Last updated on May 11, 2023
Over the past few months, I’ve talked a lot about relaxation—how it’s one of those pieces of life at which I have not excelled in the past. I spend far too much time on the computer even though I had a palapa full of hammocks just 100 feet from my doorstep for months.
But in moving to Mexico earlier this year, I tasked myself with expanding my capacity for relaxation. In this transition phase I wanted to use Mexico to look at what comes next for me—where I am, where I want to be, and any next steps to get there. And I wanted to learn balance. Though I post lots of pretty photos of my travels, I sometimes spend upwards of 10 hours in front of my computer, the perk of travel being that after those 10 hours I got to eat delicious tacos.
Creating a Work, Life, Travel Balance is Pivotal
Balance is something we all struggle with; I have yet to meet someone who feels they perfectly balance each aspect of work-life-kids-relaxation-hobbies-etc. This is true for long-term travel as well.
So, relaxation. Living in San Pancho, Mexico was a gift to myself of time and space to process and plan, but perhaps more than that, to simply exist and live in the current moment.
I failed at finding balance more days than not, but the successes, the times when I slowed down to enjoy meals and friends, are some of the sweetest memories and sweetest successes of my time there.
I credit most of this positive mental shift to deciding to slow down. I gave myself permission to relax and do less, and that mindset shift pulled me from my funk.
How to Relax While Traveling
Since my time finding a way to relax while on my long-term “vacation” was so successful, I thought I’d share the lessons my little beach town taught me, a manifesto on the art of relaxation for travelers—and anyone who needs to slow down. :)
1. Accept the Art of the Hammock
Hammock-time just screams out for a good book. I spent a lot of hammock time reading on my Kindle, working my way through a heap of travel books in my queue. While in Mexico I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The China Study, The Gifts of Imperfection, and No Touch Monkey, about 15 others.
The key here was to put everything down and prioritize hammock time—to include it in the list of things that needed to get done, not just the, “if I time” list. Ready to relax with a hammock, here’s what you need to do:
- Find a shady spot.
- Stay within hearing distance of the ocean.
- Keep an iced beverage within reach for maximum relaxation.
- Resist any form of sightseeing—just hammock time.
2. Learn the Art of Play (AKA Get in Touch With Your Inner Child)
Your new-agey friend might term it, “getting in touch with you inner child,” and you know . . . that does pretty much sum it up. Time in hammocks—time scheduled to just focus on relaxing—was pivotal to learning how to enjoy my travels. But I also spent dozens of hours volunteering with the kids at the community center, and hours playing with puppies in San Pancho.
I spent time immersed in laughter and joy.
During my time volunteering at EntreAmigos, a local community center for children, I spent days singing songs with them, coloring pictures, and making egregious errors in my Spanish that left us all in stitches more than once.
By seeking out those people and parts of life that still have carelessness, joy, and wonder, I could hijack some of that for myself. Here’s how to make this relaxation magic happen for yourself:
- Hunt down kids or puppies (bonus points for the two together) and volunteer.
- Chase a dog on the beach, even if it’s not yours.
- Join a beach volleyball game—they always need another team member
- Ride a bicycle—it made me feel 10 again.
3. Embrace the Art of Friendship
The new friendships I fostered by staying in one spot created the best recipe for relaxing and de-stressing. I counted on the faces and friends all over town as a surest way to let go of any anxieties I had (have) over where my life is heading next.
During my periods of rapid travel, it’s difficult to make the sort of friendships that last longer than the location. These fast friends are fun; they are genuine as well, but they often lack the depth of friendships formed over months instead of mere days.
Fast-friends are an integral part of travel—these people who come into my life over a couple of days ensure that travel is rarely lonely. But part of relaxing into a new place is having the time to go deeper than the surface questions “how long are you here for” and connect.
If the surest way to keep stress at bay is by surrounding yourself with good people, I succeeded there. San Pancho is a unique town in that it harbors an eclectic mix of expats and locals. I am grateful to this town for the evenings spent in conversation listening to the wonderful local bands (like Pantera Fantasma and Dos Bertos), beach bonfires, and afternoons sipping hot copomo discussing philosophy, life, and love.
Here’s how to embrace this type of travel relaxation:
- Say yes to meeting up with friends, even if you’ve known them just hours or days.
- Arrange a weekly meetup with friends at a local coffee shop.
- Join expat Facebook forums for your town and attend events.
4. Practice the Art of Good Health
If sleep, exercise, and good food are essential, I won the battle on two of the three.
I loved having a kitchen and I made use of the Friday organic market in nearby Sayulita. It seems counter-intuitive since I always post yummy food photos, but it’s actually hard to consistently eat healthy on the road between the packaged snacks and eating out every day, so markets and a kitchen are ideal for feeling healthier.
Now add to that lots of sleep and it’s golden. San Pancho was a cinch on this front because the town closes by well before midnight and the roosters start crowing well after 6am, so that was a solid block of sleep each night.
Exercise is a tough one. On the upside, I ride my back everywhere. Downside? It’s not a very big town, so “everywhere” doesn’t add up to much. My friend Victoria taught yoga in the park—it was lovely but the only word to adequately describe my attendance would be “sporadic” (and she would probably use the word “rare”).
Here’s how to relax through the art of good health while traveling:
- Shut down the computer and do something (anything) active every day.
- Integrate more greens into your diet—they really do make a difference, and smoothie-it up if you can’t handle some of them in regular form.
- Cut out added sugars (that means ditching sweetened drinks) and limit packaged snacks.
5. Immerse in Art of the Nature
Travel puts me in direct contact with diverse landscapes—I’ve hiked the tallest mountain ranges in the world and swum in the clearest waters on earth. And it’s in Mexico that I began to practice mindfulness—to live in each gift from nature around me.
It’s a town tradition here to take in sunset on the beach, and these nightly sunsets are doozies. Some of the prettiest I’ve ever witnessed! And each one is different from the next. This ritual alone, of sunsets on the beach, was my favorite part of the past six months in Mexico. Finding that connection to nature and coupling it with nurturing friendships as we all sat at the water’s edge each night took away some of the last tinges of sadness I had over personal things that happened last year.
Here’s how to embrace the art of relaxation while traveling through nature:
- Take a hike, swim, or long walk every day.
- Sit somewhere and observe what’s nearby.
- Be present in the moment and spend time solo in nature.
Acknowledge Your Weakness Inhibiting True Relaxation
Technology is my biggest failure point. And the same thing for many traveling friends. If I’m not careful, I find myself sucked into mindless hours in front of my computer screen, not always even productive time if I answer the addicting lure of Facebook. So while you think I’m sightseeing in this great place, sometimes I’m actually Facebooking with my other “traveling” friends. And there’s something wacky about that … so in this guide to the art of relaxation, cutting out screen time is a must.
And now that I am home in Florida, I’ve been working on incorporating more of these into my home routine too. In between visiting friends I have actually driven to the beach here. I live 15 minutes from the beach but sometimes it’s years between visits for me, and that’s a shame. I’m working on being more mindful, more balanced. How about you? Anything you struggle with as well in navigating that balance?