I've been thinking a lot this week about how easy it is to let the road take over your life...
Every day waking up in a place that isn't "yours," eating out at restaurants constantly (or eating snacks in your hotel room), perhaps never feeling quite comfortable going for a freeing run in some unknown town... Travel can often leave you feeling tired and discombobulated.
And it's not just physical... There is the psychological aspect of travel, the sensory-onslaught of surviving new environments, languages, and rules. Travel innately forces you to change. The experience of living even one day in an unfamiliar culture adds depth and perspective to your understanding of the world... and this growth requires a lot of brain power and focus.
Intellectual growth is a good thing obviously... but it can be tiring. Frequently I feel a little "travel-shock headache" at the end of the day. Instead of letting myself sink into the exhaustion, I try to see the strain as signs of progress... like the warm feeling you get when you stretch after exercising. Embrace it, and let go.
Honestly, these are the kind of problems that you want to have, mildly irritating but not life-threatening. Yet these small things build up. After awhile, this lifestyle can take a toll on your energy and health.
When you're constantly trying to keep up with all of the challenges that travel throws your way, it is easy to feel like you might be letting go of your life projects and your health a little too much.
In moments like this, I try to take some time to make sure that I am taking care of myself.
Here are a few things I've learned along the way:
Keeping a Healthy Balance Physically...
1. Drink water.
I can see you rolling your eyes right now, but just listen... Hydration is paramount when it comes to feeling healthy and alert. The benefits are manifold. Proper hydration is great for sustained energy, it clears your skin of nasty toxins, it keeps things regular in the bathroom department, and it boosts your metabolism. So opt for pure water and teas instead of sodas... Just try it for one day and you'll feel a difference... try it long enough and you'll see the difference in your skin and weight as well.
And since we're all different, we all need different amounts of water. Camelbak, the outdoor equipment company, has a great program that calculates how much water you should drink every day depending on several factors. Check out how much you should drink here.
2. Learn when to indulge and when to eat smartly.
I am a huge advocate of making the most of a trip. That means, when I'm in Italy, I'm eating lots of pasta. When I'm in France, you'll find me at the patisserie morning, noon, and night... (See the " La Bonne Honte " section of this website if you don't believe me...)
But there has to be balance or it really starts to effect me... My tummy gets all wonky, my energy crashes, my skin becomes patchy, and my weight fluctuates... When you have reactions like this, it is because your body is unused to processing this high quantity of rich foods.
We have to find the equilibrium between enjoying the local delicacies and eating balanced meals. It is possible to eat a salad in Rome!! And, as crazy as that sounds, trust me, you will appreciate the local specialties a lot more if you feel well going into the meal. That means, keep your meals nutritious, fresh, and diverse ... and maybe don't order that second tiramisu ...
3. Get real sleep
As tempting as it is to stay out late exploring a new city, too many nights of inadequate rest can lead to reduced focus, lowered energy, and numerous health problems. Pace yourself wisely when you travel. For every night you spend out, plan to make up for it in the coming days whether by sleeping in or by taking it easy with your next day plans.
And since traveling normally means unpredictable sleeping environments, I would suggest packing some basic sleep accessories, such as earplugs and a sleeping mask.
If you know you have other issues with sleep, such as neck problems, find a travel-sized pillow or neck support that helps keep you comfortable at night.
Which brings me to my next point....
4. Invest in sensible gear.
Once you've traveled a bit, you know how annoying little things like not having the right pillow can easily build up over time. My pet peeve is having to cart a bunch of shampoo and lotion bottles around in plastic bags. Every time I moved hotels I had to deal with a bunch of leaking, slippery, oversized bottles of my favorite toiletries.
The day I invested in a real toiletries kit with uniform travel-sized bottles and an easy-zip plastic case was a day of immediate tension relief. I actually enjoyed the process of choosing which lotions and potions to take, and traveling with them was a breeeeeeeeze.... Not to mention how put-together I felt later that night when I didn't have to root around in a wet grocery bag for shaving cream. Class, class, class...
... and all it took was 5€ and trip to local travel store.
