Highly Sensitive People and Travel

Traveling is exciting, but it can also be incredibly overwhelming if you are a highly sensitive person (HSP). If you are highly sensitive you already know why. If you are not highly sensitive then seeing a travel experience through a HSP’s eyes is certainly worth trying. And if you are the parent of a highly sensitive child (HSC) then seeing traveling from your child’s stance will certainly help you support your child on your next trip.

The possibility of overstimulation in airports, stations, ferry ports and in traffic is phenomenal. Everything is new, unknown and busy.

I realised lately just how traveling impacts me and why I have become so reluctant to venture far on a plane in recent years.

Highly Sensitive People and Travel

I entered Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport through the revolving door and immediately hit a wall of people. I stopped walking and joined the masses.

I scoured the list of departing flights on the bright yellow framed boards looking for my flight number. Where did I need to be? Which direction did I need to head in to check-in? Which number desk did I need to find? I had no overview with the crowds around me. The noise of people chatting filled my ears. The feeling of stress as fellow passengers hurried over to check-in desks and gates hung over me like a dark grey angry rain cloud.

I worked out my route and snaked through the mass hovering near information boards and in check-in lines that had bulged out of the fencing meant to keep the queues orderly.

I found the check-in area I needed to be in. I joined the queue. I picked up all the  conversations in different languages around me; I felt the impatience of families with children behind me as the queue shuffled slowly forward.

I checked in and headed to passport control.

I was pushed into the line for the automated passport check, where I didn’t want to be. I wanted a person to hold my passport in their hand and check it and let me through. The automated computer route was an unknown entity to me. I watched travellers in front of me. Which way did I need to hold my passport? What did I need to press? Where did I need to stand? Was there help nearby if I needed it? My body was stiff with stress by the time it was my turn to go through the barrier.

I stepped up to the line and the waist high gate closed in front and behind me, reminding me of footage I had seen of sheep being herded for shearing. I felt eyes watching behind me as the queue waited impatiently for their turn in the barrier. I held my passport to the scanner. Nothing happened. The computer didn’t scan my photo as it should have done. The camera couldn’t pick up my features and “Wait for assistance’ flashed up on the screen. I pictured being hauled off by the Dutch Koninklijke Marechaussee to be interrogated about my passport and the reason for my travel. Then suddenly the gates in front of me opened and my ordeal was over. I was free. I was released from my temporary barricades. No police escorting me off to a secret room somewhere; I was free to continue my trip.

I set off for the next part of the travel experience – security.

First I had to take my iPad out of its cover, I had to take my liquids out of my bag, I had to take off my coat. I stood in a lone line, which thankfully moved quickly. I was ushered to a ‘spot’ marked on the ground where I was to wait until security personnel called me over. Which eventually they did.

Three trays filled with my belongings spread over them headed down the conveyer belt, through the scanner. I stayed put, waiting for the queue to go through the body scan machine. I am totally aware of all the noise around me, of security staff issuing instructions to hundreds of people manoeuvring their way around the security measures – ones implemented because of the threat of terrorism I should add, a threat that fails to leave a small place at the back of my mind the entire time as I wander around the airport.

The body scan is completed. A security officer asks me to stand on a pair of feet drawn on the floor outside of the machine. I am asked to take off my boots. I obey and I watch as he takes them away and they disappear through a second scanner. The shoe bomber springs to mind. I walk the short distance to the scanner on my sock clad feet. I am fully aware that the floor is hard and dirty.

I collect my suitcase, my handbag, my jacket, my electronic device and my liquids from various grey plastic trays that have piled up at the bottom of the conveyer belt, joining  a group of people trying to gather their belongings together too. Do I have everything? I go through a mental list in my head of all the things I placed in the trays. I try to reassemble my personal stuff so I can comfortably carry it all again and I wait to be reunited with my boots, arms laden.

Soon everything is where it should be. My boots are on my feet. My coat is back on. My deodorant and perfume are back in my suitcase and I have my handbag over my shoulder. I can make my way to the departure gate. Along with all the other travellers who are either sitting on every available chair in the departure lounge, queuing for coffee and cake or buying duty free items in the expansive shops around the lounge.

I find an empty space to sit in. I know my bucket is full. I am emotionally drained. I am physically exhausted. And I am yet to board my plane.

I don’t travel often by plane, and as I sit I realise why.

I also know why my highly sensitive children don’t make great travellers.

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About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. I was born in Britain but live in the Netherlands. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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