I’ve always been a big proponent of the very simple concept that your body tells you what you need. Tired? You need sleep. Hungry? You need food. Thirsty? You need water.
Stupidly obvious, right? Well, I know I’m not alone when I say that I am guilty of ignoring my body’s directions. Not that it’s always a horrible disaster–who hasn’t counted down the hours until the end of the day where you can finally grab a snack. And what university student (or teacher, hehe) hasn’t guzzled coffee at 10:00 at night to finish that paper, instead of hitting the hay for some rest?
Yep, we’ve all been there. As have I–very often. So I preface this post by stating that I am as guilty as anyone, but am working hard to learn to listen to my body more and more,
I’m naturally a morning person. I prefer to go to bed early and wake up early. Just the way my body works. However, I’ve discovered this can be a distinct disadvantage while bumming around as a backpacker. Late nights, parties, a socialization are a huge part of the backpacker culture, and even if you’re not a big partier, being out with a group of people at night is a great way to make new friends.
That said, there will always be another night. There have been a few nights that I wanted to go out with everyone, but I was barely keeping my eyes open while still sitting at the hostel. Instead of grabbing some kind of energy drink and trying to power through, I went to bed. And those were some of the best nights. I woke up the next day feeling more or less rested (depending on how noisy my dorm-mates were when returning from their night at 4:30am) instead of completely drained and unable to do anything. There will always be more nights to go out, meet people, and have adventures. But I know that if I don’t get enough sleep, my immune system will get run-down and then I’ll get sick. And that’s just no good!
It’s tricky when backpacking to find food when it’s convenient/you’re hungry. Sometimes you’re on a bus hours from a stop. Sometimes you’re visiting a Pagoda and there are no restaurants or food spots close by. Sometimes everything nearby is just to damn expensive. My tip: always have some kind of snack either with you (if on a bus ride or long tour away from your hostel) or in your backpack. I’ve adopted Ritz Cracker Cheese Sandwhiches as my bus-snack-of-choice, mostly because they’re everywhere, they’re cheap, and they’ll fill me up. I’ve never eaten so many Ritz in my life.
That said, there is more to proper nutrients than just eating whatever’s accessible. This is where the listen to your body comes into play. What I’ve learned over the years is if you’re craving it, your body’s telling you something. Such as today, for breakfast I had a chicken curry salad (which was freaking fabulous) because I was craving greens. And I know my diet right now is lacking in vegetables. Easy enough.
I feel like I should add some kind of a everything in moderation clause here (knowing how backpackers think): just because you’re always in the mood for beer, that doesn’t make it necessarily nutritious …
This one may not apply to everyone, but it impacted several of my days in Ho Chi Minh pretty severely. If you have some kind of injury–old, new, whatever–pay attention to your pain levels and activity. As you may have read in my Adventures in Physiotherapy posts, I pulled my hamstring about 18 months ago, and have been going through a long, slow, frustrating and painful recovery. I’ve been trying my best to do at least part of my physiotherapy regime everyday, though I know I could be doing more.
As I have also mentioned, backpacking inherently involves a lot of walking. And a pulled hamstring + lots of walking = a recipe for trouble.
On my fourth day in Saigon, Braydon and I were on our way to the Thai Embassy when I took a step off a curb a bit funny, and felt my hamstring tweak. It was painful. Extremely. But, being stubborn as I am, I figured I would walk it off on the way to the embassy (another 25 minutes away). After about 10 minutes it was feeling fine again, just a faint twinge of pain if I stepped the wrong way. So I promptly ignored it and went about the day. That day we walked to the embassy, back to the hostel, back to the embassy, then to the War Remnants Museum where we spent several hours getting lost in the history, and then back to the hostel.
The day after I woke up and my hamstring was killing me. Not as bad as when I originally injured it, but walking on my leg and straightening it first thing in the morning was painful. I went to the hostel restaurant for breakfast and iced it, which did help.
That day Braydon and I ended up wandering around for ages in a frustration of not being able to get money out of any ATM, and back to the Thai Embassy to pick up our visas. Probably about 2-3 solid hours of walking this day.
The day after was the day I had scheduled to visit VDance, the pole dance studio in Saigon. And there was no way I was going to miss that. So I took a painkiller, hopped in a cab, and had a fantastic pole session.
The next day it all caught up with me. I couldn’t walk without limping. I could barely make it around the hostel to shower and get changed without searing pain in my leg. I ended up spending the day sitting in the hostel, gently stretching and resting my leg while Braydon went out to run some errands that had to be done. I was frustrated beyond belief.
This was what I got for not listening to my body for several days. The day I felt my leg tweak I should have changed plans for the day and gone straight back to the hostel to ice and rest my leg. But my stubbornness got the best of me, and now I’m still babying my leg to ensure I won’t further damage it.
The long-story-short version of this: listen to your body. Again, not complicated, but it’s easy to get swept up into what’s going on and to push off caring for yourself, and that can lead to frustrating situations, as I mentioned.