Think about what annoys you on a trip. In most cases there is already a solution out there. Invest in your comfort and peace of mind by getting proper travel gear... and if there is no ready-made solution to your problem, get inventive and create one yourself.
5. Take care of your skin!
Skin needs attention. It needs consistency. Yet attention and consistency are rarely associated with travel. There are so many things to deal with! Travel brings constant change in weather, food, amenities, you name it!
Nordic winds, airplane food, and falling asleep on train windows isn't exactly great for anyone's complexion... So here are a few things you can do to equalize whatever damage travel throws your way:
- Pay attention to how your skin feels throughout your day and use this to pinpoint problems. E.g., If you find that hotel pillows make you dry and blotchy, bring your own silky pillow case to combat the effect. If you find your lips chapped all the time, find a chap-stick that actually works for you. (My personal favorites are La Roche-Posay's Baume Barriere Reparateur and EltaMD's UV Broad-spectrum Lip Balm). Basically, just pay attention.
- Create some consistency by having a routine. Don't forget, there is preventative care and reparative care. Cleansing and moisturizing is a daily necessity, but skin also needs to be exfoliated and detoxed one to two times a week, especially when you're throwing so many new environments at it. So bring an exfoliant and detox mask along with your other skin care products if you will be away for a week or more.
And if you want any of this to have a a real effect, cleanse and moisturize your face every morning and night and remember no sleeping in makeup! You're gorgeous and healthy au naturale!
In fact, take time to realize how gorgeous you are without make up. Yes make up can accentuate certain features, but when you can go nude, go nude... and I mean really nude... that means no foundation, no mascara, nuthin'! Learn to embrace the natural look, and make sure to appreciate your natural beauty a few times each day.
- Invest in high-quality, thoroughly-tested, ANIMAL-FRIENDLY products. Forget what your high-school girlfriends told you to buy, forget what your mother said.... Yes, I know, sometimes really good skin-care advice comes along, but remember, everyone's skin is different and there are always new fads. Do your own research and talk to a trusted specialist about what you really need for your skin type.
- The most important toiletries : cleanser, moisturizer, and facial sunscreen. (And please, please, please don't skimp on the facial sunscreen... it will combat wrinkles AND melanoma! So put it on every morning, please!)
(hint: Avoid towel drying your face! Moisturize immediately after washing your face and let it air dry... the water on your skin helps the moisturizer to absorb better.)
- And Hydrate Again!! (See advice number one... I cannot stress this enough!)
Listen, I know this is a lot of skin care advice, but please trust me, life is hard enough on skin and it really does say a lot about you. Do not neglect your largest organ. Check out my article on Skin Care for the Traveler for more details.
- Last bit of skincare advice?? Exercise to improve circulation!
6. Find an exercise that makes you feel good and doesn't require equipment.
As tempting as it is to collapse in your hotel at the end of the day, do not just give innnnn!
Investing a little time and energy into exercise will make you feel like a newer, younger person. All those hours of sitting on planes, and buses, and trains can take a toll on your circulation and muscle tone. Physical activity rejuvenates your energy, stimulates circulation, and strengthens your coordination.
Traveling light is best in my opinion. So take some time to find an exercise that you can do anywhere without equipment. For me, it's stretching and core-toning exercises like planks and curls.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to get your heart rate up too. If you're planning on staying at hotels, see how many of them have pools to swim in or exercise rooms with equipment.
When I can, I try and find a public bike rental program in whichever city I'm visiting. In New York, it's Citibike, in Paris, it's Vélib', and in London, it's Santander Cycles.
Biking is a great way to get some lovely cardio, while still enjoying the sites at the same time! Just make sure to know the rules of the road!!!
7. Relax too...
Go for healthy treats like massages and visits to the sauna. Taking time to slow down and let your skin and muscles relax in some lovely mud and salt is super healthy for your body and your mind.
Massages can really reduce physical tension and lactic acid build up in your muscles, and spas can open up your pores, not to mention, reheat your cold bones in the winter...
