5 Tips On Emotional Balance While Traveling
Caesar's Palace, mid-week in Las Vegas. I was sitting on a beautiful fountain inside Caesar's Palace mall. I was eighteen, in Las Vegas, and I had been traveling for about three weeks non-stop with a new place every night to rest my head. The extravagant hotels and casinos struck me as both beautiful and ugly.
"I don't understand how people can live this way. I mean, don't people care about anything other than booze and women and money? I hate it!"
I was being very much unlike myself. I was traveling with a partner at the time who always challenged me to see things differently, but for some reason his usually helpful gestures toward self improvement seemed grating. I had already reached a point where I stopped caring about my behavior. I hadn't slept well for weeks under constant stress. Everything was getting under my skin.
Finally, after watching a man drop a few hundred dollars on a game they would likely lose within seconds, I couldn't take it anymore. I burst into tears, frustrated and exhausted. It was far from my shining moment of that road trip, but it was a turning point in realizing just how overwhelmed I had become with the demands of travel.
Here are some exercises I've learned through trial and error on how to take care of myself on any nomadic journey. I try to make these practices universal no matter where I'm waking up. Since that time at Caesar's Palace I have thankfully avoided public meltdowns in large part to these self-care practices. Hopefully, a few tips can help you, too.
1. Create A Daily Practice
“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”
― Mason Currey, "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work"
On one of my adventures to the American heartland, I ended up staying a few months in the Fargo-Moorhead area with a woman who quickly became one of my most important spiritual teachers. Her name was Artist Nicole Rae and through her own disciplined rituals taught me The Art of Daily Practice. For her, it involved praying to a higher power, setting intentions, and creating art every morning starting at 5 AM.
For my daily practice, I meditate on breathing in whatever unease I am feeling and breathing out in compassion for the discomfort. This is a self-involved form of bodhichitta, a Buddhist practice of keeping one's heart open and tender to the world. I also repeat personal affirmations to shift thought patterns I have that aren't serving me. No matter where I travel my daily practice has always kept me grounded in my current state of being. My practice has taught me gentleness with myself after I've failed, responsibility for my thoughts and actions, and compassion to others who are struggling.
You can try many different kinds of daily practices to see what's right for you. Here are a few suggestions to try out:
- Reading spiritual text
- Sing or Chant A Song
- Paint or other art form
- Write Morning Pages
For my daily practice, I meditate on breathing in whatever unease I am feeling and breathing out compassion for the discomfort. This is a self-involved form of bodhichitta, a Buddhist practice of keeping one's heart open and tender to the world. I also repeat personal affirmations to shift thought patterns that aren't serving me. No matter where I travel, my daily practice has always kept me grounded in my current state of being. My practice has taught me gentleness with myself after I have failed, responsibility for my thoughts and actions, and compassion to others who are struggling.
2. Take Time in Stillness and Solitude
"What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain."
-Rainer Marie Rilke, "Letters to A Young Poet"
Sometimes I like to dance or sing when I'm alone. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I also always try to incorporate some stillness and quiet. It gives me space to truly take in wherever I have traveled to, recognizing the people and place for its true nature. I take great pleasure in this time and try to schedule it once a week.
When I was living in Brooklyn, I took every Sunday off to explore a different part of New York City. The rules of that one day were simple:
- I leave my laptop and phone at home. I bring nothing that can interrupt or distract me, not even a book.
- I only meet friends for breakfast or dinner. The rest of the day is to myself.
In the afternoon, I'd find myself in the Botanical Gardens or an uptown park quietly taking in my thoughts on surroundings. I would always bring a Pilot Pen and a small moleskin to jot down any notes that came to me, but mostly I would just be. Sometimes I would people watch and imagine someone's life. Other times I would practice meditation. The point was to access a state of slower, clearer consciousness. This served as a grounding force to the rest of my week where everything else seemed stressful and chaotic (at the time I was starting up Under 30 Changemakers and a nonprofit consulting business).
