Being given the opportunity to travel as much as you’d like but not being able to relax is kind of like being given a delicious steak dinner but having your jaw wired shut. Sure, you can eat it if someone blends it into a smoothie for you, but it’s just not the same.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, although sometimes it feels that way. I still remember going on a beach trip with a boyfriend in college. As soon as we got to the beach I pulled out an array of activities — a frisbee, a football, a deck of cards.
“So what do you want to do?” I asked, probably a little to energetically.
“I’m just going to lay out,” he responded.
“You’re just going to…lay in the sand? The whole time we’re here?”
He nodded. “Exactly.”
I couldn’t comprehend it. But we had slept all night. I didn’t need to “lay out.” I was rested. The sun was shining. I needed to move around. I tried laying still, tossing and turning like someone having nightmares, until ultimately HE asked me to please go swimming (aka to get away from his towel so he could relax).
It’s just not something I’m great at, although I guess that depends on your definition. While I’m an expert at settling into a place, being adaptable and becoming at ease with my surroundings, the idea of doing nothing as well as not being stressed about work (i.e. what to put on the blog) is difficult for me.
On a recent trip to Colombia I was excited yet frightened to visit Tayrona National Park. For some reason, when my friend first mentioned going camping in the national park I just assumed it would be a ton of hiking trails and lots of early days climbing and trekking. About two days before the trip, however, something she said made my hairs stand on end.
“I can’t wait to do nothing for three days.”
“Why would we do nothing? We’ll be hiking, right? RIGHT? RIGHT??” My voice got louder as I started to panic.
“Well, we’ll be hiking in. But then we’ll be laying in hammocks on the beach for three days.”
To almost anyone else, this may sound like a dream. Soft white sand. Palm trees. Swaying hammocks. No Wifi. Complete serenity. But to me, it sounded like a nightmare.
Funny enough, Tayrona ended up being the trip that inspired me to want to learn to relax, as once there I found plenty of ways to keep myself occupied — hiking to pueblo ruins and distant beaches, snorkeling, playing manhunt with other travelers, journaling. Not to mention there was something about falling asleep and waking up to waves lazily slapping against sugar sand shoreline that glued my body to my hammock. While it was less comfortable than my bed for sure, it just felt…right.
Overall though for me, moments like this are rare. That being said, Tayrona was the highlight of my Colombia trip, and I think I know why. The slowed heart rate, the genuine smile, and ability to simply enjoy where I was without needing to be entertained — well, to some extent — was an awakening experience for me. While for some relaxing comes easy, for me it’s something I need to work at, and I am.
Here is what I’ve discovered so far about the art of relaxation for the world’s biggest stress head, but I’d love for you to share your own tips in the comments below.
Tip: Don’t forget a good read! Check Nomadic Note’s picks for top 200 travel books for suggestions!
1. Surround Yourself With Awesome Friends
While I’m a huge advocate of solo travel, there are times when traveling with friends has its perks. For me at, traveling with my close pals helps me relax in the way they would relax — especially if they’re not also a blogger. While I like to think we travel bloggers are pretty awesome (we are, I swear!), the truth is we’re often up early editing photos and video, constantly taking notes, checking our phones to answer post comments and social media conversations, and turning the trip into work — because that’s what travel is for us. Part fun, part work. While it’s great, it also makes it hard to relax.
When traveling with non-blogger friends, however, they truly savor every chance to enjoy their limited vacation time to the max. To forget about work and home stress and just relax to the fullest. Even if you’re someone like me who has trouble doing this, it’s hard not to have even a bit of that mentality rub off on you. I still remember traveling with my New York friends to Cartagena. After the day’s activities, I was getting ready to transcribe my notes, when they simultaneously agreed we were all skipping showers and immediately heading to happy hour.
“But I was going to work on my notes from the day,” I said, immediately wishing I could take my words back as I saw their mixed looks of disgust and confusion.
How often would I get to enjoy a trip abroad with my best friends? In this case, peer pressure was a good thing as they forced me to put down the laptop and pick up the beer mug…and relax.
I’ve written before about how at times technology is ruining travel, as it sometimes distracts us from being totally present in the place where we are. I’ll admit this can be a problem for me, as well, especially as a blogger who’s livelihood is based on the internet. So for those times when you feel you won’t be able to resist being plugged into your devices, choose a place where you won’t have a choice. Choose a hotel without Wifi.
