A Sensory Introvert Goes To Vegas

And survives to tell the tale.

Sensory over stimulated woman surrounded by people in Vegas IsabelPoulin, tataks | Canva, Mauro Mora | Unsplash

The assault on my senses begins the moment I step off the plane. The slot machines are clustered at the airport gate in all their glaring glory, blinking against the constant hum of club music. Such flashing lights and pulsing beats are so ubiquitous in Vegas, that one might think they emanate from its soil. Who am I kidding? There is no soil in Las Vegas. It is a city sealed tightly in concrete, from which the hulking casinos and hotels sprout, blooming with screens and neon.


I suppose all the glimmering and flickering is supposed to lure us in. The strategy works, but I am not part of the Vegas target market. I wouldn’t say I like spending money, much less losing it. I hate shopping, especially at needlessly expensive stores. I can’t stand crowds. I like to go to shows, but I prefer intimate venues whose names don’t include the words “stadium” or “arena.” While I don’t mind club music on the rare occasion that I find myself at a club, I don’t need it clogging my ears in an airport, by a pool, while trying to enjoy a meal, or simply while walking from Point A to Point B.


This is not my first trip to Vegas, and unfortunately, it won’t be my last. I’ve been here twice before. I’ll be back, reluctantly, in July. (Vegas in July? I don’t understand it, either.) Let me pause here to acknowledge that I have only ever traveled to Vegas for work conferences. I’ve never seen what exists of the city off the strip  —  i.e. the Vegas that residents know and maybe love. Nor have I participated in most of the classic tourist activities  —  I’ve never seen a show in Vegas, nor have I gambled, nor have I woken up in a trashed luxury suite with a missing tooth and a Bengal tiger in my bathroom.

But I think I’ve seen enough of Vegas to know, with 100% certainty, that I never have to do any of these things for my life to be complete.

This might sound snobbish, but I assure you, it’s not snobbery. This is not my mind telling me that I’m “too smart” to gamble, or “too classy” for the city’s unabashed tackiness. This is my body telling me, in no uncertain terms, to stay away from Vegas. It’s my body that seizes up the moment I behold the relatively modest cluster of slot machines at the airport gate. It’s my body that floods me with an instinctive desire to scurry back on the plane and beg the pilot to drop me back amidst the fragrant pines of the Pacific Northwest.   



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Instead, I march grimly forward as the club music pulses and the flashing screens make their best attempt to beckon me. The conference is paid for, and I’ve spent two weeks perfecting my presentation. There is nothing to do but carry on. This might not be my first time in Vegas, but it is my first time staying at Caesars Palace. I won’t be in a luxury suite, but maybe, I think wistfully, my hotel room will have a balcony. From a balcony, at least, I can breathe outdoor air without immersing myself in the crushing crowds. I can be a detached observer, simply bearing witness to the spectacle, the electronic beats distantly thrumming rather than laying siege to my eardrums.

As it turns out, my hotel room does have a balcony, and I’m momentarily flooded with elation. I optimistically tug at the handles on the window, vestiges from a less litigious era, but the frame is stubbornly sealed shut. I can already feel the desperation settling in.

My Lyft driver ostensibly dropped me off at the “hotel entrance” to Caesars Palace, but it took me a full 20 minutes to find the hotel lobby and at least another 20 minutes to find my room. First I wandered past The Forum shops, full of gleaming merchandise, yet weirdly empty of human beings. Then the casino floor smacked me in the face, sending me reeling. Intermingled with the lights and beats was the disconcerting scent of indoor cigarette smoke. I marveled at how wrong it smelled, even though I’d grown up with people smoking on airplanes, at restaurants, and in countless other indoor venues. I even spent my early 20s bartending in a small establishment where the smoke hung so thickly, that I couldn’t see to the back of the bar.

Later that evening, a hotel worker will inform me that the pool area is closed for the night, and I will ask if there is a patio or rooftop deck where I can smoke my nightly cigarette. He will chuckle, as if patios and rooftop decks are too quaint for the outsized grandeur of Vegas, and then tell me I can just smoke my cigarette on the casino floor. I will be unable to fathom a less appealing prospect. I will spend the next half hour desperately searching for an exit through which I can access The Great Outdoors.


But I digress. I am still in the midst of my frantic quest for the hotel lobby. When I finally find it, after stopping twice to ask for directions, I try to maintain my composure. I imagine my hair is slightly disheveled, my eyes a little glazed. The woman behind the desk chirps in the direction of my room, which is nowhere near the hotel lobby but rather back through the throbbing blaze of the casino floor. I take a deep breath and plunge back into the fray.

