MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS FOR A SMOOTH JOURNEY
Travel is associated with the Vata Dosha — a stimulating, ungrounded experience, moving away from your regular routine and taking in new surroundings, with high doses of the air and space elements, all of which can be very aggravating to the nervous system. Think of travel’s qualities and characteristics of cold, erratic, moving, fast, light, dry, harsh — and all of this even more so when you consider flying, whereby you’re effectively cross-time (zones) and space at incredible speeds… Not to mention up up up and above the clouds — it doesn’t get more airy and spacey than that!
I travel a lot for work, but it doesn’t even close to what some of my friends do (they literally bounce around in meetings all over the world and think nothing of living out of suitcases), but it’s a lot of travel for me. If I’m not careful, I can feel extremely unsettled by it all — even when I’m having a great time. Ayurveda and my teachers of Ayurveda have been instrumental in helping me find a way to balance out the effects of travel. I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a long time, as I’ve gone on to share my collection of tips with others who have integrated some of them and reported back great success. The list below is compiled with flying in mind, but can translate to other types of travel and transport. Think cosy and grounded as your motto to help even out the qualities you’re feeling from your environment. If you're backpacking across Thailand for example, the sights and sounds you experience can aggravate the Vata Dosha, even when you’re on foot and hot and sweaty in the sun, so whether you’re 30,000 feet up in the air and flying to the other side of the world or taking your daily tube commute, there’s something for everyone here.
Remember that even if Vata makes up a minimal amount of your Prakriti (genetic constitution), Vata is present in all of us and externally it’s also the Dosha that can affect us the quickest. Vata is the easiest Dosha to get out of whack, so in this modern, fast-paced, technology-filled world, it pays to always “watch that Vata!”
WHAT TO WEAR
OK, bear with me: as someone predominantly Vata anyway, I’ve been layering up for flights since forever. Many of my Pitta-dominant friends fly half-naked, and while they welcome a cool environment, draughts are still overstimulating. The following might sound excessive, but consider what you might take to bring a bit more balance in. Way before I realised why I disliked the harsh environment of a chilled, air-conditioned cabin from an Ayurvedic point of view, I knew that a t-shirt PLUS a long-sleeved high-necked thin top, both tucked into tracksuit bottoms and then a hoodie, socks, beanie hat and scarf was my flight outfit of choice. I have been on freezing airplanes and also stinky hot ones, so layers where you can adjust your body temperature and keep draughts off you your neck and kidneys are a good idea. Wear easy shoes that you can kick off to be more relaxed and slip back on easily to go to the loo. Avoid underwired bras or any too tight underwear or waist bands (I once wore a very tight pair of thick leggings and had a very uncomfortable journey after an early morning stressful journey to the airport left me bloated). The ears are one of the most sensitive “entry points” for Vata into the mind-body, so protecting them with a hat or earmuffs can go a long way to keep it in check.
WHAT TO PACK
In my in-flight bag, I’ll always have an eye mask, ear plugs, noise-cancelling headphones, face wipes, hand cream and grounding essential oils. My Ayurvedic teachers taught me how to help soothe and protect the senses when there’s a lot going on. Blue-light glasses (which incidentally aren’t blue but more yellow or orange tones to block the blue light) are my autumn through to spring saviour, stopping me getting too much blue light from my devices and artificial environments at the wrong time of day. These are great for travel too — the lighting in airports, on planes and in any public space is usually the floodlit type and not great for the brain! An eye mask not only blocks out unnecessary light, but also blue light when you’re supposed to be sleeping — blue light is like daylight, so to have that in your face when you’re trying to get some Zs and catch up on rest isn’t helpful. And when you’re on a flight and can’t control when the lights are on or off, that eye mask becomes your best friend. Pair it with a beanie, a scarf and some noise-cancelling headphones and you have your own little cocoon. I’ve gone for the big ear cans rather than little ear inserts, bulkier yes, but it means noise is not so directly delivered to the sensitive ear canal, so you can listen to gentle music, relaxing meditations and informative podcasts. Ear plugs, because you don’t want to be filling your brain with noise for the whole journey where possible. Covering your ears also keeps out that pesky draught that plays havoc with Vata. Keep face wipes on you to stop yourself feeling grubby, a good hydrating hand cream and a variety of essential oils to remedy a variety of imbalances — think lavender to help you find your calm, peppermint to refresh and remove nausea, sage oil for its antibacterial properties… You can also choose one flight blend — check out Altitude by De Mamiel altitude oil de mamiel to provide a protecting envelope of essential oils that pep you up and soothe your frazzled travel nerves. Be prepared for friends to want to borrow some too! In my suitcase if I’m flying long distance I’ll carry some Abhyanga oil so that I can give myself a hot grounding massage the evening that I land — whether that’s whole body or just the feet. Oilination is hugely balancing for Vata.
