Ah, travel. It thrills us, educates us, and shapes our view of ourselves and the world we live in. Sometimes, though, the thought of leaving our familiar beds and trotting halfway across the world (or the even the state) feels more stressful than sublime. It doesn’t have to! Going to new and unfamiliar places can feel a little daunting at times, but the joy of experiencing new cities, cultures, and ecosystems far outweighs the risks. Still, venturing far from home requires a lot of variables, and the more prepared you are for every eventuality, the more you’ll be able to relax and immerse yourself in the experience of a new place and way of life. Below are a few of my favorite tips and tricks for keeping calm, focused, and in-control from takeoff all the way through your safe and happy return!
- Brush up on the local language well before you hit the road. When going to a new country, English-speaking Americans often assume that there will always be someone around who knows English. While this may be true at times, it’s always good to learn at least a few basic phrases in the language of your destination. Just knowing how to say “Where are the bathrooms?” “Help!” and “Does anyone speak English?” can make your adventure feel less stressful– planning in advance means that, in the unlikely event of an emergency (bathroom-related or otherwise!), you’ll be able to get your most urgent needs met, or be pointed to someone who can help. Also, knowing even a few words in the language of the place you’re travelling to allows you to participate in the local culture, read interesting and useful signs, order food, and make new friends. There are so many ways to go about this: Language in Motion lessons are a great option, and there are also lots of translation apps and phrasebooks in the travel section of your local library, so there’s no excuse not to try! Bon Voyage!
- Pack familiar entertainments for long hours of travel time, and be sure to include some that don’t require wifi. These days, we tend to assume that our smartphones and laptops will work just about everywhere, but this isn’t necessarily the case. You can diversify your travel entertainment without adding a lot of bulk or weight to your baggage– a pack of cards goes a long way, as does a little book of crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or riddles. Small magnetic board games are great for a shared journey, and even the simplest of tools, a pencil and a pad of paper or post-it notes, can turn seven boring hours stuck at the airport into a launchpad for creativity. Books are great, as well! Just be sure to buy the paperback edition unless you crave the added workout of lugging hardcovers around. These diversions aren’t just frivolous fun: while they’re a great way to pass the time, having familiar activities to turn to when faced with a stressful or unfamiliar experience is a great way to ground yourself if your new surroundings start to feel overwhelming, or when something doesn’t go as planned.
- Meditate. Seriously! Even if you’ve never done it in your life, a long trip can be a great time to start. Meditation helps with everything from anxiety and fatigue to immune system support, and can be a great and nourishing way to spend long hours in the air (especially if there’s a crying baby in your row). There are tons of online articles, resources, and books on meditation out there, ranging from religious to spiritual to completely secular (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, anyone?), and YouTube is a veritable gold mine of free guided meditations ranging from a minute or two to over an hour in length. Beyond its wonderful mind-body healing powers, meditation also helps you make the most of your travel experience by allowing you to stay rooted in the present moment. Mindfulness, the mentality cultivated by meditation, has the potential to free your mind from worries you can’t control anyway– is the thermostat turned off at home? Did I remind Sally to feed the dog three scoops of dry food instead of two?– and lets you take in your surroundings more fully and memorably. You’re standing in front of the Great Pyramid– I’m guessing that work email can wait.
- Put down your phone, and work on making memories that will last in three dimensions. We are all obsessed with documenting the moment these days, from camera snapshots to SnapChat and Instagram posts and even live-feed videos. While preserving a few special frames for posterity can be a great way to conjure up long-forgotten memories in the future, resist the urge to pull out your phone/camera at every opportunity. How often do you really look through your entire camera roll anyway, and what might you be losing by stepping out of the experience, even momentarily, to create an image to put away for later? When we assume the role of photographer, even just for a second, we put an intellectual distance between ourselves and the situation. This can be a protective mechanism, but it keeps us from really being wherever we are. And who endures the hours of time and inconvenience it takes to travel just to be sort-of in a new place? Let go, take a deep breath, and dive into this new and unique experience. Your SnapStory can wait. When in Rome… put down that phone.
- Keep a journal, the old fashioned way. Studies show that the act of writing creates new neural pathways, so memories, thoughts, and ideas get locked in more securely when you write them down. Taking notes isn’t just for school, though– it can be a useful way to keep hold of moments you actually want to remember! Keeping a travel journal is a great way to reflect on all the new and exciting adventures you’re having, but it also works to get some objective distance from worries from pre-flight jitters to difficult moments abroad to small regrets at the end of the day– what was amazing, and what would you do differently next time? Take a few minutes in the mornings and evenings to pen a few sentences about your hopes, expectations, fears, facts you learned in a museum, what you did– anything that feels meaningful or useful, really. You’ll feel better, learn about yourself, internalize more of the experience, and create a keepsake to look back on in the years to come.
What are your favorite tips and tricks for travel? Do you have a favorite in-flight game, or a favorite book-on-tape for long roadtrips? A morning mindfulness routine, a tried-and-true relaxation soundtrack, or a friend you always call upon arrival? Let us know in the comments!