Picturing Wellness on the Road

Doing the best with what’s at your disposal, no matter the circumstances…

This post comes from humanitarian, animal welfare supporter and travel photographer, Freya Dowson.

A life on the road is a life of adventure. Every day is a new place. Every place brings with it new people and experiences – a different way of life with which to become familiar and to document. I’ve been working as a photographer for a while now, working overseas and shooting for some amazing charities around the world. When I first began chasing this career, I imagined it would be one hell of an adventure. And it has been. The places I’ve worked, the people, the nature, all of it has been beautiful. But what I never factored in was the exhaustion – this kind of travel is not glamorous or restful. It’s roadside hotels, long hours on beat-up roads, scorching heat and sometimes 20-hour working days. It’s room service and greasy food, pushing chairs up against a door with no bolt, and crossing your fingers after each and every long day that you’ll turn on the shower and hot water will come out.

But it’s my dream and photography is what I love most. For me, each uncomfortable or scary moment is worth it. I care about the people I photograph and the causes I’m working for and in the face of that, all the challenges fade into the background. My only priority is making sure that I can do the best with what I have to take care of myself, and ensure that each day I can get up and do my best no matter what the circumstances.

Wellness on the road is something I’ve had to learn as I go along – especially since switching to a vegetarian diet. When I started out I ate anything and everything, barring what I knew would put me at risk of getting sick. I would sleep a few hours at night and do nothing but eat, sleep and work for weeks on end. But the price of this was so heavy and after about a year or two I landed myself with exhaustion I just couldn’t shake, both mentally and physically. The idea of preparing to go on the road again after coming home filled me with anxiety and I was so conflicted because I love my job – but if I carried on the way I had been, I knew I would burn out and perhaps never make my way back.

I couldn’t stand the thought of giving up on my dream, so I made up my mind to make some changes. I felt so constricted all the time, internally and in my life – years of travel had taken its toll on my body of course, but years of living on a tight and unsteady schedule had also made me feel out of control. I decided that what I needed was SPACE. I started to give myself room to breathe wherever I was in the world — I needed space to think, to reflect on my mind and body and figure out what I needed in that moment.

First, I considered what I put in my body. Some countries make it easier than others to grab nutritious food on the go. I try to eat fresh wherever I can while minimizing my chances of getting sick. Fruit is a traveler’s best friend, especially if it comes in its own natural packaging like bananas, oranges, mangos – I’m in love with anything that can be peeled and eaten raw. Paying attention to what is seasonal and what is traditionally eaten at any given time of year is the best way to keep your body on track. In India, they eat cooling foods in the summer and warming foods in the winter, things like ginger and spices, foods that fill you up but don’t make you feel heavy. If I’m taking back-to-back excursions, I always try to sandwich in a week or a few days somewhere to refresh my spirit – Jaipur is a favorite escape for me, and it’s where I can go to fill up on my favorite nourishing foods and be taken care of by family friends.

Making space at the end of every day is equally as important as caring for my body, because it cares for my mind. A photographer’s work isn’t done when the camera is put away, as each evening is spent backing up, cleaning kit, post-processing and getting ready for the next day – as well as packing and unpacking in preparation for changing locations. It’s so easy to just walk in and start work immediately, but without a break I find I start to feel overwhelmed quickly. These days, I always make time to roll out my travel yoga mat and work through the stiffness from a day in the field. It’s such a valuable time for me and allows me to check in with myself, to see how I’m doing and what I need to take care of myself that evening.

And finally, my one luxury is my toiletries bag. I fill that up with samples of all my favorite shampoos, organic oils, lotions, vitamins, supplements – it’s like a little spa on the road. Part of it is just going through the process of cleaning myself off from the dust of the day, and going to bed smelling like I’ve just been at the spa is always wonderful, even if I’m as far from a spa-like setting as it’s possible to be. It’s the most luxurious form of self care and, more than smelling good, it’s the physical act of taking care of myself that fills my heart and refreshes my spirit.

+ How do you stay healthy while traveling? Let us know in the comments below! 

Follow Freya on Instagram and her blog

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