THE LONG HAUL: Travel Sanity Tips from a Touring Musician
During the month of August, I spent exactly one night in my own bed. I don’t even know if you could call it that since I only slept for about three hours in between laundry, repacking my suitcase, and waking up at 4 a.m. to catch an early flight. It was more of a fly-by stress nap. Now that I’m back on the road full time, and trying to fit in as many shows as possible in case they get shut down again due to Delta concerns and/or god knows what impending climate change-induced natural disasters are on the horizon, I have had to re-remember how to be a traveler. Through years of trial and error, I’ve come to rely on a few strategies that keep me feeling good and getting the most out of my time on the road. These aren’t tips about saving money or cutting long lines, I’m sure there are much better sources out there for that. These are just my personal musings about how you can set yourself up mentally for a positive travel experience.
Packing and Preparing
When you’re headed somewhere new, it’s always tempting to buy or pack brand new or previously unworn clothes, things that have been sitting in your closet and never felt quite right. We can call these pieces “aspirational clothing.” You might imagine yourself becoming an entirely new person strolling the streets of Italy wearing some exotic dress or hat and visiting nightclubs in four-inch heels. What I’ve come to find is that no matter what I pack, I’m only going to end up wearing those trusty staples that I already know and love. Aspirational clothing usually sits unused and wrinkled in my suitcase, or gives me one day of physical and mental discomfort as I try it for the first time before angrily discarding it back into my bag. You can maximize your packing space by only bringing things you are already sure about: You feel and look good in them, they are super comfortable, AND they can be worn in multiple settings. If you’re packing something for one specific wear on a trip, like a dress for a wedding, it better be the perfect item, because every piece of clothing is taking up valuable real estate!
In addition to your clothes and other staples, make sure you pack earplugs and an eye mask in an easily accessible place, like your purse, wallet, or backpack. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve woken up to snoring or loud traffic at 3 a.m., and then had to debate if it was worth getting out of bed and rummaging through the car or suitcase to find my earplugs or if I should just tough it out. Eventually I learned to keep these things in a bag that would always be handy. When you’re moving through a lot of situations that you can’t control, it’s very comforting to have your own insulating sensory control, so that you can sleep or escape the commotion when you really need to. I love to be able to nap anywhere when I’m on the road– I mean literally anywhere.
Be Open to Unexpected Adventure
Recently, my husband and I had the day off in Pinedale, Wyoming, and after checking out the sparse reviews available for the area, we decided to try the food at the local golf club. You may have an image of what a golf club is like, but I can assure you that there were no polo shirts or pastel pants in sight at this particular one. It was more of a town social spot where moose occasionally got in the way of golf carts and wine was only served in cans. We walked into this place with our masks on and could feel folks staring us down as the liberal socialist foreigners that we were. We tried to be extra polite and took a table outside, sipping our wines and enjoying the view. The waitress, Cheyenne, seemed to be really stressed that day and it took a while for our food to come. While we were waiting, a giant man with beady eyes wandered around the corner. “You see my wife wander off with some other guy?” he asked, without ever opening his mouth. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it,” he laughed while smoking a cigarette. He proceeded to tell us the most amazing stories about chasing bears off of his property butt naked, and how all the sports fields where he grew up were just dirt because the grass wouldn’t grow in Wyoming. Later, the word got out that we were the musicians from the concert series in town and a stranger came out wearing a Second Amendment hat and handed us each another can of wine.
My favorite thing about traveling is the unexpected people you meet and places you find (as long as you feel safe; I understand there is some privilege here coming from a straight cis white person’s perspective). Experiencing a place in this way, through encountering its characters, is not something you can plan or make happen by force. Make sure that you leave enough room in your itinerary to follow the unexpected paths that present themselves to you, and don’t be afraid to be somewhere that doesn’t fit your idea of what you thought a setting was going to look or feel like. It’s great to plan and look forward to a trip, but it’s also great to let the trip unfold as it wants to rather than trying to control it completely.
Taking Care of Yourself
Oftentimes, people (such as my past self), will abandon their daily self-care routines when they start traveling, because it’s not a “normal day.” Even if you’re crunched for time, or you’re traveling for vacation, try to find a way to have some semblance of routine. When your setting and schedule are constantly changing, you need those daily routines even more to feel grounded and healthy. No matter where I am in the world, I’m going on a run every other day, rain or shine; doing yoga; and practicing my Duolingo. It may seem counterintuitive if you’re on vacation, but I’ve found that it’s much harder to enjoy relaxing on the beach, lounging in a bookshop, or meeting new people when your body and brain are cramped up, confused, uncomfortable, and out of whack.
When you are considering your budget, don’t ignore the need for personal space in favor of a fancy meal or high-priced experience. It can be tempting to rough it completely or cut corners (splitting one hotel room between six people, or not paying for an extra driver to share the driving duties on the rental car) so that you have more money to spend on exciting new experiences, but you have to remember that you’ll only really enjoy those experiences if you’re charged up and feeling good.
Traveling is a privilege, one that I missed immensely during 2020. However, it can also be miserable if you approach it the wrong way. Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy your time on the road to the fullest.