I love traveling, especially to big cities. My respect runs deep for those of you who like hiking/camping/backpacking for days, taking in nature's finest, but I am not you. For me, the best kind of trip includes busy sidewalks, noisy traffic, and attempting to live like a local in an unknown city with millions of strangers. Let me be clear, trips/travel and vacations share many similarities, but are not the same. In fact, my husband and I had this exact conversation during our recent week in Chile; vacations aim to bring complete relaxation back into you life, while trips aim to bring a little adventure and a lot of exploration. I prefer trips, David would like us to take more vacations. Regardless of our views, we loved our week in Chile; amazing sites, delicious food, interesting history, and friendly people. This post covers two areas: 1) a brief overview of our trip, in hopes of convincing you to consider Chile for yourself, and 2) lessons learned about stress and anxiety while traveling.
Lots of Walking: A Brief Travel Log
Why Chile? Because I found amazing flight deals over the summer on The Flight Deal. We like to take one big trip each year (last year we went to Italy), and had discussed the idea of Central or South America, so when I saw the deal we immediately booked the tickets, knowing nothing about where we were going. We flew to Santiago after two layovers in El Salvador and Peru; arriving at 4:00 am local time. I don't know if we qualify as "budget" travelers, but we plan out trips carefully based on a pre-determined amount. When I say "we plan", I really mean "I plan". One of the best parts of traveling for me is the planning process, and David lets me run with it. I occasionally check-in with him, but I honestly think he is thrilled to have someone else spend all of the hours on curating the perfect trip. I could do an entire series of posts on my trip planning philosophy (maybe one day I will), but for anyone looking for a place to start, I recommend Fodor's travel guides.
Based on our budget, we decided to try Airbnb, as a studio apartment to ourselves was half the cost of a hotel in the same neighborhood. There are pros and cons to Airbnb for an overseas trip, but it worked well for us this time, especially since we only needed the space for sleeping.
I won't go through each day in detail, but for context, I like to break each travel day in two blocks of time; before lunch and after lunch. In order to strike a balance between seeing everything, yet not exhausting ourselves, I only schedule one major activity in each block. Anything more makes the day too chaotic. The other important piece of information is we walk a lot, like 30,000 steps a day (an average day for me is between 12,500-15,000 steps). This insane amount of walking is partly by design, but mostly because I feel the best way explore a new city is by using my own two feet. No need to worry though, the walking is broken up with plenty of food and coffee breaks.
Oh, and one more thing; we spent almost all of our time in Santiago, with two side trips to Valparaiso and the Casablanca Valley.
Ok, so on to some of my favorite things. First, the food walking tour. This has become a travel tradition for us, as these tours cover history, culture, and of course great food. We like to do these on the first day or two of a trip to better understand our surroundings, and collect recommendations for the rest of our time. Food walking tours typically accommodate 6-12 people, but we were the only ones signed up (November is a slower tourism time), so it turned into a private tour! We tasted a few Chilean classics during the tour: pisco sours, empanadas, wine, and mote con huesillo - my favorite was pastel de choclo.
This dish can best be described as Chilean shepherd's pie; a mix of beef, chicken, raisins, hard boiled egg, and sometimes olives all topped with a sweet corn mash.
Mid-way through the week we traveled 1 1/2 hours by bus to Valparaiso, a city built on over 100 hills rising up from the Pacific Ocean. Valparaiso was once a prosperous port city that fell into tough times after the Panama Canal was completed. In recent years, it has seen a resurgence, partly fueled by a growing artistic community. Describing the overlap of poverty, bustling city, and pure beauty is impossible, but I fell in love. It is a city both colorful in character and in design. Brightly painted houses reach high about the ocean, and thousands of murals and other street art displays line the streets.
Our other side trip took us to the Casablanca Valley, about 45 minutes outside of Santiago, for a day of winery tours and tastings. We booked our trip through FoodyChile, based on great reviews from Fodor's and other trip planning sites. The reviews did not disappoint. Once again, it was meant to be a small group tour, but we were the only ones signed-up...yeah private winery tours! We visited three boutique wineries; Emiliana, Bodega Re, and Kingston Family Vineyards, I recommend all three. It was the vacation day David was hoping for; not too much walking, great wine, beautiful weather, and a private four-course lunch.
I could go on for hours about our adventures, but I promised a part two of this post, so I will close part one with a few more photos, and a whole-hearted thank you to the people of Santiago and Valparaiso for making our trip memorable.
Lessons Learned from an Anxiety-Free Trip
Trips and vacations should be anxiety- and stress-free. It's why we spend the money to create physical separation between ourselves and normal (hectic) life. More than any previous trip, however, I recognized that some of my most frequent stressors had disappear: my chest didn't tighten in tense situations, no heart burn after taking a bite of bread, and no tossing and turning that often follows a rough day at work. I am sure I experienced these phenomena before, but for some reason it was all so much clearer this time around.
On the trip back home, when I was not sleeping, I considered how I may be able to translate these magical, anxiety-free feelings into my daily routines. While my daily schedule of work, community activities, cooking, cleaning, etc. will never be a vacation, maybe I can still work toward finding moments of deeper relaxation and appreciation for the wonderful life I wake to to each morning.
Stay Engaged in Your Surroundings
It's easy to go through an entire day without feeling present; I believe we can all recall a day like this in recent history. When I stop engaging in my immediate surroundings (the conversation with my neighbor, the meeting at work, the book I'm reading), my brain travels into unsavory territory, which usually means I begin obsessing over food, or worrying about things completely out of my control. Traveling, however, constantly keeps me in the moment, leaving my brain no time to wander. Yes, visiting a new place lends itself to constant engagement, and many work meetings bring boring to a whole new level, but maybe we could all work on training ourselves to stay a little more focused on the small, yet exciting/meaningful moments.
Mind over Body
I suffer from chronic acid reflux, which at points gets so bad my medication does not stand a chance. I often blame certain foods; bread, sugar, pizza, but I ate bread every day on this trip, and gelato at least every other day without any consequence. I cringe to think some of my physical ailments originate deep within my mind, but maybe it's time to accept food is not the demon. For all of the reasons stated above, plus the natural, stress-free environment created by ignoring life for a week, my mind relaxed, and brought my stomach along.
Sleep, Sleep, and More Sleep
Yes, sleep is wonderful, and most of us don't get enough of it. Even though David and I walked an average of a 1/2 marathon each day, my energy levels far exceeded what I usually experience. Tell me if this sounds familiar; 2-3 hours after waking up, coffee, and a nutritious breakfast you still feel like your energy tank dropped dangerously low. Besides the fact that daily life requires a different kind of focus which leaves me mentally foggy, I believe the amount and quality of sleep I receive while traveling creates a positive impact on my ability to get through the day. For an entire week I slept 8-9 hours each night; and not just any kind of sleep, the kind that goes uninterrupted, allowing me to physically and mentally rejuvenate. So maybe it's time to turn off the TV earlier, or fight the urge of watching Netflix in bed, and simply turn out the lights.
Coming back from any trip or vacation is difficult. I certainly felt my anxiety levels rising as I made my way back to work meetings, daily chores, and "to do" lists. Incorporating my travel epiphanies into daily routines will require some effort, but working toward bringing a greater sense of engagement, and relaxation into my every day is a worthwhile goal.
Do you have any ideas or creative suggestions for making a few more days feel like vacation? Feel free to comment below or contact me.
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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