OPINION | As I age, I become more aware of the passage of time and the fact that I have lived more of my life than I have ahead of me. This awareness has brought a certain urgency to my desire to see the world while I can.
Travel has built my confidence and exposed me to so many peak experiences. I think of travel as an effective means of self-care. It gets me out of my comfort zone, especially in midlife. And I typically try as many new things as possible, in a quest to learn more about the local culture. If I do not take care of myself, I cannot be a good parent, friend, partner or colleague.
I turn 60 this year and have a goal of seeing 65 countries before the end of my 65th year. I can do it. I relish the planning of new adventures and am practicing self-care to increase my longevity and vitality.
For me, self-care is multifaceted. There are many components, the most important I have found are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social self-care.
For physical self-care, travel contributes because I like to see new venues primarily on foot. I can take in the local scene with all my senses. I can scout out things I want to eat and see. I can discover the beauty around many corners. I meet more people when I walk than if I am taking another means of transport. Walking also provides good exercise. Also, as a single woman travelling alone, I tend not to go out at night, but instead spend the day out and about and the evenings resting and re-energizing for the next day.
My mental self-care while travelling consists of the stimulation I glean from new experiences and learning opportunities. If I keep building new neural connections in my brain, I can help to stave off mental decline. I seek out intellectually enriching events when I travel. I try to learn as much about the local culture as possible. I read about the places I visit. I listen to the people who live there and I try to learn what makes places unique.
Emotionally, I spend time being aware of my feelings and inner life. I journal. I stay in touch with trusted friends and do not hide or deny my feelings. Sometimes, I check in with my therapist, if necessary. I am grateful she will do sessions remotely. I honour my emotions and ride the difficult waves. I do not stuff my feelings away like I used to do in my youth.
Being outside when I travel contributes to my spiritual well-being. Connecting with nature uplifts me and makes me more aware that I am part of something much bigger. I do walking meditations to centre myself. If I am in a place in which I see temples or churches, I may step in for meditation. My meditations can be as simple as a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Focusing on my breathing centres me and increases my serenity. I find that if I am concentrating on my breathing, I cannot simultaneously be fretting about the past or worrying about the future.
Social self-care includes surrounding myself with people who are positive and encouraging. Those travellers meet on the road generally share my wanderlust or, at least, the desire to learn about the place we are visiting. I avoid negative people or energy vampires.
I find it important to connect socially while on the road or at home. Those with at least a few strong social connections tend to live longer, healthier, happier lives. Technology allows us to stay in better touch with people when we travel, but I form connections on the road, as well. Sometimes I will join a group tour and meet people I choose to continue socializing with beyond the trip or outing.
There is no telling for any of us when life’s circumstances will prevent us from travelling or doing all the things we want to do. Our lives are happening right now. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. So, I encourage all of you to hit the road, even if it means simply walking to another neighbourhood. Let the walking and stimulation become part of your self-care regimen. There is so much to see in this beautiful world. And being an engaged part of it is an important facet of caring for yourself.