“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” – Paul Theroux
So, you want to travel. You want to hop on planes, go to other countries and fill your cup with other languages, cultures, and people. Maybe you already do live this lifestyle, but you’re wondering why sometimes you are left in a funk after a trip abroad. What most people don’t realize when they are at the early stages of travel-infatuation is how incredibly draining life on the move can actually be.
Dealing with different currencies and social-norms, your mind and body are at a rapid rate of consumption of information and sights. It’s easy to lose your balance and stay connected to yourself, and your ever changing identity.
Face it, travel changes you. It shakes and wakes you. It has a tendency to bring up emotions that would otherwise be submerged. Just take a look at the “Culture Shock Wave,” consisting of phases such as honeymoon, culture shock, recovery, adjustment, and finally, integration.
Granted, this does not look fun at all, but after living in a constant state of travel and culture shock, I can tell you these emotions are totally real. The ups, the downs, the waves of emotion and change. It’s important to feel all of the emotions, but not let them paralyze you.
One of the reasons for the ups and downs is because when you travel, you abandon your normal life: routine, relationships, and everything that builds us up and makes us a complete person.
The German psychologist Hilarion Petzold called it the Five Pillars of Identity consisting of: Body & Mind, Relationships, Work & Free Time, Material Securities, and Values.
Here are some useful tips how you can keep your balance while on the move, based on the 5 pillars of identity and culture shock wave chart.
- Body / Take care of your physical self. Mantra: Treat Yourself
You don’t need to find a 5-star-spa to be pampered. Pamper yourself! Take a bath. Go to a local ethnic shop and buy some Himalayan salt to put in there. Buy some coconut oil and give yourself a massage, give yourself a hair mask. Show your outer shell some love, be grateful for your body that gets you from point A to point B on this beautiful journey. Jetlag can really take a toll on our physical shell, it’s important to bring our external back to balance with our internal.
- Mind / Take care of your inner self. Mantra: I Love Myself.
When you’re traveling, you’re constantly being exposed to new information, ideas and ways of life. This can be overwhelming, exciting, and sometimes intimidating for your psyche to handle. Traveling has a way of bringing submerged emotions to the surface. This is why reflection and writing are so important. Think of it as a mental detox. You can journal with a timer set for 10 minutes and write literally whatever you are thinking. I have used this timing technique, and when I’m done, I sometimes throw the paper away, but my mind feels clearer. Mental-detox! ‘Nuff said.
- Explore / Feed your soul. Mantra: I am open.
So you’re ready to go! Your internal and external are balanced. Now what? Feed your soul, feed your brain. Maybe you want to spend your whole day in museums, learning a language, checking out the local food or nightlife. Whatever it is, it might just come find you. It might fall in your lap. Or, you might hear it calling and go after it. Feed your soul and brain so that whatever you are aspiring to in life, you can then pour your inspiration in there. Find the inspiration, and become enamored in it. Be in the present moment. This will help you be more open minded to life.
- Values / Connect with Your Roots. Mantra: I am connected.
Depending how long you’re on the road, you might want some home comforts. When I was spending some time in London, I desperately craved Cuban food, but I could not find it anywhere! I was forced to learn how to make it myself. It brought me closer to my roots, which is strange, considering I was very far from home. Sometimes we need that grounding. It amazes me how we go so far, only to confront ourselves. I never thought I would go to England and become closer to my roots, but I did.
- Relationships / Connect with others. Mantra: I am loved.
You’ll be amazed how many people you meet from different countries. Life is all about creating fulfilling relationships. There is so much connection in the world today, sometimes too much. It’s best, while traveling, so find a balance between solitude, as well as socializing and getting out of your comfort zone.
There you have it. These 5 pillars are crucial for a balanced life, and learning to keep each one strong is a great way to find balance. You never know, maybe you need to break the pillars down and rebuild them from scratch, which is essentially what the travel life is about: creating yourself. Love yourself, nurture yourself, detox, retox, and remember, no matter how far you go, you just end up running into yourself.