I remember most trips taken when I was a young teen up to a young adult by what I ate. Or rather, by what I didn’t eat. I didn’t eat empanadas in Puerto Rico, pasta in Florence, or baguettes in Paris. I drank a lot of coffee and a lot of water, picked on whatever most resembled a salad, and relied on the rice cakes and low calorie bars I stuffed in my suitcases no matter what country I was in or continent I was on. In my experience, Turkey and Argentina taste the same.
There is something so undeniably invigorating about travel. Fueling. Exciting. Soul-shaking. Never have I felt more alive than in those instances of walking out into the streets of a foreign city or exploring a completely different terrain in a new wilderness. It’s like having my world turned upside down and plastered right in front of my eyes, so that it is physically impossible to look away.
But travel terrified me.
Goodbye to your daily meditation and workout practice. Goodbye to your safe foods and carefully calculated meals.
It said, “You know those routines you have spent oodles of time, energy, and money developing to keep yourself sane and happy? They’re not TSA-approved, so say goodbye. Goodbye to your daily meditation and workout practice. Goodbye to your safe foods and carefully calculated meals. Goodbye to your couch and Netflix at night before a solid eight hours of healthy sleep. The next week is going to be a free for all, so strap in for a bumpy ride and pack some dramamine since you tend to get sick easily.”
Time after time, my response to this was unhealthy levels of pre-trip anxiety, a stricter than usual workout regimen, and a fierce determination to hold on to whatever semblance of self-control and familiar routine I could while abroad (enter: rice cakes).
As I grew up, both in age and, more importantly, in emotional maturity, something changed. I remember staring at the garden salad on a menu of a restaurant overlooking what must be the most crystal clear waters to ever have existed on a family trip in Virgin Gorda. We had just done two back-to-back dives at a local reef, and I was thirsty, tired, and hungry.
Lettuce (iceberg), tomato (likely one), cucumber (likely three slices), and dressing (on the side, please) didn’t sound so appealing.
When the waitress made her way around the table and planted her eyes on me as she tapped the end of her pen against her pad, I closed the menu and, to my entire family’s surprise, asked for “Whatever she’s having,” pointing to my mom. I didn’t know what she ordered – didn’t care – but knew it would be fresh, local, and not taste like air with a side of metallic.
If my feet were going to be on these beaches, kernels of white sand getting stuck in between my toes, then my head and my heart might as well be too, right?
I lost something in those crystal clear waters, probably left it sixty feet under nestled between the fans of a fluorescent yellow coral: a set of rules, and a way of thinking I had developed back home. If my feet were going to be on these beaches, kernels of white sand getting stuck in between my toes, then my head and my heart might as well be too, right?
When I unlocked the door to my sliver of a home in New York City a week later and fell back onto the couch that had kept its promise to be there for me when I got back, my body was still there. Of course my body was still there, but MY body was still there. The one I worked hard to feel good in, the one that fit into the clothes spilling out of my closet, the one that I had thought required a very specific scientific equation of water, exercise, sleep, and food in order to stay the way it was. No matter how many fish tacos I ate, rum punches I drank, and morning runs I decided to skip in place of lazy mornings in bed with my boyfriend as the sun crept further and deeper across our hotel room, MY body was the same. Except it wasn’t: it was more relaxed, more effortless, tanner, lighter, freer, and dare I say even leaner?!
Travel healed my relationship to my body, once I let it. It taught me that fresh air, relaxation, and being present can create better results than a treadmill. That exploration and true, authentic joy negate any excess calories consumed in the form of fried street food and whatever creamy alcoholic beverage comes in that coconut. And that loving my body is by far the most powerful thing I can do on any given day in order to feel and look good.
Once I let it, travel reminded me that in a foreign land where the streets are lined with unfamiliar sounds and smells that have no space for my regimented 12-hour routine, the one thing I can rely on as a constant is my body. This unapologetically physical mass that took the subway, sat at my desk, and endured however many burpees my brain demanded is the same one waking up with me and the pink sun in Israel, attempting to surf my very first wave in Costa Rica, and sitting down for dinner at 11 p.m. on the noisy streets of Barcelona. It’s the one piece of my routine that I get to bring with me no matter where those airplane wheels touch down on. It’s always there. It’s my home.
Illustration by Amber Vittoria.