Travel is the ultimate double-edged sword. On one side, you get adventure, discovery, and freedom from the daily grind. On the other, there’s physical discomfort and mental fatigue, separation from family and friends, and the chaos of losing your familiar routine.
Whether you like or loathe travel depends a great deal on negotiating that stressful edge. Here are some tips to take care of yourself when you’re on the road and away from home:
Focus on what you can control.
Certain elements of travel are beyond your influence — delayed flights, lost luggage, bad weather. As we say at meQ, it’s not the stressor that’s to blame for your stress levels (i.e., a delayed flight); it’s your response to that stressor that makes things either mildly irritating or hugely upsetting.
Recognize your triggers. Before you leave for your trip, recognize the kinds of things that could happen—especially the things that tend to push you over the edge. The Stress Management Center at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests identifying stress triggers before your trip and finding one solution to address each. For example, if unexpected delays get your blood boiling, bring a consuming distraction that will calm your thoughts and emotions, such as crossword puzzles, a movie on your laptop or smartphone, or a knitting project. If navigating a new city freaks you out, look into hiring a car and driver.
Cover your bases. The day of your trip, it goes without saying that getting a good night’s sleep and a healthy, balanced meal in before you take off makes a difference. A delayed traveler isn’t as stressed as a hungry delayed traveler. Bring along some healthy snacks (grapes, trail mix, chopped veggies) and drink plenty of water—particularly if you’re traveling by plane, which can be extremely dehydrating.
Practice a relaxation technique.
Most travel involves sitting for hours among strangers, which in and of itself is guaranteed to deplete physical and mental energy. Finding small ways to rejuvenate the body and mind is crucial while you’re in transit and make sure you’re at your best upon arrival.
Stretch. A relaxation technique can be as simple as standing and touching your toes. If you have a bit of room, do a Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend, a yoga pose that helps calm the brain and relieve mild backache (see what this looks like at yogajournal.com). When you’re seated, do some gentle twists to massage your internal organs and release spine tension (careful not to wrench your back).
Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This simple exercise uses a pattern of tensing and relaxing muscle groups to achieve full-body calm, and can be done anywhere in just a minute or two. Find the Mayo Clinic’s guide to PMR here.
Bring home with you.
On business trips especially, hotel rooms can feel like neutral-toned wastelands you’ve been exiled to.
Personalize your space. Counter the loneliness and burnout on longer jaunts with these tips from Lain Chroust Ehmann at Beth Israel’s Stress Management Center: Pack a framed photograph or two of family and friends to put bedside; bring your favorite bathrobe or mug; splurge on fresh flowers to make your space more welcoming.
Be accountable for bedtime. You use the hotel’s wake-up call to start your day, but why not use them to help you end it? “Ask the hotel for a shut-down call,” writes Carol Margolis at smartwomentravel.com. “They’ll think you’re crazy, but ask them to call you at the time you want to stop working, say 8 p.m.” And then, heed the call and put your laptop away.
Keep your body moving.
Chroust Ehmann recommends carving out two hours a day for recreational activity while you’re away, particularly exercise. And that can be cumulative.
Head out. Check out MapMyRun, a website and app with a database of 25 million running and walking routes in cities around the world.
Stay in. If you’re room-bound, check out the trove of hotel workouts on YouTube, like this simple, aerobic routine from Fitness Together. A jumprope stows easily in your suitcase—and even just five minutes of that will get your heart pounding. Do a few some simple, easy stretches to relieve physical tension in the morning and at night.
Choose your food wisely.
Convenience food on the road is hardly the kind of stuff that sustains energy and makes you feel good. As Eating Well points out, you can still find decent, lower calorie options when you’re out (i.e., order the kid-size hamburger).
A room with a fridge. Also, consider shelling out a few more dollars for a hotel room with a microwave and refrigerator. Opt for healthy meals (think lean proteins and veggies) when you’re out, and bring home the leftovers, which you can nuke up in a pinch.
Pack some snacks. Bring your own some nuts and dried fruit, an apple or two and some nut butter, or any other whole-food-based snacks to keep in your room. Anything fresh you can munch on will be better than another night of pizza and pub fries.
Becky Karush is a writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. Visit her at beckykarush.com.