Maintaining Balance on Vacation, A Two-Parter

Life doesn’t stop just because you’re on vacation. You might get to ignore the emails and messages, but your body is still your body and your health & wellness still deserve attention.

I returned recently from a 5-day vacation to Nebraska. I know, right? Who vacations in Nebraska? Well, when you have good friends getting married in Lincoln and your best friend lived in Omaha for years, you do.

That’s exactly what happened — close friends held a beautiful wedding ceremony and reception on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, so I spent two days hopping around that cute little town. Loves: cheap whiskey! Actually, cheap everything – it is so much cheaper to eat and drink in Lincoln (and Omaha) than it is in Portland! This is unsurprising, but it was awesome.

creighton university

After the wedding, I spent 2 days in Omaha, where my best friend went to college (Creighton University). He showed me all of his old haunts and basically How to Be a Tourist in Omaha. It was the first and probably only vacation I’ll get this year, so I made the most of it. We walked all over the city, spent an entire half-day with our fellow from-Portland friends at the famous Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, walked the pedestrian bridge that shares a border between Nebraska and Iowa, saw Oceans 8 at a $2 movie theater, and hit all of the coffee shops and dive bars that we could.

bob kerry bridge

Since life doesn’t stop while we’re on vacation, I had to commit to intentional choices and mindfulness around two specific goals: stay healthy and stay grounded. I battled a lot of internal anxiety on the trip (this comes in cycles for me and July is almost always one of those times I really feel it). Determined to a) not feel like shit by eating and drinking too much, and 2) not feel like shit from being a ball of cortisol for five days straight, here’s what I did to stay grounded and balanced over these five days:

Part One: Maintaining Healthy Habits on Vacation While Not Overthinking It

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is always my first rule for everything. I brought a water bottle with me and I refilled it when I could. Here in Portland, when you go out to eat, getting a glass of water as soon as you sit at the table is a given. Not in Nebraska. We had to remember to ask for water, but we made sure to just about every time.
  2. Walk! So much walking. We walked to and from the wedding ceremony. We walked to and from the bars and restaurants and antique shops in Lincoln. We walked all OVER Omaha, including about 5 miles at the Zoo alone. Bring good shoes, check that FitBit or whatever app tracks your steps, and get those steps in.
  3. Stretch. I stretched in airports, on street corners, and in hotel rooms.
  4. Balance.┬áBut don’t be too strict. I followed a pretty decent 80/20 (maybe 70/30) rule for food choices. The first thing I got to eat when I got off the plane was a veggie heavy veggie sandwich from an Omaha coffee shop. This just felt like it set the tone for me. From there, I just tried to find balance. We’d share pretzel bites and a big salad. I took myself out for dinner alone one night and enjoyed an Omaha steak with fresh, local green beans. I made sure the diner breakfast I chose had a bunch of veggies and protein. We snacked on fruit and nuts, but had hot dogs & nachos at the zoo. This one isn’t too hard for me because after a carb-rich meal or two, I am CRAVING plants, so I’ll seek them out.

Part Two: Managing Anxiety on Vacation AKA Staying Present Will Save You

  1. Admit you’re feeling anxious. “Are you ok?” “No, but that’s ok.” I had this conversation a few times, and I tried to stay honest when I really wasn’t okay.
  2. Breathe. I exhaled a LOT. TM teaches that noticing giant exhales during meditation is a sign of stress leaving the body, so hopefully that means I got rid of a lot of stress. I took a lot of deep breaths. I had to take breaks every once in awhile to sit or stand still, take a few deep breaths, and then continue on.
  3. Play. There was a carousel at the Zoo and I bee-lined for it the second I saw it. Channeling that inner child brought moments of joy. Watching grown-ass human adults on brightly-colored horses and chickens and dinosaurs made me laugh. Even if short, these little moments of joy can help shake off the tension, even for a second.
  4. Move. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I danced. Built up adrenaline needs a place to go, so every once in awhile, I’d just shake it out, or twirl, or jump up and down.
  5. Use your tools. For me, this includes medication sometimes. I made the choice to feel my way through the discomfort first, because some of my triggers are messages from my body and my mind about changes I really do need to make. Actions I do need to take. So, I’d allow myself to feel the discomfort. Once, I grabbed my notebook and a pen and a beer and sat in a bar and just wrote for a few minutes, trying to get the mess out of my head. But once or twice, I relied on the fact that I have a prescription that can jump in and take over when meditation, writing, moving, playing, and other attempts at chilling out just don’t cut it. And that’s ok, that’s why we have a whole tool box.
  6. Know your difference between mood and mental health. I was in a great mood, the entire trip. I loved playing tourist, I laughed, and explored with my usual wide-eyed excitement at seeing the world. I was happy. But, there was an outer layer of anxiety over me the whole time — a persistent sense of tension and heaviness that co-existed with the fun. That’s entirely possible.

What’s next for me?

I’m home now, so I return to the things that I know ground and re-ground me. I need to work out hard to give the adrenaline a place to go and move the cortisol out of my body. I need to replace those stress hormones with endorphins. I do yoga to remind myself to stay present and remember who I am. I’ll meditate to stay in communion with the divine around me and for the reminder that I am one and the same with the rest of the world around me. And I’ll get to work.

The pictures I posted on my trip are the things I want to remember — the way clouds move over Midwestern skies, my best friend’s favorite spaces, playing tourist in hidden passageways and arcades, and the way jellyfish move (aquariums are so cool!). But we all know that what we post isn’t always the whole picture, and my whole picture includes admitting that I struggled through my own anxiety the whole time.

Life doesn’t take vacations when we do, so I believe we have to learn how to create and cultivate habits that we can pack with us when we go, so we can stay healthy and grounded especially when we’re not in our familiar spaces.

How do you manage your ‘baggage’ when you travel, when you’re out of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear from you.

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