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Highly Sensitive Person

Why Some People Always Change Hotel Rooms When They Travel

There is a good chance they're a Highly Sensitive Person.

Key points

  • For HSPs, it is impossible to overlook obvious or nuanced defects in the immediate environment.
  • Highly sensitive people, form a visceral judgment as to whether something about a space seems off.
  • Knowing that other HSPs react the same way can be helpful and reassuring.
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I’ve done a lot of work over decades with people with the trait of high sensitivity, or Highly Sensitive Person(HSP), a phrase coined by psychologist Elaine Aron, and have noticed they exhibit some similar particular behaviors. One of these is the tendency to change hotel rooms when traveling. I’m sure plenty of people change hotel rooms, but HSPs tell me they do it all the time—walk into a hotel room while traveling and immediately say, “I can’t stay here.” Why is this?

Travel can be exhilarating, restorative, and fun but it can also be quite stressful—planning the trip and all that accompanies getting to a destination. There should be a sigh of relief upon reaching the destination, but for HSPs, there is a particular brand of anxiety around arriving at a hotel or home away from home, opening the door of the space, and having an intense negative visceral reaction of knowing they can’t stay in that space. This could occur at a five-star hotel, an Airbnb, family or friends’ vacation homes, etc.

In trying to explain why HSPs might respond so intensely to a space, it is important to understand that they are constantly impacted by the environment, taking in consistent and thorough sensory information that may not be as obvious or apparent to others. As a result, HSPs form a visceral judgment as to whether the room is an acceptable place to stay or whether something about it seems off.

The trait of high sensitivity is found in approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population, according to the research of Aron, who descibes a laundry list of things that affect HSPs in hotel rooms—things like where the room is situated, the level of noise, and the need to open windows for fresh air, to name a few.

Because HSPs are hyper-observant of their environment, they are oftentimes able to perceive subtle but potential dangers not necessarily apparent to others. For example, an HSP might detect the faint smell of a gas leak before anyone else detects the smell calling attention to something that might otherwise have led to disaster if not detected earlier. In the case of hotel rooms, it can be something such as the faint smell of mold or a door lock that doesn't work that signal concern to an HSP. In their awareness of such things as a dirty carpet or noise from another room, HSPs are on notice for discomfort at the very least or a potential problem, thus making changing rooms an organic solution.

The need to change rooms might also be the offshoot of experiencing sensory overload from the travel itself and hoping for a respite from the trip upon arrival but instead being faced with a space that has issues that cannot be overlooked.

Knowing that other HSPs react the same way can be helpful and reassuring for those who have such a hotel room reaction and for those who travel with them. At the very least, it can save you from having to unpack and re-pack.

One of the ways of circumventing the room-changing situation might be to request the same room from a previous stay to avoid the stress of the new and unfamiliar.

So, if you’re an HSP and are faced with a room that is questionable, how can you better manage the distress of having to change rooms? With the validation that you are picking up all kinds of sensory information, you might be able to pause a minute and determine whether the situation warrants a change, or perhaps it’s not quite as distressing as you initially perceived it to be.

With apologies to the hospitality industry, sometimes accommodations are far from what they should be. So, what does a traveler do? Maybe you ask to have your room changed.


"Hotels and HSPs" Aron, Elaine, Comfort Zone Newsletter: May 2013

Greven, C., Lionetti, F., Boothe, C., Aron, E., Fox. E., Schendang, H., Pluess, M., Bruining, H., Acevedo, B., Bijttebier, P., and Homberga, J. (2019), Sensory Processing Sensitivity in the context of Environmental Sensitivity: A critical review and development of research agenda. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 98, March 2019, 287-305

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