Travel Grows My Ability to Handle Stress (But Here’s How You can Practice the Same Strategy)

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
― Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

The late Anthony Bourdain had
such wisdom in this quote. Boy-that sums up travel for me perfectly.Vientnam 2

As many of you know, I have been traveling in Vietnam with my family, including my 5 and 8 year-old sons.  They have been such little troopers and I have been inspired by their curiosity, their awe, their willingness to try new things and their stamina.  I have always been a traveler, but seeing a new part of the world through my children’s eyes has been such a gift..Vientnam 3
 (My son taking in the sites at a Pagoda and a beautiful Buddha statue on top of the Vietnamese Ba Na Hills)

AND my 8-year old was stung by a jellyfish, pinched his finger in the door (his fingernail is now falling off).   He was also attacked by sand-flies with about 205 bites all over his body (he counted:-).  Both boys  have had episodes of what we call “the pukes;” we have all had “travelers’ tummy,” and we are all out of our routine and transitions between getting clothes and shoes on in time for buses and planes have at times, been less than smooth.

I have found myself waiting outside of bathrooms for one of sons MANY times on this trip.

My partner and I have a running joke that half of traveling with children is waiting for children 🙂

And… that is where my mindfulness practice has come in so handy.

While waiting outside one of many Vietnamese bathrooms, I was just feeling annoyed.  The waiting was driving me crazy and I just wanted to get back to what we were doing.  The constant stream of horns and motorbikes in the city was starting to get to me.

But then, I had this thought.  “Okay- let’s just get present. Accept the sounds of the motorbikes.  Breathe.”

I then noticed these beautiful, inconspicuous purple flowers that would have escaped my attention completely.  I paused to see the moon perfectly framed in banana leaves.  In a luckier bathroom situation, I was able to hear the sounds of the South China Sea rolling in and out in the background.

I have to confess, this is not my natural way of being.  I am naturally inclined to “get to the next thing and get to the next destination.”  I am not naturally about appreciating the journey and I am not an innately patient person.


And traveling gives me the opportunity to notice how I really do “go go go” almost all the time.  At least here, I actually notice how mindless I can be at times and how rushed everyday life can be.

I can shift my focus and traveling helps me to do that.  There are always new patterns, new smells, new food, new people. It’s also a good reminder that noticing the present moment is always easier for me when I am outside. Travel makes you get outside.

And you know what’s cool? That is true at home too.

That is how I hope this trip in particular will change me.

I hope I can bring a little bit of this awareness and opportunity for newness back with me.  I hope I can appreciate patterns in the sidewalk and in the buildings like I do here.  I hope I can continue to bring a sense of adventure home with me and for my kids.

I want to notice the colors of the produce at the store.  I want to try new foods and new Colorado hikes and to give myself permission to lay in a hammock from time to time and just slow the hell down.

Dan Siegal talks about our ability to tolerate stress and not get “hooked” by things outside of our control. He calls this the “Window of Tolerance.” When we are out of our window of tolerance, we are either irritable, angry or downright in our flight or fight response.

Or, on the other side of the Window, we are lethargic, checked out, or dissociated.  When our Window of Tolerance is small– like the size of an espresso cup, a stressor (like a thousand motorbikes) will come at us and that is like a tablespoon of salt.  It comes in and overwhelms the system and we react.

But if we can grow our window of tolerance, then stressors can come in and we don’t get so hooked. If our “window” is the size of an 800-gallon fish tank. A stressor comes in and we say, “Oh- salt- interesting” and we are able to move on, decide how we want to respond in  a more thoughtful way and even start to appreciate the moment.

Travel makes you grow your window.

AND practicing present moment awareness- mindfulness- does too. So even if you can’t get out to another country, there are adventures available to you.  Take them if you can. Even if they’re hard, they will grow your window and allow you to notice the flowers.Vientnam 1

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