As far as self care goes, “vacation” and “travel” are two different things. I know it sounds a little insane, but in my book “Vacation” involves laying at a pool, drinking cocktails and pampering yourself whereas “Travel” is all about going, doing and seeing at all times. Basically, Vacation is meant exclusively for taking care of yourself, whereas Travel is totally at odds with it.
In my real, pre-traveler life, “self care” wasn’t really a thing. I never thought twice about taking a night “off” to cook something healthy and read a bok (okok fine – to pickup a salad from Whole Foods and watch Netflix), but now that there’s so damn much to experience all day every day, taking time for myself has taken a back seat. When you travel, FOMO is a very, very real thing (even more so than IRL), but going at 100 MPH is simply not a sustainable lifestyle, and eventually you will burn out.
For me, it happened yesterday morning, when I wound up in the hospital after ignoring a brutal cough I’ve had for a month. Instead of taking some R+R and dealing with it like I should have, I let what started as a small cold turn into full-blown bronchitis that will now take another month to treat. I spent too many afternoons, evenings and early mornings trying do it all, and finally my body threw me one giant finger and said, “No more, honey.”
When you travel, self care needs to be a deliberate act. It’s something you need to carve out actual time for, or else it simply won’t happen. It sounds insane, but a friend who I’m on the road with recently told me that she literally puts blocks in her Google calendar that say “Go to bed” and “Take some ME TIME,” because it’s the only way she’ll remember to take time off of working/touring/drinking/eating/doing and do something for herself.
I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but after everything that’s happened I’ve decided to take a step back and re-evaluate how I’m treating my mind/body/soul while traveling. Here’s what I’ve learned about taking care of myself in my first month on the road, and some tips for how to practice self care while traveling.
1. Figure Out What’s Important In Your Routine, And Stick To It
Even with long-term travel that basically turns into “living,” trying to keep to a full-blown routine when you’re on the go all the time isn’t realistic (trust me — I’ve tried). But determining which parts of your regular routine actually matter to you (for me, it’s working out in the morning) and at the very least sticking to them is a huge help when it comes to staying sane.
2. Stay Active
Finding the time to exercise is hard enough in regular life, and when you’re traveling it’s even harder — Who wants to spend 45 minutes on an eliptical when there’s an entire world to explore? If exercise isn’t an important part of your routine, at the very least find a way to get yourself moving a little bit every day. Go for a walk, a swim or a hike — just do something to kick up your endorphins. After all, endorphins make people happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands burn out.
3. Eat Something Healthy
Food is a huge part of experiencing a local culture while traveling, but there needs to be a balance between trying new things and giving your body what it needs. I’ve been eating noodles and rice pretty much non-stop since I got to Asia, but have lost almost 10 pounds because I’m simply not getting enough nutrients (apparently, fried noodles are not that god for you). In places where you can’t drink the water, which happens to be the case everywhere in Southeast Asia, finding fresh, edible vegetables is not as easy as walking into Whole Foods and pillaging the salad bar… In fact, I can honestly say that I haven’t eaten a salad since I left NYC, and am seriously struggling because of it.
My advice? Try finding some veggie-heavy local dishes that you actually like (pea shoots sauteed with garlic, #FTW), and if all else fails introduce a daily multi-vitamin into your diet so at least you know for sure you’re at least getting the bare-minimum of what your body needs.
4. … Or Eat Something From Home
As much as I love Pad Thai, Fried Rice and Pho, I’m already really sick of Asian food (which is not ideal considering I’m living here for another three months, but whatever). As much as eating local food is a part of the travel experience, there’s no shame in going out for a pizza every once in a while — In fact, I eat Western food at least a few times a week. And FYI? Domino’s delivers pretty much everywhere on the planet.
5. Drink More Water
Just like with fruits and vegetables, getting enough water in places where you can’t actually drink the water presents a set of challenges in itself. Bottled water is super cheap and easy to come by, but I find myself simply forgetting to drink any all day long. Dehydration + Tropical weather = a recipe for disaster. Water is REALLY important — it transports nutrients and oxygen into cells, keeps you from getting sick, helps with your metabolism, makes your skin look healthier… We all know the rest. There are certain apps, like Daily Water, that can help you track how much water you’re drinking to make sure you’re getting enough every day.
6. Stay In Touch With Your People
No matter how incredible a trip may be (and trust me, the one I’m on is pretty fucking incredible), homesickness is inevitable. Feeling disconnected from your regular life sucks, especially when your waking hours with the people back home only overlap early in the morning or late at night. It may sound like overkill, but take the time to schedule FaceTime calls with your friends and family to give you something to look forward to — one of the girls in my group has all of her friends sign up for call times on Calendly to help deal with the time difference. Or become digital pen-pals, and write at least one ACTUAL (long, thought out, detailed) e-mail a week to update them on your life and ask that they send a similar update in return. Also, remember to call your mom.
7. Take Time Off Of Drinking
Drinking is fun. And drinking in a foreign country (ideally on a beach or by an infinity pool) is fucking awesome. But as much as we all hate to admit it, alcohol is a toxin and weakens your immune system, which makes it much more difficult to fight infections. I know I sound like a fifth grade DARE ad, but try to take a few nights off each week from drinking… Your body will seriously thank you.
8. Treat Yo’ Self
Get a massage, a pedicure, a facial — Just do something to make yourself feel pretty. It will help you relax and feel good about yourself, and beauty treatments are really (really, really) cheap overseas.
9. Carve Out Alone Time (And Actually Stick To It)
No matter where you are in the world, you’ve gotta do you. Find something (literally, anything) that makes you happy, and give yourself time away from the craziness of traveling to shut off and do it. Go for a walk. Write in a journal. Watch Netflix. Do something creative. Meditate. Even if you have to put a block in your calendar (which apparently really does work), give yourself space to be with yourself.
10. Get The F Off Of Social Media
When it comes to self care, social media is basically the devil’s plaything. There have been all kinds of studies done on how bad it makes us all feel about ourselves (especially those of us who follow @AlexisRen) and scrolling through Instagram and seeing all of the cool stuff other people are doing inevitably makes you feel like you need to be doing cool stuff, too. Do yourself a favor and unnnnnnnnplug… At least until you have your own amazing photos to share.
I cannot, cannot, cannot stress how important it is to get a full night’s sleep… At least a few nights a week. Your body won’t be able to handle anything your travels throw at it if it isn’t well rested. Sleep is linked to brain function, emotional well-being and all around physical wellness, all of which are generally prettttty important. Plus, if you’re tired, you won’t be able to enjoy literally any activities associated with your travels, no matter how amazing the coffee is where you are.
12. Know When It’s Time To Take A Break
Issue a big “Fuck You” to FOMO and introduce yourself to JOMO: Joy of Missing Out. You’ll learn to love it, I promise.