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Health Tips

The Intersection of Travel & Health

By Robyn DeVoe, NBC-HWC, FMCHC

As I prepare to embark across the world again, after just 4 months back at home, it’s got me thinking. What is it about travel that I crave? As much as I need the stability of a home, I also need the upheaval of an extended international journey ideally twice a year.

To be clear, before I go any further, when I say “travel”, I am not referring to fly-and-flop resorts. My type of travel is rich and deep, connecting and supporting local communities, with the intention of learning.

Travel, for me, is like a seasonal detox. It’s a tool for me to re-center and recalibrate. A part of my health protocol. Without it I’m lost, misaligned. With it, I bloom. Here’s why I think that is.

While it can be incredibly stressful gearing up to go out of town, once I’m high in the air well on my way, I’m more grounded than ever. My stress falls away. Ideally, I’m headed to someplace with limited connectivity and WiFi. My laptop is left at home. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, my phone breaks or dies on the trip. Ahhh…that’s more like it. It’s times like these I recognize just how overstimulating our modern lives are. Even if we attempt not to subscribe to the rat race, we’re in it, whether we like it or not. Our bodies aren’t built for this onslaught. It feels just right to leave it all behind. The space and new environment opens up room for creativity and fresh ideas. And, after a week or two of feeling just so great on vacation, my skin clear, my digestive system settled, being able to eat a wider variety of foods, the brain fog lifted, I realize that there’s something to this, and take stock of my routine back home. How can I feel this way more regularly in my day-to-day? What am I doing at home that I can simply let go of? Often, through travel, I learn that it’s not about incorporating more, but releasing more, filtering out the noise, and reconnecting with what’s actually important. It’s about slowing down, for example, being reminded through indigenous practices to take moments of gratitude for each plant and animal that ends up on our plates. This pace I settle into while traveling also helps to reinforce the effect that chronic stress can have on our health. We need breaks to give the nervous system a chance to rest so our bodies can have the space to finally work on healing.

When my doctor was reviewing my most recent stool test results she explained, “I usually see this in those who travel” as she pointed out the high levels of bacterial diversity found in my poo. It only makes sense. The more we get out of our bubbles, into different environments and ecosystems, our internal ecosystem reflects the external. When we introduce new foods, touch new textures, and breathe new air, our bodies take this information in, adapt, and become more diverse and intelligent in the process.

More and more I recognize that this is paramount for optimal health in general. And, a main component of any trip I take is to connect and immerse myself with the local people and what is important to them. I love nothing more than to be swept under the wings of others to soak up their customs, assuming the role of a humble student in an unfamiliar place. I’d argue that cultural humility is a part of self-care and my continued development as a professional coach. Making connections, being able to meet others fully where they are, and to appreciate their lived experiences. Whether we like it or not, we all have our own biases that we need to actively shed to show up more compassionately for others. Travel is a way of doing just that.

I’m sure you’ve heard of these. Places around the world where residents have longer lifespans, from Greece to Japan to Costa Rica. It’s no wonder that these shifts I’ve picked up through my own travel practice, even after just a week or two, are a few of the components found in the healthiest individuals living in these Blue Zones. They incorporate gentle daily movement, have low levels of stress, a sense of meaning and purpose, eat local plant foods, and engage with those in their communities. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK298903/) Travel is a way to get back in touch with these foundational human needs and to rebalance the system.

I typically say there’s no “easy button” for our health. But I stand to correct myself. There is, in fact, an “easy button.” It’s to travel. Time and time again I hear from those who hit rock bottom in their health and decide to check out for a while, explore the world while they can, and take a time out. And when they come back, symptoms calmed or even reversed, their doctors look at them in amazement and ask “What did you do?” They traveled. It’s something we can all benefit from. So if you’re looking for that button, pick a spot on a map and pack a bag. And when you get back, let me know how you feel.

Robyn is a Travel Designer with Explorer X as well as a Functional Medicine Health Coach for Autoimmune Recovery. She helps people design the trips and lives of their dreams. You can get in touch with her here: robyn@explorer-x.com or robyn@autoimmunerecovery.org

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