It’s been nine months, three weeks, and five days since we’ve had a home. In April my husband and I moved out of our apartment, a high rise off of one of DC’s busiest streets – a cruise ship on land we had to escape – and unknowingly became permanent guests in my parents’ house in suburban Maryland. In November, our need to be on our own finally surpassed our fear of travel, and we decided to make our way first to Colorado and then New Mexico. For the last two months, our “home” has been a series of Airbnbs, hotel rooms, and occasionally the back of a sprinter van. While traveling has been satisfying and rewarding, being without the familiarity of friends, family, and the comfort of our “stuff” has been difficult.
I have found myself gravitating to routines – a morning meditation, a familiar walking path, cooking – to help center myself in new surroundings. Humans are funny: When we’re home, we crave the freedom and newness of travel. When we’re traveling, we crave the familiarity and comfort of home. Fortunately, there are ways we can encourage feelings of comfort and balance while experiencing new and different things. Whether you are on the road or find yourself hundreds of miles away from your home indefinitely, here are five tips for staying grounded:
I have committed to a consistent meditation practice every morning since the start of the new year. When you’re on the road, it is easy to get caught up in planning and feeling overwhelmed by new experiences. Many of the physical and emotional benefits of meditation (mindfulness, stress reduction, increased concentration, and improved sleep, for starters) can help balance the overstimulation and flighty energy that comes with travel. Through breathing techniques and focusing on bodily sensations, meditation trains our minds to be in the present moment and encourages the body and mind to be calmer and more relaxed.
Try this simple meditation practice: Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and tune in to your breathing. Begin inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 4. After several rounds, gradually elongate your exhales to counts of 6 and then 8. Continue for however long you can, ideally 20 minutes.
Walking the streets of a new place is not only good exercise but an ideal way to explore and feel immersed in it. In contrast to driving, walking slows you down, allowing you to notice details, and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise.
Studies have shown that a brisk walk can both reduce anxiety and sharpen the mind. In addition, some studies have shown that walking barefoot outside has therapeutic effects by literally connecting you with the earth and nature. If you haven’t tried standing or walking barefoot on grass before, I recommend giving it a try. It is intensely relaxing and grounding, like hugging a tree.
Find your local haunt
It’s easy to miss the comfort of familiar faces and places while on the road. Particularly when traveling alone, the anonymity that comes with being a stranger in a new place can be isolating. If you have the luxury of staying in a particular location for an extended period of time, picking a local haunt to frequent, such as a coffee shop, restaurant, or farmers market, can create a sense of normalcy, not to mention give you access to local knowledge and resources
Recognizing people and being recognized can build confidence and help you feel like a part of a community even if it’s only temporary. And ultimately, being a part of a community is the best way to feel immersed in and connected to a new location.
Talk to strangers
It took me years of travel to realize that meeting people can be just as valuable and rewarding as seeing the sights of a new place. Whether it’s a conversation with a shop owner, Uber driver, or fellow dog parent, meeting and talking to locals can help you get to know a place more intimately. And though they may be strangers in a new place, you never know what commonalities and connections you may find. In talking to a shop owner in Santa Fe, I found that she has also been working through similar life challenges as I have. I have also met people who have relocated to Santa Fe from big cities, drawn to the culture, landscape, and slower pace of life. Through conversations with these strangers, I have found that we are much more alike than we are different and gained a deeper sense of connectedness with the world around me.
Create an altar
While living in Bali, I discovered that every household seemed to have a spiritual altar. They can be resplendent bronze statues garnished with elaborate flower wreaths or a simple table filled with meaningful personal items. The concept of an altar is simply creating a space of spirituality. While traveling, I like to create my own “traveling altar,” bringing with me a few items that remind me of home – a photo, a jewelry dish, a singing bowl. Seeing them on my nightstand is instantly comforting and can make any place feel like home. I will often add items to my altar that I’ve acquired from my travels, allowing the objects to embody new wisdom and joys, blending pieces of the past and present.
So whether your travel plans set you on a Maryland road trip or a cross-country adventure, be intentional about creating opportunities for mindfulness, connectedness, and self-care. A journey is made all the richer when you cultivate space for growth.
Lead Photo: Gina Chen