Traveling brings out the best and worst in ourselves and our partners. Long distances, changes in nutrition, and sensory overload can disrupt all semblance of a life balance. At the same time, there is often a drive to “get everything in” which leads to personal neglect and a lack of self care.
I tend to see most experiences through the “chalking it up to experience” point of view and some people might even say I see the world through rose-colored glasses. While my last months have been filled with abundant gifts, most people don’t know I have also lost my phone, been in a small motorcycle accident, had my taxi involved in a hit and run, and gotten an unsuspecting bonk on the forehead by a passing woman. In all cases, I was quite fine, and these things happen when you are out and about all day – even at home. But, as a long-term traveler, I have learned that my positive mental health relies on actively making it a priority and that if any of these things happened when I was feeling particularly challenged, the personal impact may have cut deeper than it did. What works for me has been learned by hitting a wall after neglecting the important aspect of self awareness and care and finding myself negatively impacted by situations that arose.
During this journey, I realize that I can’t share messages of hope with others if I am not preparing my body and mind to do so. Rest is key for me. While I know this isn’t the case for everyone, I just can’t book a full day and night of events and have learned not to feel guilty about that. There was a day when I felt like time to read and recover each night was a waste of time and was kind of embarrassed by my 8:30 bedtime while in exotic locations. Experience has taught me that these aren’t things to be ashamed of. I enjoy people and experiences with heightened pleasure when I have also had quiet time to myself. Sometimes, a day of quietness by the pool is the best thing I can do and the most valuable way to spend a day.
In my experience, nutrition changes – especially the inability to eat most fresh produce adds an element of strain to a long term trip – and a little bit of guilt that I am privileged enough to include so much food variety in my daily life at home. Sometimes, tagging recipes that I plan to make someday makes me feel hopeful. Drinking water is not something I love – but it’s necessary for reducing unfamiliar illnesses encountered in new places…so I carry a Camelbak water bladder that I fill each day and carry in my backpack. I drink the water I carry because it lightens my load. I am always on the hunt for ways to add fruit and veggies into my diet. While I love trying new sweets, I try not to overindulge in sugar. It’s easy to believe that it’s important to TRY EVERYTHING while away, but moderation still reigns across the globe.
Preparing financially for a journey reduces my stress about doing the extras when I arrive. Before I left, I spent three years saving with one full time job and three side hustles. Using the Dave Ramsey mantra of, “If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else,” got me through some hard seven-day work weeks and allowed me to take this trip. Sometimes, when I get where I am going, I tend to still be very budget-minded – which is great. I am not willing to spend a lot on accommodations or food because that isn’t where I take great pleasure. However, I have learned that spending money wisely includes just that – spending on experiences that bring great joy. Personally, it might seem silly or shallow, but I love buying dresses in new places. The experience of buying or having dresses designed just for me offers a fun relational experience – and I love when I am home – and my morning routine of getting dressed elicits memories of far away places and people. I will spend on local spa treatments – always reasonably price – like massages – because it improves how I feel. Achieving a balance between spending and conserving is key to reducing my anxiety about running out of money.
People connections are the reason I travel. Sightseeing is not a big thing for me – but I have learned that when people are brought together for a short amount of time – friendships gain a sense of urgency and depth. Staying focused on being relational and not missing opportunities to be engaged are key for bringing value to my travel experiences. I have met some of the most wonderful friends while traveling. There is a genuine filter of loving new places that builds instant connections and easy rapport.
I realize that personal care is just that – personal. There is no magic wand for mental health – and I never think that what works for me is what is best. It’s just that I know the power of self awareness and self care matter for me. Others may be challenged by some logistics and pressures of travel that typically don’t faze me…but knowing that the message that “it’s ok not to be ok” also applies on the road – is liberating. Taking time to weave self care into travel experiences is a valuable use of time. I would love to hear how others make this a priority.