Quite a number of towns have fantastic spa-cultures like Honshu, Grindavík, Budapest, St. Petersburg, and Stockholm. These are all unique locations and can really be an authentic travel experiences, no matter how many spas you've been to in the past.
8. Invest in traveler's insurance and go see your Doctor!
(Now for a sombre moment.... Forgive me.)
There have been scary moments in all of our lives... broken fingers, chipped teeth, and bouts of flu that leave you sleeping on the bathroom floor. The only way it could be worse is if you find yourself dealing with these things alone in an alien country where you don't speak the language and you're not sure how much it will even cost to seek medical attention.
Medical problems are scary enough. Give yourself a safety net by investing in travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Whether you are trekking around Borneo for two weeks or business traveling in South America for a year, there are different types of insurance plans that can cover you for whatever kind of traveler you are.
And get smart about your normal doctor visits when you're home... keeping a regular check-up schedule for all the basics when you're back at home base will ensure that any inconspicuous problems won't suddenly become conspicuous during your big adventure.
Now that we've covered some physical health, let's talk about some peace of mind...
It can be quite challenging to maintain your "normal" life when you're away from home for so long. Anyone who has traveled for an extended amount of time has probably had at least one moment where they wonder how they fit into this immense world and what is happening to the life they left behind...
Taking time to recenter your mind and your life is just as important as keeping an eye on your physical health.
Keeping a Healthy Balance Mentally...
1. Keep a notebook.
Life on the road can be messy and unpredictable. Often it is filled with unusual challenges and moments that ask you to reconsider who you are. Keeping a notebook of your thoughts and experiences can give a lot of insight into where you're at mentally and emotionally. And for those days that leave you wondering about what direction you are heading in... it can help you to keep track of your goals and recognize reoccurring themes in your life.
Take advantage of your thoughts by keeping a journal. You may want to use it just as a way to blow off some steam and never read it again, or maybe you will use it to get to know yourself a little better... Or, maybe... who knows? It could be a best selling memoir someday...
2. Take time to plan ahead.
One of the greatest anxiety-producers in my life is feeling underprepared. I absolutely hate arriving in a new city knowing that I haven't done my research on what I should do while I'm there. When I'm traveling, there is no time to waste on googling "must-sees" on the sketchy wifi in your hotel room.
Sites like TripAdvisor are great for getting vague information and reviews, but the "top-ten" lists are generally touristic traps that have nothing to do with who you are and what you will find most interesting about a new city.
Revel in the exploration before you even arrive!! Find the hole-in-the-wall cinemas and the underground jazz-clubs. Get better deals on concerts and exhibitions by purchasing tickets ahead of time. See parts of the world that most people don't normally get to see unless they live there.
I assure you, if you wait 'til you arrive, you will kick yourself for wasting precious time and ending up at the most generic of tourist traps.
3. Keep a calendar of important events, like your friend's birthday... and make sure to celebrate properly.
Being away from home can bring so many amazing new things into your life, but it can also leave you feeling out of touch with the people who mean the most to you. In some cases, people might even feel like you've left them behind for "bigger, better things"... Take time to remember all of the important moments happening in your family and friends' lives.
Create a calendar with all these events that you think really mean something to these lovely people. If your sister's birthday is coming up... Set a two-week reminder on your phone to send her that classic vinyl you found in Copenhagen. Maybe your cousin is graduating soon? Order a flower delivery for him/her in advance.
(nice, nice tip: Get creative with your gifts and messages... Take advantage of the fact that you're out "there." Ask random people in Barcelona to say "Happy Birthday!" in Catalan and send it as a video message. Send people weird items that you can only get in whatever country you're in. People love it when you include them in your travels.)
And remember, even a simple gesture like a single text of well wishes to your best friend when you know he had a big job interview will really touch people. You might be out there experiencing this great adventure, but you haven't stopped caring about them and their lives. It will mean a lot to them and to you.
4. Read Diversely.
Just because you're out there experiencing new things doesn't mean that you can neglect other aspects of your personal education. Just as you write in your journal and practice new languages, you should always be nourishing your mind with real literature and journalism.
