I’m kind of a wimp.
I’m not saying this because I’m looking for someone to tell me it’s not true or for sympathy. I’m just stating a fact. I’m not physically strong. I get tired easily. I’m what you might call “sensitive.” If I eat the wrong thing it can really throw my body off, and I get a lot of stomach aches and heartburn. Headaches or migraines are a somewhat regular occurrence. I’m not one of those people who can function on just a little sleep; if I don’t get 8+ hours then I have a hard time functioning. I have a tendency to hurt myself in weird ways by accident, or wake up with injuries that I don’t even know how I got.
Which is to say: I’m kind of a wimp.
And yet, even though I know this, every time I travel I suddenly seem to think I will become a different person. That I can just go go go all day without rest, eat whatever I want, not get enough sleep, and still be Just Fine. I over-plan my days and then burn out too quickly.
This problem became very apparent when my boyfriend and I took a trip together to New York City. Before we went to New York, we had spent a few days visiting my family in Massachusetts, and had spent a day in Boston. So I was already getting kind of worn out with traveling when we showed up.
Despite this, I was determined to push on and see as much as possible during our first full day there.
I guess I thought that I would somehow find a source of Magical Travel Energy or something. I don’t know. But instead of being mindful of how I was already feeling and how I was bound to feel traveling around a crowded, busy city like New York, I just pushed all that to the side.
And ended up absolutely exhausted.
By the end of our first day, I was tired, sore, and felt sick. I had done too much. I’m an introverted person who gets tired after being around too many people for too long, and who doesn’t go out much in her day-to-day life. And I had done more in one day than I did in most months back home.
Somehow, I was still surprised at how bad I felt.
On our second (and last) full day in New York, we were forced to take things easier than we had planned because I was still wiped out. We took a short trip to the Westfield World Trade Center, and then spent most of the rest of our day eating pizza in our hostel room. And even that was almost too much for me
This experience has caused me to reevaluate how much I push myself when I travel. (It also made me realize I need to, like, leave my house once in a while and maybe start going to the gym. BUT THAT’S ANOTHER POST.)
In light of this, I’ve come up with a few ways to help myself, and anyone else who might need it, to figure out how to know their limits while traveling, as well as what can be done to feel better while traveling overall. Hopefully on my next trip I can take better care of myself so I can enjoy my trip without burning out.
Be realistic about how much energy you have.
Whatever amount of energy you have in your “regular” life is the same amount of energy you will have while you are traveling. I know this logically. And yet I keep trying to trick myself into thinking my mind and body can handle more when I’m traveling than they usually do.
But you won’t have more energy just because you are on a vacation. In fact, you might have less, since the act of leaving home and transitioning to a new place in and of itself can be stressful and tiring. Think realistically about how much you can handle, both mentally and physically, and plan accordingly.
Plan on things taking longer than you expect and don’t over-plan activities.
I have been known to over-plan my trips in the past. When I went to Spain last year, there were a lot of things I didn’t get to see that I had wanted to, because I didn’t realize how long everything was going to take.
Just because Google Maps says it’s only a five-minute walk between point A and point B doesn’t mean it actually is only a five-minute walk. Waiting in lines, waiting for transportation, taking breaks to eat and go to the bathroom: all of these things add up and cause everything to take longer than you might think.
Be realistic about how much you can see in a day. Accept the fact that you won’t get to do every single thing. Prioritize and choose one or two activities for each day, and then add more only if you really feel up to it.
Remember to eat well and drink water.
I’m really bad at this when I’m traveling and I need to do better, especially since I’m kind of sensitive when it comes to food. (Let’s just say this girl never leaves home without her Tums.) I have a tendency to “treat myself” and then regret it later.
If you know a certain food is going to make you feel not-great, don’t eat it while you’re traveling! Make sure you eat at regular intervals to keep your energy up, and that you are eating enough protein. And vegetables. Don’t skip vegetables just because you’re traveling. Travel constipation is NOT FUN, Y’ALL.
It’s also important to drink enough water. Bring a water bottle with you so you aren’t tempted to skip out on drinking water while you sightsee.
Traveling can be exhausting and stressful, but it can also be a lot of fun. With a little careful planning and mindfulness over how you treat your body, you can (hopefully) keep yourself feeling well and be able to fully enjoy your trip.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also writes articles on travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says.