This allows you to relax in a few ways. For one, not being tempted to check email and social media means less stress with work and problems going on at home; because, well, you won’t even know they’re going on until you get back to being connected. This isn’t irresponsible. Remember, everyone needs some time off to re-charge.
Without distractions you’ll also have time to really understand the destination and strengthen your relationship with yourself. Take time to do the things you love — hiking, biking, meditating, snorkeling — and then unwind with a glass of wine (if that’s what you like to do). For me, one problem I have is that if I’m not actively exploring, I feel like I should be working. Taking away that ability makes it much easier to relax with a hot bath or watching the sunset from a beach.
3. Get Health & Wellness Minded
I always envy uber health conscious people, the kind who always seem to be eating organic fruit, looking lean and wearing yoga pants. I have plenty of friends like that, who meditate daily, do yoga regularly, eat natural foods and work to live a life of balance. While we all know these things are good for us, it’s harder to truly comprehend, believe and listen; however, doing so can be life-changing.
While I’ll never stop loving Doritos or be into yoga — I’ve tried it numerous times and it’s just not for me — I do enjoy meditation, spa treatments, nature hikes and cycling. I love being active in beautiful places. One place that put me into a wellness mindset where I had the rare experience of relaxation was Vilcabamba, Ecuador, a truly budget-friendly wellness retreat. I literally felt a calm wash over me as soon as I entered the city, mountains holding natural spring water — attributed as the reason for the local population’s long life span — and lush green with colorful flowers. I stayed at the serene Izhcayluma Hostel and Hotel, which has a beautiful spa with views of the outdoors, a pool, hammocks for lazing with a book and enjoying the scenery and access to scenic hiking trails.
While there was Wifi and I did do some work once in awhile in the early mornings and evenings, the holistic vibe of the destination was contagious, and I soon found myself wanting to seek the same peace of mind that everyone else seemed to feel. I do not regret for a moment neglecting my Mac.
4. Starting The Day With A Workout
Even if I’m not total immersing myself the holistic world, starting my day with a workout — whether home or away — always puts me in a more relaxed mindset for the rest of the day. It also releases endorphins, which makes you feel all around in a good mood. It’s like setting my day up for success, even if it’s just my go-to hotel workout (three sets of 50 jumping jacks, 50 situps and 15 pushups).
Confession: For some reason, I still neglect to do it as often as I should. But, writing this posts makes me realize I should do it more.
I’m setting my alarm for 8am as we speak. Healthy habits at home transfer to healthy habits on the road.
5. Timing It
I know, I know. Counter-intuitive, right? For me, scheduling relaxation time into my day can actually help me relax, because I know that at a certain time I will get the activity/work that is plaguing me done. But when you tell yourself that during a certain time you’ll be chilling out and you should make the most of it, you force yourself to try your hardest to decompress.
If I still can’t relax, I try to focus on something relaxing. Sometimes I might even make up a music video in my head to a song I like (this is what I do to make my runs go by quicker) or try to replay a time in my mind that was enjoyable, like an afternoon biking with friends or a funny comedy show. Whatever you choose to think about, just make sure it’s pleasant and doesn’t induce stress.
6. Go To Places Where Relaxation Is Part Of The Culture
For me — and I’m assuming for many of you — experiencing local culture is an important part of any travel experience. If relaxation is part of the culture, for example, in French Polynesia (beyond Tahiti) and Tobago, it may happen naturally for you. Or, you may seek it out harder to have a more authentic experience.
If I’m still having difficulty relaxing, I’ll often try to hangout with locals — I used CouchSurfing forums typically to meet them — and do as they do. If they’re in a relaxed mindset, it tends to help me calm down, as well.
7. ASMR All The Way
Some of you may have seen my ASMR Travel series. If you haven’t ASMR — or Autonomous sensory meridian response — is all about certain sounds, movements and actions causing a tingly sensation in your head and other places (I also feel it in my arms). Some commons triggers for the tingles include whispering, personal attention, crinkling, tapping, scratching, splashing and hair/face brushing. I’ve had issues with anxiety and sleeping my entire life, and watching ASMR videos is the only thing that helps me. Often, both home and on the road, I actually go to bed with headphones on listening to my favorite ASMRists, and my stress literally melts away, putting me into a deep state of relaxation. Some recommended ASMR channels:
- Jessie on a Journey Travel ASMR (my travel-themed ASMR channel)
- Springbok ASMR
- Fairy Char ASMR
- Olivia’s Kissper ASMR