Never before have we had so much access to the world, to visiting new places, seeing new sites, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people. Wanderlust has become an entrenched value for those of us who crave a sense of adventure, who want to learn everything there is to learn about the world not through information, but through experience.
And while travel can be one of the most exciting things we do, and can even be one of our greatest pleasures in life, it can also be stressful. From navigating transportation in a foreign country to finding a place to stay and the best things to do once you’re at your destination, the logistics of travel can be exhausting. Combine that with being in an entirely new location, potentially unable to speak the language of those around you, with little sleep, restricted access to healthy food, and a complete shift in routine, and many of us are faced with a recipe for stress, neuroticism, or immune dysfunction.
I could provide you with tips and tricks for healthy eating and exercise while on vacation, and in fact I have provided some at the bottom of this post because I think they are an important part of feeling good throughout your vacation. But for those of us who grapple with travel anxiety, what is most important is the frame of mind in which we live each day of our vacation. When I traveled for a month throughout Europe, and country hopped every few days, I started my vacation by thinking of all the things I was “supposed” to do while traveling: I was “supposed” to get as many things done in a day as possible, see as many sites as I could wherever I was. I was “supposed” to plan my days on a schedule and do everything on the list. I was “supposed” to get cute pictures of myself doing touristy things and posting them on social media to keep my friends and family updated on my life, and maybe make them a little bit jealous about how much fun I was having. I was “supposed” to be having the most fun of my life during every minute of every day. And if I wasn’t, I was failing at vacation.
And of course, as I write this, it seems ridiculous that this would be my mindset about vacation. Vacation is supposed to be relaxed and easeful – it’s vacation! But after being in school, where many of us think we should be productive every single moment of every day (I know I did), it’s no wonder that many of us end up feeling this way.
I finally realized that everything I thought I had to do was not only impossible to accomplish in the short amount of time I had at each location, but that by focusing my attention on these things was actually taking away from my happiness and making me neurotic and stressed – on vacation! When I finally realized this after about a week and a half of travel, I started leaning back and allowing. I allowed things to happen as they were going to happen, without needing to control every little aspect of my day-to-day. I allowed myself to get enough sleep without feeling like I was missing out on wherever I was visiting. I allowed myself to read in a park or at a beach. I allowed my vacation time to not be a competition of how much more fun I was having than anyone else, but to just let myself be content in whatever moment I was experiencing. And once I made that switch from control to ease, I actually did start having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
So, how can you shift your mindset if you struggle with this? And maybe you don’t have this problem with feeling a need to control every day, but you may still feel like you’re missing something from your vacation, a sense of fulfillment you thought you would achieve but can’t seem to grasp. In both instances, the answer is to go within. Instead of relying on the fun you’re having, the breathtaking sights you’re seeing, the exciting people you’re meeting, you have to start from within to feel a sense of joy and contentedness throughout your travels and your life. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, prayer, or journaling can be incredibly helpful while on vacation, as in other times of life. When I was in Europe, I bought a journal after a week into my travels, and started writing about what I was doing, and more importantly, how I was feeling. It was a way of getting all of my stress and anxiety out on the page: by allowing that to release, I could then allow easefulness to wash over me, and knew that missing a train, not doing all the things I set out to do at a particular destination, or finding myself stuck at the top of a mountain I didn’t think I would be able to get back down would all work itself out in the end. I could allow myself to trust.
If you already have a mindfulness practice going into vacation, it will help you immensely throughout your travel to continue it. If you don’t yet have an established mindfulness practice, journaling is a great place to start to really get to know your mind and how your thoughts effect your emotions, behaviors, and actions. Journaling for 15 minutes every morning (or another time of day – perhaps while traveling from one place to the next) can help you trust in all of the amazing things you’ve already experienced, as well as the incredible and unknown experiences to come, all while staying grounded in yourself, rather than relying on those experiences for happiness.
And for those of you who want practical advice about food and exercise while traveling, I am a big advocate for grocery shopping. You can still experience the cuisine and traditional food of your destination by eating one meal at a restaurant per day and cooking the rest of your meals at home. In fact, I found many hidden gems in the grocery stores and marketplaces of Europe that I wouldn’t have found had I only eaten at restaurants. Not only will preparing healthy food from your kitchen help you to stay well and feel energized throughout your trip, it will also be much easier on your wallet! Salads from whatever produce you can find at the store, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, rice and veggies to make a curry or stir fry, and veggie sandwiches are all great options for easy-to-prepare meals. Also, bringing a reusable water bottle will keep you hydrated when water is more expensive than alcohol in many destinations!
As for exercise, starting the day with even 5 minutes of jumping jacks, lunge or squat jumps, running in place, or stretching will help you feel more invigorated to start your day and keep you healthy on vacation. And walking everywhere instead of taking transit will help you not only keep your steps and energy up, but it will also allow you to see so much more of your destination than you would otherwise. I even did some exercises and yoga when we were waiting in airports or spending time in a park – mountain climbers, burpees, lunge and squat variations, and other exercises without weights are perfect for keeping your strength and for stepping out of your comfort zone!
And remember, if you don’t end up following this advice for preparing meals and explicitly taking the time to exercise every single day, don’t beat yourself up about it. This is your vacation, and it’s not “supposed” to be anything other than what you want it to be.
I hope this blog has been helpful for all you travelers out there. I would love to hear what your experience is with travel and whether you can relate, or if you think this will help you in your future travels.