WHAT TO DO
Before you fly make sure to download favourite podcasts and music, a sleep/relaxation app. A book is a much better alternative to watching TV screens, playing games or working on your laptop, but not one about food or a thriller! We want to avoid overeating/constantly snacking on flights so avoid watching or reading anything that will make you hungrier than you need to be and, again, any kind of thriller/horror is going to add to the stimulation you’re experiencing.
Some Dosha types will find it easy and useful to fast during flights. This is an excellent way of beating jet lag and the strain on your body from trying to digest a million miles up in the air. Vata types or anyone pregnant shouldnt and won't be able to do it! So don’t even try. Instead, choose Vata-balancing foods where possible (more on that below). An insulated water flask is my number one tip, as is packing a miso sachet and your own food — more on that below.
On the flight
Depending how long your journey is, you’re going to want to move your body and realign at intervals of being craned into a seat. When you pull over for a loo break on the motorway or when you get a chance to get out of your seat on the flight, then find a spot where you’re not being observed (unless you want to be in the spotlight) and have a good wiggle and stretch. This is super important to get the blood flowing, as staying still for too long can pose health risks including thrombosis. On a more basic level, you’re likely to get achey if you’re sitting for several hours in a row. Try this little routine with Tony Riddle which I use to counteract sitting at my work desk. Doing a meditation on take-off and landing will also help ground you mentally (if not physically!), so consider adding that to your travel routine as well. Breathing exercises like this one will also help to soothe any nerves you feel from flying, and counteract that out-of-control Vata. Having your eyes closed for as much of the flight as possible (and for land journeys too if you’re feeling overstimulated by fast moving surroundings) really works to calm the mind — the eye is directly linked to the brain via the optic nerve, and so allowing your eyes to rest helps to greatly bring rest to your mind-body even if you’re not sleeping. But on very long flights you might want to treat yourself to a film. Early on, as I’m getting into my seat, I quickly check what's on offer, pick something that's calming, relaxing, informative without being taxing and set it up so that it’s ready to go without me getting lost in the onscreen world of entertainment and stick on my blue light blocking glasses while I’m watching it, with the brightness turned down on the screen.
Once you’ve got to your destination and settled in it’s time to think about balancing out any excess Vata as quickly as possible so you can enjoy your stay — and certainly before the flight back so you're not doubling up! Try an Abhyanga self-massage to get yourself back in balance after the stresses of travel. Address your body again with movement to counteract your seated position for long periods of time and choose a practice that's grounding — something slow and low (literally to the ground), perhaps an afternoon/evening practice from YouTube. Incorporate some breath work, a yin or relaxation yoga class in the area that you're visiting or even a 10-minute roll-around on the floor before you hit the sack. I like this grounding yoga sequence from Tara Stiles (my fave!). Lastly, go to bed as early as you can so you can recover soon.
WHAT TO EAT
Start hydrating and warming the body against the “Vata-ness” of travel with hot food and drink — think soups and stews. In some airports you can find phos, which are perfect. Avoid raw foods like salads and cold drinks and smoothies, etc. because they are very Vata in qualities.
If I have an early morning trip, I’ll arrive with an insulated flask of hot golden milk as my breakfast. If you’re travelling by train, car or by sea, you don’t have to worry about liquid restrictions, but if you’re flying be sure to drink any liquids that you don't want to waste before security. Then at security I take out my insulated flask as well as my laptop, liquid bag, etc., so that security can quickly see that it’s empty rather than questioning the huge bottle in my bag which appears on the scanner.
During the flight
Being prepared with food is always a good thing, unless you’ve travelled this journey before and know there are some great stop-off points to get a wholesome (cooked — remember that Vata!) meal. In that case at least have some snacks to tide you over until you get to the other side, even if you decide to fast, in case you get delayed. A great dry option that will keep if sealed well is the millet travel mix from East by West page 67 — you can make it ahead of time and just pour boiling water over it for a lovely malty “porridge.” Another great meal is roasted veggies in an insulated food flask with a packet of miso paste or some veg stock, then when you’re on the flight you can ask the flight attendants to fill it with hot water, leave to rest for 10 minutes so that everything is well heated, and then enjoy. Also ask them to fill your insulated water bottle and add a tea bag designed to balance Vata. If you’ve had no chance to cook, then add some rice vermicelli, powdered miso and dehydrated seaweed to an insulated food flask and when this is hydrated you have something lovely, hot and savoury to sip which is great for taming Vata. Plus it will keep until you need it, unlike the veggies which should be consumed in the first 5 hours or so (if they have been placed in the flask chilled) to avoid them going bad. In some airports once you go through security you can get your insulated drinks flask filled with hot water at the coffee shops. I’ve done this many times and they’ve always been happy to do so but this might not always be the case depending on where you go.
Again, go for soups and stews, warming, comforting foods that will help soothe all that lingering Vata. Privilege well-cooked foods that won’t strain your Agni (digestive fire), and you’ll be up and running in no time.