5 ways to enjoy the chill of a vacation without traveling

Travel is love. But here’s why you shouldn’t travel right now. And what you could do instead.

In the first week of March, I was busy dreaming about Bir – the mountains and monasteries, the mystic morning light, and cups of milky tea, when my phone buzzed with a message from Booking.com. They said that in light of COVID19, they were happy to let me cancel my reservation for free. After sulking for an hour – I did.

Ain’t no one too cute for Corona

Even if we can withstand the infection – it’s selfish to not think about people around us. About parents or people with impacted immune systems. And so, avoiding travel, which is not urgent, is the conscientious choice to make. We’ve done it when there are budget or time constraints. We’ve done it because duty or family called. So why not now when our communities need us?

That’s not to say that we must give shoulder to the wheel of life, and not shrug. In other words – breaking free of our daily routines, experiencing the new, and indulging ourselves every now and then, is all part of what the doctor ordered (More on the science of why we should travel is here).

My argument is we can try new habits or activities which give us as much of a kick as traveling. This is possible because of the brain’s enjoyment of everything new and shiny. That’s what drives our love for travel. Because what else is travel but a cluster of novel experiences? A jump off our hamster wheel life?

And so, we can attempt a cluster of new experiences without changing pin codes. This is possible because, as per psychologists, when the brain says, “I need a break,” what it means is “I need change.”

Let’s spend some time understanding this. Imagine a commuter on the way to work. There’s crazy traffic – like on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. The commuter starts to get fidgety, frustrated, and then angry. It takes longer than usual to reach the usual destination (or achieve the regular result).

That’s the brain using its usual neural pathways.

Now, let’s think of the commuter taking an alternative route to work. She is curious about the new route, alert, and excited to see if it helps her reach on time. In the end, she beats the traffic, enjoys a smooth drive, and has discovered a quicker/scenic/easier route to the daily goal.

That’s the brain firing new pathways.

With these activities, which are both fun and meaningful, we can encourage neuroplasticity. Give ourselves a change (= break). And get that travel-high without changing postcodes or breaking the bank.

Sold? Here are my top 5 suggestions.

1)   Do an online course:
Udemy has courses in Neuroplasticity, Arts Therapy, and Investing in Stocks.
There’s also Skillshare – if you want to do poetry on Instagram, or mixed media art or just learn how to crochet dresses.
For the more academically inclined there are platforms like edX, Coursera and Khan Academy. Even LinkedIn does short vocational courses on everything from Humour in the Workplace to Video Script Writing.
Remote learning and working are the order of the day – so why not take on a subject or a hobby you’re curious about? Apart from how it makes your CV look, it’s just fun to do.

Top 5 film recommendations

2)   Curate a Film Festival at home:
A self-curated movie binge can be a close second to getting lost in foreign lands.
You could find yourself getting used to life in an ashram – swotting mosquitoes and swiping floors with Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Or chuckling over pasta and sizzling chorizo with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip to Italy or The Trip to Spain. I am still infected by Samin Nosrat Fateh’s fascination with salt in her epic Netflix series where she travels to different locations to understand what she calls the 4 basic elements of great food (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat).
These are my recommendations. Pop some corn, grab some fizz, dim the lights and off we go.

3) Do a Home Spa:

If you’re a luxury traveler who misses the resort spa – there’s no need to deny yourself at home. The benefits of a home spa are many:

– A good self-care routine can lower anxiety
– It can also make you look and feel better
– You develop a new skill
– You save a bucket of money

So why don’t you light candles? I recommend any soy wax ones (check out Omved). Even a Bath & Body Works one will last you ages. And to get you started:

     P.S. You can read more about essential oils here.

4)   Reading a great book (Listening will work too)

Few of us are in the habit these days, I know! But, let’s face it – “We, as a species, are addicted to stories.” We’re wired for stories. That’s why reading makes a great pastime when you can’t travel (and even when you can).  Jonathan Gottschall who wrote The Storytelling Animal asserts that when we read a book – the same areaslight up in our brain as the protagonists. We become the heroes and heroines of the novel, instead of remaining bystanders. What a great way to live vicariously!

5)   Meditate
What better way to engineer neuroplasticity than by meditating? According to research, a wandering mind is associated with lower levels of happiness.
So, retraining our mind through meditation can potentially make us calmer and happier. Researchers at Johns Hopkins agree. Obviously, the ones who meditate regularly certainly do. As Pablo D’Ors notes in his Biography of Silence, “The quality of meditation is proven in life itself.”
If we meditate well, we live well.

There is an infinite variety of meditation methods. So, feel free to pick and choose. But, as advanced practitioners say, once you like a method – be consistent. Godspeed!

