Travel well

Holly Hammond shares tips for healthy and lower-stress travel – and the value of staying on the ground for a while. 

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Some people love travel and get itchy feet if they’re grounded too long. Me, not so much.

I’m a homebody – I tend to be at my most satisfied and healthy when I’m home in a cosy stable environment. Life doesn’t always deliver that ideal though! I’ve moved states twice in the last decade, had frequent travel for work, and my partner was away from home for around 35 weeks over 2012 and 2013. This all knocked me off balance.

I started to dread travel, even when I knew there were exciting work opportunities, amazing people to connect with or beautiful places to visit. In the lead up to travel I felt tense and stressed and afterwards I would be exhausted and prone to sickness.

After a long and very restoring holiday at the end of 2013 I realised I needed to make some changes. I decided that after some scheduled work travel in February and March I would have six months without interstate travel. No flights or other long journeys for six months! The decision was a huge relief. It took the burden of case-by-case decision-making off my shoulders. Although there might be many good reasons not to travel, I just wouldn’t.

In those six months I re-established my exercise routine, made progress on house maintenance, built a garden, got to enjoy my friendships in a non-urgent way, and was able to focus on ongoing projects in my own town. I felt lighter without the sense of impending travel hanging over me.

As the six months came to a close I had work commitments that required five interstate trips before the end of the year. The familiar tension returned and I found myself feeling worried about how stressful the travel would be and whether I’d be able to keep up with my workload. I spent time thinking through how to set travel up to work for me, asked friends for advice, and had counselling and coaching sessions on it. I particularly appreciated my coach, Jessica Connor Kennedy, suggesting that I treat my next travel as an opportunity to practise some of the self-care techniques highlighted on Plan to Thrive.

I’ve now returned from the first trip away since my moratorium. Here are some of the things I set up to make this trip work for me:

  • Consolidated trips. I managed to line up three interstate workshops in one week, so I took four flights instead of six. This meant I only had to leave home once and decide what to pack once. It meant I stayed away from home a few extra days, but it was worth it to avoid the extra stress spread over a number of weeks.
  • Healthy fuel. I packed healthy tasty snacks so I wouldn’t be caught out and end up eating food that would make me feel gross (like those nasty preservative filled muffins they give out on the plane). Here’s some inspiring travel snacks – but I kept it simple with crackers, babybel cheese, almonds and medjool dates. In each place I tracked down the local supermarket for extra provisions – including breakfast cereal, milk, and fruit. Bananas were a particularly handy staple.
  • Buffer time. I find flights tiring, disorienting and dehydrating – if I book in work straight after I land I’m not at my best. Getting in the night before or otherwise allowing some time for recovery (including a shower!) made a big difference.
  • Getting settled. I settled in to the places I stayed, including unpacking if I was there for more than two nights. Digging around in suitcases is a pet hate and a reminder of being transitory.
  • Movement. I was fortunate to be able to book accommodation with swimming pools. This was an excellent way to wash away flights and work, to relax and move my body. On other trips I have tried to stay close to public pools or used a tai chi DVD with short routines for a similar purpose.
  • Mindfulness. Practising mindfulness is a new development for me so I used the Mindfulness Daily smartphone app. This includes simple guided sessions of just a few minutes each, that can fit into different situations. When I was early for a workshop I sat under a tree and did mindful breathing, and I especially appreciated the reflection at the end of the day to help stop thoughts going around my head before sleep.
  • Closeness. Friends emphasised the importance of staying in touch with loved ones while away – I took it a step further and took my partner with me! It turned out that the same trip was beneficial for her work. This won’t be a viable option every time I travel but it made a big difference this time.
  • Permission to rest. I tried to be easy on myself. If I was tired I gave myself chances to rest, even if it was only lying down for a timed 15 minute break. I didn’t socialise at every given opportunity, I let myself have quiet nights to balance the hectic times.

All of this helped the trip go much better.

The biggest adjustment was to my attitude. I noticed myself saying ‘I hate travel’, ‘I find travel really stressful’, ‘travel is hard on my body’, ‘travel makes me sick’ etc so I tried to shift that. The adjusted story is something like ‘I had a rough time with too much travel so I needed a break from it. Now when I travel I set things up to look after myself. Travel is getting easier and easier’.

I want to acknowledge that as a self-employed person I have a lot of autonomy about how I manage these things. I also have access to paid consultancy work which covers my travel and accommodation costs. Not everyone has these privileges – but I hope some of these ideas may still be helpful in your context.

My moratorium on travel has helped me push the ‘reset’ button and change my approach. Now the challenge is to figure out how much travel I am prepared to do and to keep factoring my own needs into those decisions.

What have you noticed about how travel impacts on your health and wellbeing? What have you figured out about looking after yourself?

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