I used to look forward to getting home and sleeping in my own bed after a trip. But now, there is no “home” or “own bed” because my life is a non-stop trip. I’m a digital nomad, so I don’t get a break from the physical effects of travel. After changing locations every few weeks or months for a year and a half, I’ve learned it can take a toll on your health.
“Your body’s natural rhythm is thrown for a loop when you travel a lot,” Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “Flying for 12, 14, or 16 hours on jet plane is alright here and there. But when you are constantly traveling, especially in the air, it can start messing with your body. Going between time zones can be a drag. Recovering from jet lag and fatigue can be a difficult task when you have a job to do. Individuals who fly a lot on business are often romanticized and glamorized, but many times, this causes harm on a physical, emotional, and social level.”
Here are a few unexpected things that I’ve noticed happening to my body when I started traveling a lot.
1My Period Became Location-Specific
My period has always been wildly irregular, popping up once every three or four months at most. But when I became a nomad, it got even weirder. It would go completely missing during the months I spent in Europe, then make an appearance again when I entered North America.
Functional nutritionist, Woman Code author, and MyFLO founder Alisa Vitti told me this likely has to do with my circadian rhythm. Because I work for American clients while in Europe, I’ll stay up until 4 a.m. to accommodate the time difference. This kind of schedule can disrupt your hormone levels, leading to abnormal periods, says Vitti.
The upside is that traveling between continents forced me to face menstrual issues I had to deal with anyway. I got on a normal schedule and started eating three meals a day, and now my period comes around once every two months — even in Europe!
2My Default Language Became A Weird Hybrid
I think and dream in English, and I’m not fluent in any other language, but I know a ton of random phrases in different languages. So now, certain words and phrases now come out in the wrong language, even if I’m in an English-speaking country. While passing someone on a busy street in New York City, I said the German “entschuldigung” (“excuse me”). Then, when I actually was in Germany, I asked for “mas vassar” (that’s “more” in Spanish and “water” in German). In Boston, I told a server “gracias.” It takes a while to switch modes when you’re accustomed to using particular phrases in particular situations, which can make you sound like a foreigner in your home country.
3Sleep Was A Struggle — Then It Wasn’t
When you’re sleeping in a new place, your brain stays partially awake to survey your surroundings. So, when every place you sleep is new, your brain never fully falls asleep. At first, I found myself having trouble falling asleep and waking up throughout the night. It was really becoming a problem. At my worst, I was staying up until eight in the morning.
But travel was also the fix to my sleep issues. Soon after I reached rock bottom, I went somewhere eight hours behind, and 8 a.m. became midnight. Then, I slept in the jungle for nine nights, which triggered my brain’s whole vigilance system. But once I conquered that, sleeping in a hotel room became a piece of cake. Now that I’ve figured out how to sleep in all sorts of conditions, I’m an expert sleeper.
4My Eating Patterns Became Wildly Inconsistent
I talked to a nutritionist a few weeks ago, and she asked what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I realized there was no pattern: I ate what I could get my hands on when I got hungry. As an eating disorder survivor, this has been kind of freeing. I don’t think much about what I’ll be eating the next day, because who knows what will be available?
5I Got Sick More Often
Travel exposes you to germs you haven’t had the chance to build immunity to, and planes spread these germs around. So, one sacrifice you make when you’re constantly exploring new cities is that you may spend some of these days in your rooms.
I could probably do without a few of these effects, but they’re a small price to pay for a life full of adventures, even if I have to sniffle through them.