What are your recommendations? Share the knowledge. Spread the love!

4 Essential oils you must carry on your travels | And how to use them

Browsing essential oils and perfumes in Pushkar, Rajasthan
Browsing essential oils and perfumes in Pushkar, Rajasthan

While essential oils might seem to you very much a new-age experiment, a vegan passion, or a quirk of the flower-children, they have been around for a long time.

The ancient Egyptians, for instance, used oils to mummify. That means Egyptian mummies were using the oils when they traveled from this world to the next. And if it works when you change this world for another, it’s worth a try when you’re merely changing cities, right?

Closer to the present day, the gifts that the wise men bought sweet baby Jesus? They included myrrh and balsam. Great present for someone who was on the move a lot.

Fragrances, whether they come from plants or resins, have therefore had a significant role in various cultures. They’re valued for their spiritual, physical, and emotional benefits. And today, one of the easiest ways to use fragrances for health is through essential oils.

First though, you might want to know how essential oils work. They are said to effectively stimulate the limbic system. You can use them externally after carrying out a patch test for sensitivity. Please do not ingest them.

Packing a few when you travel, along with medicines and other aid necessary, is a great idea. They can help you address everything from travel anxiety to motion sickness. And carrying 10 – 20 ml bottles adds no weight at all, they’re so easy to carry. After a few years, I feel that essential oils are must-haves for travel.

So, here are 4 basic oils (with options) that make great travel companions.

1. Lavender essential oil

Earthy & floral, lavender is a staple ingredient in the majority of beauty & bath products. Bath salts, shampoos, teas, soaps, creams & mists – lavender’s a popular ingredient everywhere.
With good reason. It is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial.
Stress of travel getting to you? Skin drying because of long flights and sudden change in weather? Unable to sleep in a bed other than your own? Lavender can help you ease out all these struggles. It’s a grounding and clearing oil.

Suggested uses: Rub a few drops, with carrier oil, on scalps and soles before bedtime. You will enjoy wonderful sleep. Few drops in water for a relaxing bath. Use with cream or oil to massage face.

Alternatives: Sandalwood, Clary Sage, Cedarwood

2. Eucalyptus essential oil

A useful weapon against headaches, seasonal allergies, and coughs, eucalyptus oil belongs in every backpack. It’s basically a great friend for your immune system and during those trips to the mountains (because mountains over beaches, right?). Your sinuses will clear like the skies after rains. And it gets the blood circulating.

Suggested use: Apply a few drops to your chest and the back of your neck to decongest. Alternatively, put a few drops in hot water and inhale (with a towel over your head). For headaches, put a few drops on cotton balls and rub your temples.

Alternatives: Thyme, Peppermint

3. Tea tree essential oil

God, the uses of this oil. Just ask the cosmetic companies which are making a huge profit from it. Tea tree is antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory.
Stress, change in weather, and exposure to different micro-organisms during travel can affect the quality of your skin and hair tremendously, and tea tree is beautifully effective in those cases. If you have insect bites, or scratches, or wounds – you need tea tree oil. Research says it’s also useful to fight head lice. Well, I’ve never had to find out for myself. If you do, let me know.

Suggested uses: A few drops in your bath water for keeping skin and scalp clean. You can also use it on a clean cotton pad to dab your post-wash face.
Apply topically on insect bites, scratches and burns. Of course, be careful.

Alternatives: Geranium, Camphor, Lavender (not on open bites/wounds)

4. Lemon essential oil:

I mean it could be any citrus oil. Mainly because they’re very uplifting.
We don’t always travel for leisure, often it’s work, or other circumstances. Maybe we feel alone, overwhelmed or stifled in a foreign place or culture. In those situations, citrus oils are great mood lifters. The smell of oranges makes me feel . . . zesty (sorry). Also, if you’re feeling nauseous, whether on a flight or elsewhere – sniffing a whiff can help. It also helps relieve constipation if used consistently over a period of time. Used before sleep, it helps brighten skin. (Citrus oils are photosensitive so don’t use on exposed skin before stepping out in the sun).

Suggested uses: Mix with coconut oil and rub on the back of your neck, wrists, stomach for improving mood. Inhale directly from the bottle for relieving symptoms of nausea. You can also add a few drops to your massage oil.

Alternatives: Mentioned above.

Now, as a proper person with functional grey cells, I expect that you will not drown yourself in these oils, drink them, or use them in place of medicines. Because, mate, you shouldn’t. Diffuse them in the room, squeeze a few drops in your bath water, massage them as advised.

So, are you going to stay well away from this vegan voodoo, or, are you ready to pack your personal essential oil kit?