I learn so much more about myself in stillness than in times of action. The being tends to fuel the doing. There was a also more serendipity in my life because of the solitude, and I was more open to receiving it.
3. Try Slow Travel and Make Yourself At Home
"Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey."
I am here now.
Just as my first travel lesson came to me, All of this I will have to let go, there was this other very true but conflicting thought" I am here now. My time here may be limited and I may never see the friends I make here again, but why not make every moment matter? Non-attachment shouldn't mean not enjoying and caring for what I know I want to hold dear.
There has never been a stronger case for slow travel than there is with long-term nomads. I completely understand the pull to always move and change and live life to the fullest. But what we are looking for may not be found in our next location.
Constant travel can be exhausting both mentally, emotionally, and physically. Nomadic slow travel can mean you settle into a new location for a few weeks to a month to, hell, maybe even a year?
I always bring a few things to help me feel instantly at home: a small squishy pillow, a wood-carving of my name to hang, a rose candle to light. Is there anything that you need to have to help you feel at home?
After making sure I've gone through my checklist for feeling settled into a new place, I try to cook a nice meal for myself and invite new local friends and/or housemates to join in. I love hosting potlucks in new locations to feel a sense of belonging and kinship as everyone brings their own personal heritage to the table.
4. Keep A Journal
"Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind."
– Natalie Goldberg
I started keeping a regular journal in high school that was always about the same thing: what was going on in my life, how was I feeling, what was a thinking about. It was pretty straight-forward, but never consistent. It was simply an occasional emotional release and nothing ever felt recorded in a way that was worth looking back on. Then I learned how Artist Nicole Rae journaled and it changed everything for me.
She bulleted each list into whatever she needed. It was a fast and efficient way to convey everything going on in my head. I still sometimes use my journal for emotional processing, but now I have prompts I use to start a section, like "I am grateful for..." and "I release and let go of..." These prompts are written out each time almost like a chant for each line.
Here are a few prompts I usually bullet point in my journal to check in with myself:
• What are truths I've uncovered this week about myself, others, or the world?
• What are all my fears, anxieties, and troubles? This is also called taking Fear Inventory.
• What are all the things I am grateful for having, doing, seeing?
• Where am I meeting and not meeting my needs?
If you have a hard time starting a journal or sticking with it, I suggest you try The Five-Minute Journal. Many of my friends have raved about their boost in happiness after doing it for even a week. The main focus is on cultivating gratitude and
5. Find Purpose in What Keeps You Moving
“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon
A lot of people will tell you to travel for travel's sake, and I'm calling B.S.
If your reason for travel is to just keep going, you are much more likely to burn out. There is no ultimate "why" to what drives you to get out of bed in the morning. The cities you visit are going to become monotonous after awhile without some clear motivation to why you are there in the first place.
When I went on my road trip, the purpose was to explore mental health within tightly knit community spaces across America. I had a personal question that I wanted answered: Does community heal or harm depression and feelings of loneliness?
I would hold space for the people living in these communities to share how they were doing one-on-one and in groups. I ended up personally interviewing nearly 50 people from students at Boulder's alternative higher-ed program, Watson University, to entrepreneurs in Las Vegas's Downtown Project. My purpose drove me across the country and back again, and I never lost the passion for meeting new people and hearing their stories.
Purpose can be as simple as sampling all types of vegan food across the world or as complex as building an international company from the ground up. It's whatever you decide, whatever question you find calling to you.
Do you have practices that keep up your emotional hygiene while you travel? We'd love to know! Please share in the comments below.
Our sister community, Under 30 Changemakers, just launched an excerpt to their upcoming book Stories of Purpose: Second Edition. These are inspirational stories by young nomads and social entrepreneurs who answer the question: Why do you do what you do? These stories have been a huge source of motivation and drive in the past year, and I am delighted to finally be able to share it with you.
You can now download the first chapter, Adversity, starting today!