How Traveling Helped Prepare Me For Navigating This Pandemic
Today, we get to meet Carson, a part-time travel blogger and full-time travel lover who was living abroad in Spain and currently works in Public Relations in the Big Apple. She loves sharing tales of her trips on her travel blog. When she’s not planning her next trip, Carson loves cooking (and eating) and is always down for a workout. She’s also a very helpful volunteer for the NYC Chapter of The Nomadic Network!
The last few months have been…well, there is more than one word that could describe these weeks. And that word would be different for everyone. For some, it’s just been “annoying” – altered routines, time away from friends, no travel plans. However, for many, these last few months have undoubtedly been full of difficult, draining experiences.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it is important to remember that this is a journey – albeit a difficult one – and there are things we can do to make it a little easier. The following tips have helped me get through some sticky spots on the road and in the pandemic.
Ask for help
As I arrived at the Amsterdam airport late at night on my second solo trip, I found myself searching for the train that would take me to the city center. Based on my research, I knew the exact time of the last train, and I had only five minutes until I was stranded. I still didn’t have a ticket or even know what platform to go to. Panic started to set in. I found a kiosk to purchase a ticket when, much to my dismay, my credit card was denied again and again. Flustered, I turned to the man next to me. “Can you help me…?” I stammered.
He had already seen me struggling and finished my sentence for me. “I’ll show you where the train leaves from,” he said, pulling an extra ticket from his pocket and handing it to me. Thanks to the kindness of this man, and my speaking up, I was no longer alone and afraid.
When I first started traveling by myself, I often felt that I had to figure everything out alone. As if, for some crazy reason, if I got help, I didn’t really “do it” by myself. I soon figured out that this mindset was not making the trip better. Instead, it was more stressful and lonely.
During the last few months of the pandemic, many people have tried to go it alone and deal with these emerging problems solo. But asking for help, whether traveling or managing life during a pandemic, is going to make the journey a lot smoother.
If you’re feeling stuck but unsure of how to ask for help, try some of the following tips:
- Write it in a letter. Ask for support from friends or family by putting your thoughts or worries down on paper. This can help if you feel uncomfortable bringing up the conversation face-to-face.
- Confide in a close friend. Friendship isn’t just about the good times. Our relationships are strengthened when we trust people with the less-than-perfect details of our lives. Don’t worry that true friends will judge you in your time of need. They might be more understanding than you assume.
- Crowdsource online. Sometimes asking for help from people we know personally can be more intimidating than bearing it all to a group of strangers. If you’re part of an online community that you relate to, share some of your feelings to the larger group, and get their feedback. Often, hearing that you’re not alone in your feelings is enough to make you feel better.
Remember that you have control of what you do at (almost) all times
Traveling solo is an amazing experience. You alone oversee your itinerary and schedule. Want to spend another hour at the museum? Go for it. Ready to stop for a snack? All you! Feel like sleeping in? Who’s going to stop you?! You call the shots.
I realized this freedom during my first solo trip to Budapest. I didn’t have friends or family vying to execute their idea of a perfect day. Instead, I wandered down any street that suited me. I said “sure!” to impromptu outings with other travelers. I stayed in cafes until I was good and ready.
Now that the pandemic has hit, we’ve been somewhat alleviated of our obligations. For better or for worse, there are no work happy hours, no family visits, no obligatory birthday parties for your third cousin twice removed. You have a few things you must do (especially if you’re lucky enough to still have a job), but the rest of your time is yours. You choose what to do with it.
What would make you the happiest and most fulfilled? Sometimes the answer is a puzzle or a Facetime chat. Other times, it’s binge-watching Netflix from a bathtub. It’s all up to you!
Don’t get me wrong: I miss getting together with friends, going to the movies, or visiting a museum. At the same time, I’m learning to find joy in setting my schedule and making time for the activities I want to do. Not all of them stick. I tried re-teaching myself the guitar, learning Portuguese, and making short videos…all hobbies that lasted a few days at best. However, it was great to have the time to experiment!
It’s important to maintain some of your activities (or try new ones) during the pandemic – whether that’s working out, practicing an instrument, or writing for your blog. Just because our schedules are different than they were pre-pandemic, doesn’t mean you’ve lost control of your time. You can still plan, but…that being said…
Expect the unexpected
No matter how much you try and plan a trip, something will inevitably change. On a trip to Cantabria in the north of Spain with some friends, on an already relatively last-minute road trip, we made an impromptu stop and stumbled upon a quiet beach right at sunset. Pink, purple, and vibrant orange swirled in the sky in the most perfect, sherbet-like sunset I had ever seen. It was a lucky happenstance – not on the itinerary – that would’ve been hard to recreate, even if we tried.