By the way, it is 12:30 p.m. on a Monday. But of course, time takes on a different meaning in the city that never sleeps. Time is intentionally distorted and manipulated. Walls contain neither windows nor clocks. Nothing as frivolous as time will impede the incessant consumption and relentless temptation.

A Sensory Sensitive Introvert Goes To VegasPhoto: randy andy / Shutterstock


RELATED: What Sensory Sensitivity Feels Like To Neurodiverse Adults & Kids

By the time I make it to my room, I am gasping for air. But alas, the window won’t open. I briefly imagine smashing it  —  that’s how strongly I feel the lure of the balcony, which proceeds to taunt me with the utter uselessness of its existence.

As I mentioned, I’m in Vegas for a conference, and conferences are their form of sensory overload, regardless of which city hosts them. But to have to thrust myself back through the thicket of flashing screens and machines just to find the conference registration desk? I briefly consider hiding away in my hotel room for the next two days and nights. I can claim sickness, order room service, catch up on my writing, eat cannabis gummies, and rewatch Parks and Recreation.

It sounds lovely. The hotel room itself, despite its maddeningly stubborn window, is bright and attractive, mysteriously and mercifully quiet. But alas, I know I must leave and re-enter the fray.


The elevator claims I’m on floor 66, but given the lack of buttons for floors 2–49 and the distance I perceived from the ground while staring wistfully out of my sealed hotel window, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m really on floor 16. Vegas, of course, exists in its reality. It feels perfectly entitled to make outrageous claims, like that you’re 50 floors further from the ground than you are, or that you might win the jackpot when you’re far more likely to leave significantly poorer, or that the sandwich you have hastily purchased for lunch is worth $22 ($22!!) when no sandwich on Earth is worth $22 unless it can feed a family of four.

I eat the $22 sandwich, trying to angle my back to the casino lights and pretend I’m in a quaint European café, which seems to be what this bakery is going for. But of course, like everything else in Vegas, it’s a carefully constructed illusion. Later that evening, my body will momentarily unclench itself when I step into a row of shops and restaurants and suddenly find myself outdoors. I will detect an unmistakable breeze and the scent of outdoor air, and when I look up, I will see a blue sky dotted with clouds.

But it will be fake. It will all be fake. It will be a Trumanesque dystopia, where restaurants offer outdoor seating that’s still indoors, the sky is bright and blue no matter the time of day, and a manufactured scent will trick my olfactory senses into believing I’m somewhere I’m not. My body will be furious. It will promptly clench itself again.

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The crowds of fellow conference-goers, which I typically find overwhelming in and of themselves, seem tame in comparison to the throngs of people roaming the casino floor. I’m nervous about my presentation, but it goes well, even better than I expected, and I’m able to relax into the rest of the conference, as much as my body will allow. Still, by 9 p.m. on the second night, I am ready for bed. I forego the conference after party and fight my way through the still-empty shops and crowded craps tables and blinking slot machines. It is now Tuesday night, which in Vegas is the night you go clubbing, because a nightclub seems to have materialized on the floor near my hotel tower that I’m certain didn’t exist the night before.

Tomorrow morning I will catch a flight home, and soon after that (as in, mere minutes of entering my house), I will escape to the nearest park. The park is a small forest, really, with winding dirt paths, and I will delight in the feel of my shoes against the earth, in the clean scent of pine needles, in the nurturing embrace of trees. I won’t care that it’s cloudy and 51 degrees. At least the gray sky above me will be real, as real as the breeze that ruffles my hair. And there will be quiet. Blessed quiet.

If there’s anything good about going to Vegas, it’s how serene my life feels when I return. This is ironic because I typically struggle with the chaos of family life. But even the bickering of my children sounds sumptuous compared to the relentless pounding of electronic beats.


My father used to tell me the Yiddish folktale, “It Could Always Be Worse,” in which a man complains to a rabbi about how crowded and noisy his home is. The rabbi advises him to bring in the chickens. When the man comes back to complain that it’s only more crowded and more noisy, the rabbi advises him to bring in his goat. And so it continues until finally the rabbi advises him to take all the animals back outside and enjoy the peace.

Maybe Vegas is my higher power’s way of reminding me to be grateful for what I have because what I have is pretty great. A porch to sit on, a forest to walk through, fresh air to breathe. A small, old home with windows that (mostly) open, which sits neither 16 nor 66 floors above the ground.

And when I reluctantly return to Vegas in four short months, I’ll be grateful all over again.

RELATED: 7 Simple Ways To Turn Your 'Too Sensitive' Nature Into A Superpower


Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.