Hopping on a plane to far-flung destinations inspires thoughts of excitement and inspiration. But no matter how tantalizing the destination, travel is ridiculously stressful for our bodies, minds, and general well-being. Planes, trains, busses, changing time zones, and comfort zones, and navigating a variety of unexpected experiences and situations is the equivalent of taking a truckload of vata energy and dumping it into our already vata-vitiated lives. In fact, anything associated with change or movement is vata-embodied, so when you add high-altitude, high-speed flights…you get the picture.
All of this excess movement shows up in our bodies and beings in specific ways: gas, bloating, constipation, dryness, insomnia, reduced immunity, elevated heart rates, and a reduced capacity to recover – from stress and activity. All symptoms that vata is too high in the body, and needs some balancing. The good news is that with some simple strategies, we can slough off that excess negative energy, and get back to enjoying the healthy aspects of vata dosha – a fresh perspective, inspiration, and new scenery.
Here are a few of the tips and tricks I use myself, as well as recommend to my athletes when travel is on the books:
While travel can make many of us queasy, having tried-and-true snacks to keep you nourished as you go can make all the difference in the world. When we skip meals due to changes in time zones, or inconvenient departure or arrival times, our bodies and their blood-sugar levels go into “fight or flight mode.” Now, not only is the body trying to figure out what the hell is going on and “where are we going?!” but when will we get the next sips of precious fuel to keep our regular jobs going like, ya know, circulating, digesting, respiring, fighting off airport bugs etc. Handfuls of sprouted almonds, dates, favorite homemade energy bars, nut butter, and jam sandwiches, or whatever other snack helps your boat to float is what to tuck into your carry-on before your flight departs.
While you’re at it, it’s not a horrible idea to pack little baggies of easy-to-make travel meals so you don’t find yourself in a random hotel eating the basic, bland bagels from the complimentary breakfast bar. This Easy Chia Pudding is a great hack, and so too are little baggies of oats, salt, and chia tucked into your suitcase. Pull one out, add water and maybe some almond butter from the airport concession store and you’re good to go. (hint: chia is a traveler’s best friend!)
While you’re at it, pack a little container of my Tried + True Traveler’s Tea. This simple, three-seed blend is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for soothing the digestive system and it works wonders for reducing vata in the system and keeping digestion regular and comfortable.
One more little, easy-to-travel ingredient: ground spices. If you’ve been following along here, you’re starting to recognize that while foods have their own superpowers, so do spices and adding a mere pinch of them can transform our foods from sometime simple to something deeply nourishing. Two of my favorite spices for combatting vata are ground nutmeg and ground cardamom. I bust out tiny tins of these two at meals and sprinkle them into my breakfast, latte, snacks and into teas to secretly, and powerfully, put my body back on track.
The way to balance is with opposite qualities. One of Vata’s hallmark qualities (in addition to being airy, mobile, and constantly in motion,) is cold. By consuming icy beverages and cold foods as we travel we only amplify the situation. Instead, decline salads, ice-cold fruit parfaits, and the ice in your water offered by the flight attendant and instead make it HOT. Consume cooked and warm foods, ask for warm water, and sip tea as you travel. You’ll arrive feeling more balanced, unbloated, and more at ease.
While it may be tricky to do your typical 45-minute meditation practice, keep your weekly workout schedule, or enjoy your nightly winddown time in exactly the same way while you’re traveling…it also may not be that tricky at all. Rituals – whatever they may be – are what ground our bodies and brains and let our systems know when we’re at ease. When we drop them, we lose our goalposts for well-being, so finding ways to integrate them – even shadoes of their home versions – is an important part of staying balanced as we travel.
When working with athletes, striving to build routines that keep them balanced through travel, training and competition I always suggest that they devise both short- and long-form rituals that ground. Knowing that a 25-minute stretching and breathwork routine keeps you feeling solid at home is fantastic, and knowing that a 15-minute routine when you’re on the road will do the trick is gold. When I travel, I carry a travel yoga mat, journal and a quart jar for the warm water (and sometimes limes or lemons!) so I can make my morning water and do a little practice before I get my day started. so I can do my morning movement routine, and breathwork and start my day on the right food.
