I wandered the old streets of Quebec City, admiring the bistros that poured out onto the cobblestone roads. Chalkboard signs lured hungry travellers (and locals alike) in to try traditional dishes, heavily composed of succulent meats and local cheeses. As I scanned menus for a dinner that I could happily and wholeheartedly enjoy, something dawned on me, and I thought, panicking, “I have become a bad traveller!”
As a generalisation, it was an over exaggeration; I still travelled with wide eyes and a curious mind. But it was true: my more newly adopted lifestyle habits, made up largely of specific food requirements and restrictions, held me back from diving into a new place and their local delicacies with the same carefree feeling I once had. In this moment of realisation, I felt distant from the new city I found myself wandering through and contemplated what I considered to be the “right” way to travel.
Exploring new cultures requires us to enter the unknown. In doing so, we give up – for the moment – our routines, our comforts, and our control. If we have recently adopted a new lifestyle of greater wellness, we may find ourselves unsure of how exactly to enter and enjoy these new cities and towns while still maintaining the new habits that make us feel whole, healthy, and happy. Keeping in mind the following tips will help us to find a balance between seemingly opposing needs.
- Consider that there is no right way to travel, as long as it is respectful.
The thought process that led me to believe that I was a bad traveller was flawed. Having become someone who prioritised making the body and mind feel it’s best did not make me judgmental, close-minded, or disrespectful. It also did not impact how much I could take away from this new city. As conscious travellers, we can admire the local delicacies and learn about their history, appreciating the food culture without compromising our body’s unique requirements. There is no official checklist of things we must do or must try on our journeys — we can make our own list of things to experience and do so on our own terms.
- Pack your favourite necessities.
It is important to prioritise space in our bags for our favourite wellness necessities, which might include herbal tea, essential oils, supplements, a journal, and a yoga mat or meditation cushion. Whatever little things can be brought along to help maintain routine will assist in keeping the body and mind grounded while we explore the new landscape. We can also pick up staples when we first arrive, such as lemon for an alkalinising morning drink during our stay. When packing, it can be easy to undervalue or disregard the small things that provide us with a sense of wellness, but when we arrive in a new place, the peppermint tea and lavender oil may be just what the jet lag orders.
- Explore your spots in advance.
Many places we travel to will have some kind of community (even if small) with similar dietary and activity preferences that we do. Seeking these places out before arrival will provide some feeling of familiarity. Consider browsing the Internet for plant-based or vegan restaurants, yoga classes, gyms, parks, and whatever other places or activities best suit your wellness goals. Learning local translations for these needs will aid your search.
When we can’t find exactly what we are looking for, we can overcome the fear of asking for what we need. With as much patience as we hope to receive, we can ask for clarification on ingredients and for possibilities to substitute or omit certain items. The worst thing that anyone can say is “no, we cannot accommodate that,” in which case we then decide if we need to move onwards.
- Prioritise a kitchen, when possible.
If there is opportunity to stay somewhere that has a kitchen — such as a hostel, Airbnb, or a friend’s home — it will be easier to get the most of what we need from a dietary perspective. We can explore the food culture that lives in local markets and prepare our own meals from those ingredients, achieving a balanced blend of local culture and self-care.
- Release self-judgment of personal needs, desires, and decisions.
On the other hand, we may sometimes decide to indulge in a Neapolitan pizza Margherita, despite otherwise avoiding dairy, or choose to sip an extra class of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, despite our usual drinking habits. Whether we choose ‘to have/do’ or ‘not to have/do’ on any matter is entirely personal. Furthermore, health is not only promoted through what we consume; compassionate, non-judgmental thoughts towards ourselves play an important role in our wellbeing. Releasing self-judgment of whatever way we wish to travel — eating, drinking, and moving included — will help us to be present with whatever we are choosing. The trip will not last forever and presence will help us to get the most of it — with or without drink in hand.
Travel provides the opportunity to escape the everyday, a momentary leap into the unknown of the open road. Whatever way we choose to make the most of it is entirely our decision, and aiming to maintaining our sense of health and wellness will only aid our ability to be present for the journey. With some extra preparation, research, and mindset adjustments before and during the trip, it is possible to find a healthy balance between indulging in what is new and holding on to the simple things that enhance our vitality. The best of both worlds is the sweet spot.