Yesterday I landed at JFK airport in New York after a seven and a half hour flight from Lisbon. The previous night I had spent at an airport hotel in Lisbon due to my early departure the next day. Although someone was sitting next to me on the flight to JFK, we both kept to ourselves, eating, reading, and watching movies on the inflight entertainment.

I arrived in New York at lunchtime, but my onward flight to home in Hawaii did not leave until the next morning, and so I had booked an overnight stay at the TWA Hotel connected to Terminal 5 at JFK. The hotel is the old TWA terminal at JFK converted into a hotel, but maintaining a retro, 1960s feel. Popular music from that era is continually playing in and on the approach to the hotel as you walk there from the inter-terminal air train service. It’s a convenient, comfortable and fun hotel, for such a visit.

Currently, I am writing this at 36,000ft (10,972.8 m) above the mainland US on a ten and a half hour flight to Honolulu, I connect there for a short hop to Maui. And at that point ends what I have got out of the last couple of days…resting in the anonymity of travel. For all that I have been surrounded by people in hotels, airports and on aircraft, through all my travels, I have been alone, anonymous and for periods of time, unavailable to be contacted. There are times when I like that, indeed relish it. It gives me a rest from having to engage with others. This is not to imply that I am a misanthrope, on the contrary. For all the travels that I have been fortunate to have done in my life, the places have I have visited and been inspired by, it is the people who have made the places for me. I am looking forward to being back home, to seeing my wife and family, to catching up with friends, to being back in my regular life.

However, there are times when I just need my solitude. I need the snow globe of my shaken up mind to come to rest. I can feel my body and mind dropping stress as the silence envelops me. Or as is the case for me, solo travel, it is not so much the silence, though that can come in quiet hotel rooms, but the knowledge that I don’t have to engage with others. It is not through a wish to be antisocial, I could well strike up a conversation with someone along the way, but knowing that for the most part I can relax in my own company.


I am someone who is always resistant to labels. I find that it can be easy to use them as an excuse for one’s behaviour instead of taking responsibility. Labels can also be a cause of limiting my abilities, or for others putting me in a box without fully understanding who I am. The label that describes an aspect of my personality is just that, an aspect of my personality. For all that I speak here about valuing my solitude, I can do something like taking over the dance floor a few months ago at my wife’s nephew’s wedding, being one of the last one’s to head to bed.

So with that precursor, I do identify as a Highly Sensitive Person. Elaine Aron, who coined the phrase Highly Sensitive Person, identified four characteristics of HSPs. Together, they form the acronym, DOES. These characteristics are,

  • D - Depth of Processing. Within HSPs is the tendency to process information deeply. There is simply more going on in the HSP’s mind. This happens whether the HSP is aware of it or not. No choice. So for all the noise that might be happening outside the body, there is a lot going on inside as well.
  • O - Overstimulation. If there is a lot going on, if it carries on for a long time and if it complicated, the HSP is going to wear out quicker. The external activity coupled with the internal processing can simply be exhausting.
  • E - Emotional reactivity, and also for Empathy. This one is not saying that non-HSPs do not react emotionally or have empathy for others, it again is about depth and about it happening whether there is intention there or not.
  • S - Sensing the subtle. Because of this depth of processing, there is a picking up of what others might miss. The follow on from this is that various sense stimuli can cause overload for HSPs – too much light, strong smells, noise.

So in any given situation, the HSP is managing more internal energy being expended than non-HSPs, resulting in a need to take a break and recharge much earlier. This is not clear-cut, either, or. There will be levels of graduation within individuals. Other personality traits, life experiences, etc., will also play their part.

Back to travel

So back to my travels. The last three weeks, the immediate two especially, have been busy, a lot going on, things to do, decisions to be made. For all that I was sad to leave, I was also tired, physically and emotionally. These two days of travel have been an opportunity to recharge, reflect and simply be still. An opportunity to be alone among others, to appreciate the opportunity for that time for what it can give me so that I can be better present for others.

And finally home

And I complete this piece with my feet planted on solid ground. I have been back for just shy of three days now. Acclimatizing to a familiar but different environment to that of where I have been. Happy to be home, to get back into recognized routines, to see family and friends.