mountain, a group spa day, a group kayaking excursion, communal campfires, and many other group events. If I said I wasn’t coming, someone often pouted, “But we rarely get to see you… this is our chance!”

And let’s not forget that our families can trigger us like no one else.

Day four of my vacation, I asked myself, “How can I turn this around? How can I get what I need? What change can I make?”

And then I made a plan. There was a room in the cabin that no one was using. After breakfast, I packed up my laptop and my book and headed for it. I actually walked away from the people gathered on the front porch. Finally feeling free, I spent the day writing.

And over the course of the week, I learned to take better care of myself. I spent most of my days alone in the empty room reading or writing. I was social at meals and in the evenings, but I found the balance that worked for me.

I could’ve spent the whole week feeling like a victim, then returned to work still tired. Instead, I took control. Instead of seeing extroverts as “the enemy,” I structured my days in a way that left me feeling rested.

So what can you do, if, like me, you find yourself at an exhausting family gathering?

How to Survive an Exhausting Family Vacation

1. Find a private space.

As an introvert, you know there’s absolutely nothing more blissful than closing the door and crawling into bed with a good book or Netflix. The next time you’re attending a family gathering, figure out where you can have a private space.

During the day, bedrooms are usually a safe bet because most people want to be out and about, so even if you’re sharing a room, you can spend a couple hours in the afternoon alone.

When you’re planning the vacation, be strategic. Book a private room or share with a family member you know will be out for most of the day.

2. Give yourself permission to skip activities.

Your family might not get it, but the good news is, even if they don’t, you can give yourself permission to skip some of the family activities.

This year at Christmas, I skipped Christmas Eve dinner. In our family, Christmas Eve is when my mom goes all-out making turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and about 75 other things.

Was my mom happy that I skipped it? No.

Was I more relaxed and pleasant to be around on Christmas Day because I did? Yes.

3. Make allies with the other introverts in the family.

There’s nothing more amazing than talking to other introverts who understand what you’re going through. Make it a priority to go for a walk or grab coffee with one of the other introverts in your family.

You’ll get to explain what’s happening to you to someone who will actually get it, and you’ll exchange mission critical vacation-survival strategies.

What if there are zero introverts in your family? Call or text an introverted friend to vent and strategize.

4. Explain to family members you trust what it’s like to be introverted.

Like me, you probably have some family members who will never get it. Who will constantly ask, “Why are you so quiet?” or say things like, “You’re too sensitive.”

But on the flip side, there are probably some family members who want to understand what you’re going through but just don’t get it because they’re built differently.

When you end up sitting next to one of these trusted family members at dinner, explain a little more about what it’s like when you get overstimulated, and what you do to re-energize.

That way, this person can support you in your decisions and may even stand up for you when you skip the boat cruise or the shopping trip — and your mom is making a scene about it.

5. Shorten your stay.

If the family trip is five days but you know you can only last for three, tell your family you’ll be there for three.

Again, they might not be happy initially, but in the end, they’ll probably have a better time with you. When you take care of yourself, it’s easier to be in a good mood and have more fun with your family.

And you can take creative license with this. If you’re family is, say, going all the way to Mexico, you can spend three days with them, then a few days at a resort or exploring on your own.

6. Spend the extra money.

Often, to get a private space or skip a family meal, you have to book a hotel room or go out for dinner on your own. And that’s probably more expensive than sharing a room with your cousin or eating at the group dinner.

I know not everyone has the means to do so, but if you can, spend the extra money. Trust me when I say that you won’t look back on your decision in five years and regret it. Spending money that supports your health and well-being is one of the best investments you can make.

The more you stand up to your family and take care of yourself, the more they’ll get used to you taking breaks from the group and going off on your own. And the more you’ll actually be able to spend quality time with them, because you know that when it gets to be too much, you can retreat.

To do this, you have to be brave. It’s hard, and sometimes awkward, and sometimes it will feel terrible. But it’s also what’s going to make you happier, healthier, and ultimately lead to better relationships with your family. 

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