Sometimes, in our rush to plan and schedule, we forget to let the spontaneity of life surprise us and take our breath away. Find a state park to explore, ask family and friends questions that you always wondered but never asked, or take up a new hobby. You just might find something unexpected!
In times like these, planning our lives can make us feel in control when the outside world seems to be spinning like a top. Still, sometimes it’s better to let go, expect the unexpected, and take it (for better or for worse) as it comes. Who knows, we might just be surprised.
How frustrating is it when the plane is delayed? Even on vacation, when we’re meant to be relaxed, small inconveniences can suddenly make us very impatient – with systems, activities, or even other people.
But then, just when you think you’re going to scream at the person next to you for chewing their hamburger like an animal, the captain’s voice bursts through the crackling speakers announcing lift off. Oh, the relief! You could hug that burger-smacker.
When I landed in Dubai to catch my connecting flight to the Maldives, it was 1 a.m. local time, and I ran to the gate, only to find out that I had been moved to the next flight…leaving 5 hours later. I was exhausted and just wanted to be flying across the Indian Ocean to my destination. However, as it often goes with travel, there was nothing I could do. I smiled, gathered my new boarding pass, and found a place to wait it out.
Finding a sense of calm in situations that test our patience is easier said than done. Especially more difficult is not knowing when things will change. Weeks? Months? YEARS? No one knows.
Just like waiting for a delayed flight, everyone is likely just as frustrated and grouchy as you are. Lashing out at your fellow passengers (or roommates or friends) won’t make things any better. When the impatience bubbles up, which it surely will, pop on your headphones, close your eyes, and imagine yourself landing at your destination.
Now, in our semi-quarantined lives, practicing patience is especially important:
- Be patient with the people you’re living with. Whether you’re back home with mom and dad or hunkered down with your roommate, be empathetic that they are likely frustrated by the situation, too. Maintain strong lines of communication and find new ways of living that work for everyone involved.
- Be patient with your coworkers. Work can be stressful as is. Add in caring for toddlers while trying to finish a monthly report, and the stress hits an all-time high. If you can help, step up. And, in general, cut coworkers some slack.
- Be patient with service workers. Maybe your takeout order is 30 minutes late, but essential workers – from nurses and doctors to those stocking the grocery stores or delivering food – are on the frontlines, keeping society going. They are working tirelessly (sometimes under risky situations) to get you what you need. Be patient. Even better, be extra nice.
When my friend and I arrived in Vienna on a warm May afternoon, it was clear something was wrong. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, and could barely get out of bed. No matter how many pharmacies we visited or bland crackers she tried to eat, my poor friend was left with a bad case of…something we’re still not sure of. Of course, this strange stomach bug was not her fault, but that didn’t make her any less sad that all she saw of Vienna was the inside of our Airbnb’s bathroom.
Traveling while sick is awful. Besides having none of your usual comforts, there is the added sting of missing out on an amazing place you hoped to see. While we may not be traveling around to tropical islands or ancient cities right now, it is still important to stay healthy (mentally, physically, and emotionally) during this time.
Take care of yourself by eating well, exercising, staying in touch with friends, and wearing a mask to help make this pandemic journey a little easier. Keep these healthy tips in mind:
- Stay hydrated. I realized that I drink a lot less water at home than I did at the office. Now, I refill my water bottle every morning before sitting down to work, and as soon as it is empty, I refill it. I’m more likely to drink water when a full glass is right beside me.
- Find time to exercise. You might not be doing boot camp workouts in your living room but going from the desk chair to the couch every day isn’t good for your mental or physical health. Take a walk, try an online workout video, practice yoga, whatever gets you moving. I started running a lot this quarantine, and it’s been keeping me sane.
- Cooking is your friend. I love cooking, so having more time to do so has been a joy. But I know many people who are kitchen averse. Try a week with no takeout. Look up recipes online – they don’t need to be complicated. Make a list of everything you’ll need for your grocery run. Then, get in the kitchen, and get cooking!
- Maintain your mental health. Many people’s mental health is hurting right now, and understandably so. Try to maintain the activities that kept your stress low pre-pandemic. Use a meditation app, journal, or talk to friends. Remember, never be afraid to seek out professional help, if needed.