Let's look at the news first. Most cultures care greatly about global events, and when you visit these places, people will expect you to have an educated opinion on these matters as well. I cannot stress enough how important it is to know what is going on in the world and to have an opinion on it...
Keep track of what is going on in the world through respectable news and investigative journalism. I would suggest getting a digital subscription to a highly-regarded paper like the New York Times so that you can read the news anywhere you have internet access.
The more you pay attention to current events and develop your own thoughts about them, the more you will become addicted to it... in a good way. You will see the world through a new lens aaaaaand, you might just find yourself in the middle of a passionate discussion about an event you knew nothing about just weeks ago.
But there is also literature... whether a classic novel or a contemporary bestseller or, hell, even a short story out of the New Yorker, you should try and read as much as possible. Drop the cell phone when you're in transit and opt for a real work of art. Although you may not like every book or article you pick up, you will feed your mind in a way that clickbait news will never enrich you.
Perhaps you have one genre that you prefer over others, but if you can, try a diverse range of literature. Chancing a memoir or a historical non-fiction instead of your favorite thriller might feel awkward at first, but you will probably find yourself enjoying the diversity after awhile. Enjoy the feeling of your synapses firing in new parts of your brain as it encounters unfamiliar structures and themes.
And if you don't like carting books around with you, get an Audible account and let a professional read to you... Luxurious, I know!
I know traveling can become tedious after awhile. You take the subway, to the train, to the airport, to the plane, to the other train, to the other other underground railway system (whatever it's called), to the smelly bus, to your hotel, and on, and on, and on...... and you get bored with travel!!!!
The danger here, especially in this day and age, is to becoming addicted to your cell phone. Yes, they are great tools that happen to have a bunch of lovely time-passing apps like facebook and candycrush... but they also are addictive. These devices are designed in a way that emulates those penny-slot machines in Las Vegas.
Read this superbly interesting article by Design Ethicist Tristan Harris for more information on "How Technology Hijacks People's Minds"
Swipe down to see how many notifications you have! Refresh your Instagram feed to see how many "likes" you got on that last pic! Get to the next level on Angry Birds to unlock one thing or another!!!!
And it builds up... Yes the time passes, but what did you really get out of that time? Did you learn anything substantive? Did you make any real-life connections? Do you even know which stations you passed through? Or how to pronounce their names??
The fact is, you're missing everything!!
Screens condition people to become compulsive obsessives. Do not let real life pass you by while you have your nose in your phone. Drop the cell phone, put it in the bottom of your backpack if you have to just so you don't pick it up on reflex.
And enjoy the world around you, yes even the unpleasant bits... after all, that's life... and that's what makes it interesting! Record it in your memoir, people!
6. Take time to compose yourself with little touches.
After a seven hour flight dealing with a lop-sided seat and that snoring idiot next to you, it is difficult to feel put together. Make sure you have little ways of collecting yourself so that you can feel fresh and composed for the next part of your adventure.
For me, physically looking calm, cool, and poised helps me to actually feel calm, cool, and poised. So I invested in a few things: oil absorbent facial pads to get rid of "shine," a travel-sized atomizer filled with my favorite perfume, preservative-free eyedrops, and a glasses cleaning kit to get all the little smudges off my specs when my eyes are too tired for contacts.
A few moments in the bathroom with these products pre-landing (easy on the perfume, thank you very much!) and I feel like a jet-setter on my way to the Ritz-Carlton....
After all, we can change negative feelings if we figure out the root cause and take action to change it... Think about what makes you tense during travel and find a way to make it go away.
I hope this article helps you find equilibrium on your next trip. Just remember, you might be in a new environment every day, but finding a way to balance your day can have a wonderful effect on how you perceive your experiences.
A little balance will enhance your experience and let the world see a little more of who you really are at your best.
Good Travels and Great Growth,
L.D. has spent the past two years traveling, writing, and encouraging readers to look at the world with fresh eyes. For anyone who feels like their life has lost its vibrancy, she offers some advice, “Open new doors, challenge yourself, and fall in love with other people's stories.”
For advice and encouragement, her articles are there for you...