I’m not a big supplement person, but there are two that I absolutely don’t leave home without triphala and magnesium. Both help the body to safely slough off stress, rest deeply, and detox those experiences, emotions, and extra “stuff” that the body doesn’t need and can’t use. I pack them in my suitcase and take them before bedtime for better rest and a bright morning, wherever I wake up.
No matter how professional you are at globe-trotting, travel is taking its toll on your body, brain, and being and it IS reducing your ability to be your best, particularly if you’re arriving at your destination without any space given to decompress or unwind from the act of travel itself. Many of us athletes feel the need to get up before the crack of dawn to fit in a workout before a flight or “before sitting all day,” but the truth is that your body is getting a different type of workout, and stress is stress friends. Instead of losing sleep before your travel day, keep your typical schedule, eat breakfast, and ensure that you have plenty of space to process tasks at home and tasks for arrival INSTEAD of fitting in another workout. Or, try some easy stretches or a brisk walk instead of a hitter of a workout. It may take a few flights to get the hang of this different pace, but I promise your body, your sleep, recovery and adjustment to your new locale will be smoother. I like to do my morning routine before a big flight, and get out for a walk in the fresh air. Stretching my legs, then making sure I have everything I need to travel smoothly is just the right amount of prep to arrive ready to rock on the other end.
When you DO arrive to your destination, make a point to move…gently! This also isn’t the time to fit in a killer workout, but going for a walk, stretching, or using the hotel facilities to do some gentle movements will help your body to the ground and process the travel experience. The point here is to off-load stress, not add to it, so anything that taxes your system to an edge – cardiovascularly, emotionally or physically – isn’t what you’re looking for. The movement that you equate with a big sigh of relief is the kind of movement that you’re after. I love to cocoon up in my room, stretch, and maybe even do bodyweight exercises to get my blood flowing when I land. If I’m in a suitable place, I’ll head out for a walk to explore my surroundings and save my first great workout for the next morning when I’m fresh.
Breathwork is the easiest thing to bring with you when you travel – to ground, process, soothe, and smooth out your being. And it doesn’t even take up space in the suitcase. Breathwork is a massive part of the toolbox I recommend my athletes cultivate when striving to boost their performance, and it’s the same tool I recommend to everyday human beings looking to balance out the simple stresses of modern life, especially when traveling. A few rounds of nadi shodana can ease the tensions of a rough flight, help the annoying seatmates next to you melt into the background, and soothe your senses when you arrive in a busy city after a big day. Of all the things I never leave home without, breathwork is number one.
If you’ve flown to a tropical destination, a wintery wonderland, or a foreign landscape chances are that it is NOT the same “season” as where you live. Different things are growing, different things are happening in the environment, and your body is going to immediately start adjusting and accommodating for those shifts. To make this transition more smooth, keep your meals in season. This means eating fruits, vegetables and other ingredients that are growing – right now – where you are. If you’re in the land of ramen bowls and sushi, don’t go hunting for an out-of-season salad. If you’re on a tropical island, a heavy burger may not be easy to find on a menu because it’s not what bodies in hot places want or need. Stick to the seasons, balance the opposites, and lean into local. Aligning your food ways will go a long way in boosting your well-being wherever you arrive.
All too often, for high-achieving folx, our trips get bookended with other busy work, projects, and events, requiring us to be “ON” all the time. There are certainly occasions when this is necessary, but when it’s not, bookending a day on each side of your trip will work wonders to balance your well-being. If you’re traveling for work or an event, being sure to have at least one unstructured day ahead of obligations will allow you to ground, get your bearings, and take things easy before turning yourself on at full tilt. The same is true for returning home; while it’s tempting to book the last Sunday night flight back before work on Monday, flying home on Saturday night so you can decompress on Sunday will mean a world of difference for your focus, physical well-being and ability to balance all of the greatness you are and want to be.