Live in the moment, even when you’re itching for the next adventure
While living abroad, I often had the next two or three trips in the works. Sometimes, even as I was enjoying the trip I was currently on, I couldn’t help but think, “What will the next trip be like?!”
When I was in Vienna with my family on vacation, I had days before I branched out on my own for my first solo trip. Still, I started to get nervous, and it distracted me from the fun I was having with my family. I wanted to enjoy the moment, but I was having a hard time. I finally learned to push the future from my mind by using small ways to stay engaged with my present surroundings.
While the pandemic might not be a time that we particularly want to “embrace,” it is also important to remember that, as cheesy as it sounds, the present is all we have. Maybe this period has allowed you to spend more time with family, reconnect with old friends, or explore a passion project. Those are all amazing opportunities that we can embrace.
Try these tips to stay grounded now:
- Take time to sit still in nature. Whether in your backyard or a nearby park, take a few minutes to find quiet time (no phones or even music), and watch the world around you.
- Make a to-do list only for today. Write down the thing you want to accomplish (or just attempt) today. Don’t think about tomorrow or next week; start with today.
- Keep a gratitude journal. There are a lot of negatives in the world right now, so try to search out the positives. Jot down a few things each day that made you smile.
- Pick a motivational mantra. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, repeat your mantra. It can be as simple as, “I can do this” or “one step at a time” or “Que será, será.”
Talk to people around you
I sat down at the communal kitchen table at my hostel in Budapest alone. It was the day before New Year’s Eve Day, and my first solo trip. I was hungry, tired, and hoping to meet a few people with whom to see the city. Not one to usually chat with strangers, I knew I’d have to put myself out there and strike up a conversation.
As I pondered what to do, a man my age sat diagonally from me. We exchanged a few nervous glances. We eventually smiled. We exchanged the obligatory “Where are you from?” and before long, we’d been talking for hours, had exchanged numbers, and planned to spend New Year’s Eve with a group of his friends who were also in town.
It was one of the best travel memories I have, and it all started over a simple conversation. Some people are naturally born socialites, and others…not so much. After months of quarantine, I sometimes feel I have nothing left to say, even to my best friends. Still, my conversations with them, no matter what random things we discuss, always put me in a better mode.
Recently, I stopped to talk to a neighbor while walking my dog. During our half-hour chat, she admitted how lonely she was feeling and thanked me for talking to her. It was heartbreaking but also a good reminder of how powerful a few kind words or a listening ear can be.
Staying connected, with good friends or even the local mail carrier, is good for our mental and physical health. It helps ease stress and strengthen ties. Whether to boost your spirits or those of someone else, take some time to pick up the phone, send a text, or even pull out those stamps and write a hand-written card to someone who might need a little reminder that they’re not alone on this crazy trip.
And stay connected to people who are far away
Traveling solo or moving abroad by yourself isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The first few days after moving to Madrid, I called home multiple times a day. Trying to find an apartment was incredibly stressful, and I needed lots of reassurance from my family and friends back in the states. They always answered the phone, happy to listen.
Once I got settled in Madrid, however, I was so caught up in my new life in Spain that I sometimes found myself going weeks without so much as a “hello” to my best friends. There was so much to do! So much to see! So much to eat! And with all sorts of new friends and stimuli, I started paying less attention to the people I cared about back home. I knew this wasn’t good.
When traveling, it’s easy to get so excited about the stories we want to tell and pictures we want to share that sometimes we forget to ask about our loved ones. They’re living life too! Maybe they didn’t eat pasta in front of the Colosseum that day, but their joys, worries, and accomplishments are still important – and it’s important that we, as travelers, remember that the people back home are living full and rich lives.
During this time, ask others how they are doing. Whether you’re having a hard time yourself, or whether you’re doing just fine, remember that everyone is reacting to this situation differently, and there are friends and family members who might need a listening ear. Keep lines of communication open to staying in touch with family, friends, colleagues, and travel buddies – even those who might live on another continent.
Onward we go
These are scary, frustrating, difficult, [insert your adjective here] times we’re living in right now. I know it’s not easy, but travel has shown me that I can make the best of uncertainty. I’ll use the skills I’ve learned over the years to help me. I don’t know when this will all be over, so I’ll just strap in and go along for the ride.
Carson is a part-time travel blogger and full-time travel lover who was living abroad in Spain and currently works in Public Relations in the Big Apple. She loves sharing tales of her trips on her travel blog. When she’s not planning her next trip, Carson loves cooking (and eating) and is always down for a workout. She’s also a very helpful volunteer for the NYC Chapter of The Nomadic Network!
Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Guest Post.”