We travelers ask a lot of ourselves, catching planes and arriving bleary-eyed many time zones away to live briefly among people who have different language, dress, currency, and conduct. We leave behind the cold, shed our socks for flip flops, grab our belongings, and head out to make a go of it in unfamiliar and exotic territory expecting to “hit the ground running.” Centuries ago, humans rarely left the relative comforts of home territory and when they did, the time and effort required eased the adjustment on their bodies and psyches. They would spend weeks or months in thoughtful preparation before a long migration or hunting trip; changes in sleep patterns and food were expected and our ancestors braced themselves for hardships.
Landscapes shifted slowly allowing travelers the time for gradual adjustment. Our increasingly accessible world allows us to trek from our culture to another in a day, turning up in a foreign place but held by biological wiring that grounds us to the familiar and habitual of home. Unaware of just how encumbered we are by our biological clocks and 21st century adaptations; we expect to function and feel great. No doubt we are a highly adaptable species, but in reality adaptation is a process not an event, and we should treat it as such.
Stepping onto unknown terrain ensures our inability to control, predict, and dictate outcomes. That is precisely why so many of us enjoy travel and exploration of the unfamiliar. We are for a time out of balance and stimulated by unique and challenging encounters. Those of us who seek the adrenalin rush continue to look for places that produce this energy charge. The more remote and unique destinations deliver the highest doses of the speedy chemical. They also present the greatest challenge to our bodies and emotions, and adrenalin junkies are often prone to ignoring their bodies’ signals of physical and emotional distress until the symptoms are obvious and even incapacitating.
Travelers who like to play it safe by limiting travel to more familiar places may not need a repertoire of coping skills, as they rarely put themselves in those places where a sense of control, order, and predictability is lost.
But for those of us keen on amplifying the excitement, here are some suggestions to help adrenalin junkies slow down and allow body, mind, and emotions to catch up with the excitement:
- Start reading about destinations months before leaving home.Whether fiction or nonfiction or at the very least, a good travel guide, read, read, read to immerse yourself in the culture. The novel, A fine Balance, prepared me for both the poverty and splendor I would encounter in India.
- Acquaint yourself with the culture’s foods before you leave.Visit authentic restaurants and query natives working there about the food and customs. They will be thrilled at your interest in their country.
- Ask questions and get advice from travel web sites. Other travelers are eager to share what they have learned. Do some research about organizations and people working in the country. Email and ask if you can stop by, volunteer, or bring anything to help their cause. Unforeseen opportunities may open to you.
- Take weeks to pack by leaving your luggage accessible and continue to add/mostly subtract until you have just enough of what you’ll need. Ask other travelers what they wish they had taken with them to a particular destination.
- Sleep well several days before starting your journey. Take supplements to aid in digestion and immune system enhancement weeks before leaving. Despite the pleasure and thrills involved, travel is often stressful, and we all cope better when rested and healthy.
- Prepare for jet lag and follow proven recommendations to ease the effects. Pace yourself and have patience as your body adapts.
- Be aware when you arrive at your airport destination. Stimulus and sensations may overwhelm you and exhaustion and confusion will make you vulnerable to those who take advantage of weary travelers. Have a plan to change currency and know what it costs to take a taxi or public transportation.
- Slow way down upon arrival. This is the time to take it easy, read, relax and take in the new culture. Spend time in local restaurants talking to natives and other travelers. Take long walks with no destination to get the feel of your new surroundings. You will learn more by not moving too fast and your jet lagged body will thank you and eventually catch up with the action.
- Be patient and tolerant with your partner, friends, or small group members with whom you are traveling. Traveling is great but the inevitable hassles cause stress. Everyone handles it differently and nobody is at their best when tired or stressed.
- Have a loose itinerary and be prepared to discard it. Practice listening to yourself rather than following what a guide book tells you to explore. Check in with your body and your interests and follow your intuition. A day exploring the streets and markets with locals may be more rewarding than a museum tour.
- Get away alone some of the time as you will be more accessible to meet locals when not coupled or in a group. And time alone can recharge and ignite creative thinking.
- Seize opportunities to go deeper into a culture rather than skimming along the surface of your travel experiences. Take local transportation, strike up conversations, be curious and ask questions, shop and eat with locals when possible, and learn at least a bit of their language.
- Keep a journal of your travels with a focus not only on sites but also impressions, feelings, thoughts, and your own process of self discovery.
- When it’s time for your trip to end, remember that this too is a process. It’s not unusual for those of us who enjoy the novelty and stimulus of travel to “crash” when we return to the humdrum of life at home. Start to “wind down” by writing about home and expectations, taking a few days to say “goodbye” to the culture that by now you have come to love and appreciate.
- Reverse the process when arriving home by taking time to adjust, soak in the memories, savor the experiences, and bask in the delights of all your have learned.
- Once fully transitioned at home, write a list of dream destinations and start reading and researching. Savor the sweetness of the anticipation.