Stress is a part of travel. It is a part of the growing process, but sometimes it overwhelms us. I spent nearly a year at a time twice in my life dealing with panic attacks. Each time traveling to Europe seemed to bring me out of them. They are totally not fun and disruptive, but I learned a lot about stress from them.
One technique I was taught was about four stresses that seem to come in under the radar and are a good check to go through if you are feeling down or irrational: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The acronym is HALT and is supposed to halt problems. Travel is a wonderful thing, but also stressful, so this check is worthwhile to hold onto even without issues with panic.
In my daily life my routine helps keep these levels in balance. I go to sleep at a regular time, I eat at regular times and the similar stuff from week to week. That leaves me just Angry and Lonely to watch. Well I am supposed to go to bed at a normal time, but I don’t always. I should be able to cook and eat well, but again not always. The point is that I usually only have one out of whack at a time, while traveling it is easy to get several haywire.
Trying to save money and crazy sightseeing schedules sometimes means that meals get skipped or reduced. And however fun it is beer for dinner and icecream for lunch is not a way to keep from being hungry even if you just ate.
Prevention: For me I look to have meat or eggs at least once a day, and then carry either fruit or waffles in my pack for snacks.
Anger is for me usually the trigger rather than a constant stress. While traveling and starving and exhausted getting pissed off at a ticket agent that doesn’t understand my heartfelt attempt to not butcher the name of some town is easy to do. Getting angry like that reminds me to do the check of the other three.
Prevention: Morning meditation is a good way to at least look at my general anger level. I use time on trains and in the shower to just ponder such things and chill out.
In my daily life I am surrounded by people. I see my friends regularly and talk to my co-workers on a daily basis. Facebook, Twitter and email add to the contact possibilities. So on travel I cut loose of all those things. After a few days of sightseeing alone and staying in a hostel where I know no one and being in a city with a very strange language, I feel the loneliness feelings come up.
Prevention: There are tons of great articles on how to meet people traveling. Feel free to add links in comments to them. My quick-fix for this is a small-group tour. In both Ireland and the Loire Valley I did van tours. 8 people in a van for a few hours meant I felt a part of something again.
Early morning to catch the ‘golden hour’ of sun for photography and late night beers with new friends. The incredible snoring roommate(how does HE sleep through it I wonder). Jet-lag and scrambling through train stations with backpacks for the “last train”. Tired is the one feeling most travelers have no problem relating to. There is a sense of not wanting to miss anything while asleep.
Prevention: Note your threshold for tiredness. Mine is a day or two, then I need to take it easy. Pick one day and just sleep in and later maybe take a coffee in a square to people watch instead of the all-day tour.
Though not a part of the HALT list, I check also being overwhelmed. It fits as the flipside to loneliness and a reason for being tired. I am an introvert and need time to myself. Sometimes when traveling with a group in shared accommodation wanting to party every night with new friends I just can’t get the alone time that I need. I try to remember this along with the other 4. Being overwhelmed also comes up when you see so many neat things all together in a short amount of time.
Prevention: As with tired, I try to pick one day and just sit in a square and people watch. Sure I may miss a sight, but I may also be able to talk to an old women for an hour about her life.
These things are all interrelated. Being lonely and angry burns energy making you tired and hungry. Being tired reduces my appetite for decent food furthering the hungry. Despite the interrelations there is usually a prime thing to fix. I start with Hungry as it is the fastest thing. A quick bite, especially with a friend to talk to, can beat hungry and lonely as well as give you a chance to cool off from angry.
So the HALT list again is:
- + Overwhelmed
Travel has a way of disrupting routine (for the good), so I need to make this check every so often to keep on an even keel.
Comments please. Stories of travel stress? Experience with HALT?