Get back to the basics, to the primal urges that people have been satisfying for thousands of years. Since caveman times people have been trying to communicate with others through the written word or drawn picture. Encountering a different culture, although fascinating, is overwhelming.
Call timeout, put yourself on the sidelines and reflect on your experiences. When I travel I always take a notebook and pen; I have found the longer I wait to write about an experience the more details I forget. Details make an experience unique. Remember how grand those craggy cliffs were, and how the mountain ranges seem to rise out of the ground and reach skyward in sharp points? Probably not unless you wrote it down. Let your experiences on the road shape you; take the time to reflect on the best Philly steak sandwich you have ever had or seeing the baseball hall of fame for the first time. Write about what it means to you and you may just be surprised at what it reveals about you.
JOURNAL FOR MEANING
When encountering unique situations we act in some manner as it relates to the situation. Our first reaction could be bad if the situation is entirely new to us. Take for example, personal space. The personal space of individuals varies by countries, and you could offend someone by not kissing him/ her on the cheeks when you greet. A person could get huffy and storm off, or treat you with disrespect. How do you ever discover what you did wrong and correct it for the next time? Through reflection.
Reflecting on your actions in a given situation, and whether they were appropriate or inappropriate helps draw cognitive connections between the situation and our reaction. This “meaning making,” as it is called, is the goal of learning.2 When you write you work out your way of thinking and literally make meaning with the world around you. Transferring an idea from your mind on to paper forces you to clarify and elaborate your thoughts. This is why many people struggle with writing, it is a difficult process to translate the ideas in your head into something tangible and coherent.
The thing I like most about journaling is making yourself set aside the time to reflect. If you don’t commit to journaling every day for 10-15 minutes during a trip than thinking about your actions and relationship to a unique culture can go ignored. Suddenly other things in life take precedence. You want to try some local cuisine. You’d rather be drinking at the bar down the road from your hotel. If you don’t make time to work on yourself then it won’t happen.
Traveling should always be a learning experience, but if you don’t take the time to reflect and learn for the world around you and its relationship to you, than what has travel given you but a nice vacation away from work or a couple pictures of some cool, ancient monuments.
JOURNAL FOR HEALTH
Studies have shown that journaling about traumatic or stressful personal events can improve your peace of mind and physical health.1 One study in particular was done with college undergraduate students. They were asked to journal twice a week about some traumatic or stressful personal experience. Some were asked to only write about their emotions. Others only the facts of the situation, and the third group was asked to write with a combination of the two.
The results showed that those who wrote with a combination of rational and emotion had improved physical and mental health. Journaling in this manner can help you understand the costs and benefits of the stressful situation you find yourself in.
When you are traveling life is fraught with stress. But, by writing about the facts of the situation and how it made you feel you can actually improve your health. If you don’t unload your mind of all the new stimuli it has encountered you will feel overwhelmed. In addition, writing actually boosts your immune cells and helps improve your ability to function.
Making yourself aware of why an experience was stressful is the first step in adjusting. Adjusting to a new culture requires understanding that culture, and a great way to understand a culture is to write about it. Writing lets your previous ideas about the world mend and mesh with your current world. So, instead of there being a rift within your mind between the life you used to live and the life you are experiencing now, you become whole again and can grow in the new culture with peace of mind.
HOW TO KEEP A JOURNAL
We recommend journaling every day, regardless of if you are traveling or not. Make journaling a habit, and write for 15 minutes a day. But, if that is too much to do starting out then make it a goal to journal every day of your trip. Right when you wake up in the morning, or, my time of preference, right before you go to bed write for 15 minutes.
Don’t become burdened by what you should write, spelling errors and your grammar. Remember that this is for your eyes only so write whatever you want. The journal topic you choose isn’t important. You will find that once you get into the habit of letting your mind express itself the ideas you write about will come naturally. Was there something about today that really bothered you, or surprised you? Did you learn something new today? Write about it. Once you have internalized your thoughts and formed them into coherent sentences you will find yourself ready to take on the rest of your trip with a clear head, and only when you can remain rational and calm despite the chaotic world you find yourself in.