Slowing down and using a few simple tricks can help you stay stress-free while traveling. Image by Jill Robinson.
Staying calm while traveling is no easy task when flights get delayed, items are lost, or you’re dealing with language barriers. Luckily, you don’t have to down a bottle of wine to keep your sanity. Instead, use these easy tricks to stay sane in any travel situation.
1. Know your stress triggers while traveling.
After years of experience on road trips and overseas adventures, I am finally wise enough to know the quickest way to shift from a zen state to the worst version of myself: lack of sleep, drop in blood sugar levels (I get HANGRY!), and unexpectedly long flight delays. As much as I wish I could solve my frustrations with meditation, mindful breathing doesn’t always take the edge off, say, an intense craving for sausage pizza in an empty flight terminal.
By accepting that these experiences are sure-fire ways to morph me into a lunatic, I make sure to plan ahead. When traveling for long distances where I’m not (literally) in the driver’s seat, I always pack a few salty and sugary snacks. I will also go out of my way to allow for a day to acclimate to a new time zone.
As an introvert, I’m also very sensitive to my energy levels and what I need to recharge while traveling. The key is to know what situations can trigger agitation and anxiety for you personally and to plan accordingly before a trip even begins.
2. Stop waiting around.
Unfortunately, many situations are out of our control during our adventures, particularly when it comes to traveling by public transportation. A sense of helplessness can arise when chunks of time are spent waiting on flight departures. Even the safety net of traveling with friends can have its challenges when time is lost trying to agree upon decisions.
However, to maintain a sense of empowerment no matter what the situation, I have taken on a new perspective: I have stopped waiting around.
Instead of freaking out about time being wasted on late travel companions or transportation hiccups, I am working on embracing the mentality of making the most of my time. Since I’ve adopted this mind set, I can say with confidence that my blood pressure has significantly dropped when flying out of O’Hare on what will inevitably be a delayed flight.
So how does this work?
The key is to be able to use your “free time” as an opportunity rather than a burden. Most of us complain about not having enough time for this or that. But now, thanks to that flight delay, we have received the extra time we were so craving! Overly dramatic enthusiasm aside, whether it is always carrying a book or notebook, having a Google doc of saved articles you’ve been meaning to read or a few podcasts prepared, you can always take advantage of a delay by doing something you enjoy.
The activity doesn’t have to be something ‘productive’ either. Even if we intentionally decide to use a delay to sit still and people watch, we are empowering ourselves to choose how we use our time, and that alone can diffuse any stressful situation.
3. Find your center.
While we can prepare snacks, plan sleep schedules, and carry a journal with us for any unexpected delays, dealing with language barriers or unwanted social interactions can be some of the most stressful challenges we encounter while traveling. Fortunately, there are tools that don’t require extra packing or organization skills.
One of the most life-changing tools I use while traveling was learned through my work in Integral Transformative Practice. When frustrating social interactions occur, we can often get caught up in our thoughts, expectations, and assumptions and go into a reactive rather than a responsive mode. Think about any time we are trying to board a plane with limited overhead baggage space, or trying to communicate in a foreign language. The feeling of a collective anxiety can be palpable at times and cause tension in our chests and shoulders, igniting a frenzy of negative thoughts that usually add to the stress of a moment.
Rather than navigate these situations from our heads, where we can seem powerless and reactive, we have the ability to feel a bit more grounded in only a few seconds with a technique ITP has defined as “balancing and centering.” When we are able to notice symptoms that accompany moments of tension, we can be aware that we are out of balance. Once we know we are out of balance, we can actively decide to shift back to a more centered place.
Here’s how it works:
- Notice any feelings of stress without judgement — no need to intensify the situation with negative self-talk.
- Start to move your concentration from your thoughts and mind down to the point two inches below your navel. This is your center of mass, helping you balance both physically and mentally.
- If it helps, you can physically touch this point on your stomach to help shift your awareness to your body rather than your thoughts.
- Take a few breaths, breathing into your center to bring yourself into a more calm and responsive state of being.
When we move our attention to our bodies, we begin to remove ourselves from emotional and ego-based reactions to a more objective observer mentality. Instead of adding to what might be an already emotionally charged situation, we can feel a sense of calm and security within our own bodies in just a few seconds.
Traveling is an important aspect of our lives, and part of the draw is the unexpected adventures along the way. By using these simple tricks on your next trip, you can not only reduce your level of stress, you will be able to embrace any situation that comes your way.