Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP

Life, Refracted

5 Tips for Tranquil Holiday Travel

Personality research offers insights that can help us travel with ease.

Posted Oct 30, 2018

 Caffè/Pixabay (CC0)
Source: Caffè/Pixabay (CC0)

As the holiday season approaches, here are some timely tips on how to use our understanding of personality to maximize comfort and minimize stress from seasonal travel. When we visit family, family-of-choice, or friends, paying attention to differences in personality can be helpful. I offer the OCEAN (5-Factor) model of personality as a way of thinking about our individual differences when it comes to journeying away from home.

  • Openness. Some people are eager to try what is new, to venture into the unknown, or, in the extreme, to reject what is familiar, finding it boring and routine. They prefer change over adapting past experiences to present conditions. Those who score high on Openness often approach travel with a search for discovery, even the exotic. Those low on this continuum can be loath to change a destination or activity. For them, neither location nor the nature of a gathering nor the details—time, foods to be offered, people included—none are up for grabs. They find comfort in that which is known and can become irritated when the specifics are modified without warning.
  •  RonnyK/Pixabay (CC0)
    Source: RonnyK/Pixabay (CC0)
    Conscientiousness. People high in conscientiousness make excellent travelers, as they love dealing with details, attending to the specifics that make travel smooth and transitions easy. They may savor attending to schedules, the influence of traffic, the logistics of fitting holiday travel plans into a life that also has commitments to other priorities. Those who are low in conscientiousness may be quite flexible, using a different style of responding to a sudden airline strike, a traffic jam that derails a predetermined plan, or unexpected guests accompanying a college student home. Their comfort with spontaneity can allow them to adapt effortlessly, to simply take another path rather than striving to make the initial plan go forward. Ideally, a person can move between the two extremes, deciding when the situation is in their control and when it is not. 
  • Extroversion. Those who are highly extroverted are probably the happiest about holiday gatherings and—true to style—the more, the merrier. With their love of groups and their diversity, they can thrive when unknown guests appear at the table or simply stop in to say hello. They get their energy from interacting with others and are likely to become more and more animated as time passes. In contrast, those who are more introverted might do well to reread Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. The effort they must exert to deal with more than a small number of people at once leaves them easily exhausted. They replenish their wells from the inside, through quiet time or meditation, perhaps connecting to nature. They find holidays that involve a lot of people, especially people who are new to them, stressful. While extroverts may delight in the casual relationships formed at rest stops, in airports, on trains, the introvert wants to duck in and out of public places as quickly as possible. They may need to sit quietly, perhaps alone, at a table and read their book or listen to their music. Finding a protected cubicle may be heaven.
  •  Fancycrave/Unsplash
    Source: Fancycrave/Unsplash
    Agreeableness. Some people find it easy to be flexible in making choices (or changing plans); they are eager to please and do not tend to have strong preferences of their own. They are high in “agreeableness.” Those who score low, in contrast, want to assert their personal desires first and have others go along with them, even if some coercion is necessary. The key to making travel easier for those high in Agreeableness is to assure them that they can identify their own needs and make decisions that will help them meet them. As long as they accept responsibility for their own happiness, their eager qualities can be used to promote peace and cooperation, even from less “agreeable” companions.
  • Neuroticism. Those high in neuroticism are generally fearful, holding expectations that difficulties will inevitably arise. Even worse, they may be uncertain that they will be able to cope with the demands that those challenges might call for. Because their concerns are rooted in beliefs, they can be hard to budge. Pointing out the realities or pleasant aspects of a situation falls on deaf ears. They are worriers. Empirical data are irrelevant; anticipated disasters can lurk behind each real or imagined moment. Those who are very low in neuroticism may fail to rise to an occasion, retreating instead into “la belle indifference” and a belittling of those who are trying to solve a problem. Resolving differences between these two extremes can be a challenge on any trip.

Personality reflects the maturation of biologically-based temperament. By taking the time to know one's self and one’s travel companion(s), whether through the lens of personality or the more specific somatically-based temperament, we can approach holiday travel with mindfulness, negotiate strategies for anticipated (or unexpected) challenges, and have backup plans when one traveler finds the trip enervating rather than enriching, destructive rather than broadening. An expanded set of coping skills can become the gift you give yourself for the year to come. 


Cain, Susan. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Crown Publishing.

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