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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Keeping Your Balance While Traveling

What do you get when you play baseball in your dreams, fall out of bed and crash the side of your head on cold, unforgiving Mexican tile?

Answer: A double header (credit: Alan Leder)

I've done it again: last year, I fell through an unlocked door and suffered a compression fracture in my spine. And this while trying to avoid icy Chicago streets and sidewalks.

This year, in a dream, I reached for a styrofoam baseball and fell off the bed and banged my head on the same style Mexican tile. And this time, I suffered a mild concussion.

What is it about travel to Mexico (or anywhere else) that causes me to lose my balance? Why do these accidents rarely occur at home? I have some thoughts.

Everything about Mexico is different/foreign: the food, the climate, the language, the customs, the smells . . I can love it, appreciate it, know my way around. But I will always be a gringa, an americana who, in many ways, does not belong. This understanding throws me off balance. (Oh, and cobblestone streets, steep hills, holes in the narrow sidewalks can do a number as well.)

I'd like to think that my accidents this year and last were quirks of fate for which I had no part. And, yes, the door wasn't closed properly and I was too close to the edge of the bed. But those were both circumstances I could have remedied by being more mindful. I'm not thirty any more (far from it) and, while age can be an excuse for all kinds of misfortunes, the truth is that I could have prevented both falls by slowing down and purposely paying more attention and planting myself firmly on the earth.

I think travel can make it more difficult to be present. Yes, there are so many new things to see and do: art, cathedrals, natural wonders, shopping (Let's not forget shopping), music/dance/theater, house and walking tours--the list is endless and depends where you travel. Yet with all of these wonders, we can find ourselves one step ahead of ourselves. How do we get from one place to another? Are reservations required for the restaurant of choice? Where can we stay, if we aren't pleased with the hotel we've booked? Should we take a language class and where? (I'm sure you can add your own concerns.)

With all these decisions comes planning ahead--having one foot in the future. For those of us who like to have decisions made in advance--to avoid potential problems--it requires more practice and dedication in order to "let it all hang out." My mother was a planner and, like her, I was a slave to daily To-Do lists. If I didn't scratch off every item on The List by the end of the day, I chided myself for not managing my time well, for, in a big way, failing my requisite responsibilities. And being responsible was a highly valued trait in my family.

My BFF might disagree, but I think I've come a long way in kicking my fears to the curb and letting the cards fall where they may. (Okay, I can hear you and the others who know me well laughing hysterically.) So, when it comes to travel or any other part of my life, I try not to get caught up in the minutiae and to let my mind rest and allow the spirits to take it from wherever I've left off. It would be a lie to say that I don't fall back into old habits but, happily, not as often.

Example: During this trip to Mexico, we decided for the umpteenth time to look for a house to buy. And for about two weeks, I got caught up in finding a broker, checking out available homes in our price range (apparently not close to enough), talking to our financial advisor about possible loans, selling our home in the States, blah, blah, blah. I was back to a To-Do list and spending almost all my time trying my best to control the situation. I was stressed, my back hurt, and I frickin' fell out of bed. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that I hit my head. I needed a push (well, actually, a big shove) to get back to a grounded stance on the earth and out of my head.

Words like grounded, mindful, present, can, to some, seem a bit like the psychobabble of alternative folks who grab on to the tenant or practice of the day. I would argue that taking it easy, watching what you're doing, finding ways to access the silence in between your thoughts is exactly what we older women (and young women, too) need in order to be balanced and open to all possibilities. And, might I add, to help us from falling or tripping or stumbling when we are away from home and when we're in familiar surroundings as well.


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