Eyes glazed, I stare up at the ‘New In’ section of Euston station’s bookshop. Having just missed my train by a matter of seconds, I’m irritated that I’m now forced to stay here for another thirty minutes; too tired to be surrounded by the station’s frantic crowds. I’ve come to the bookstore to escape them – some respite away from all that hustle and bustle.
Absentmindedly, and with real no intention to actually buy a book, I skim the titles. Eyes flicking past the usual holiday reads, I come to rest on one curious headline: ‘Why We Sleep’. Reaching for the book, I turn to the synopsis, my eyes drawn to a neat, italicised line across the middle of the page:
‘More than exercise, diet and wealth, science has shown that sleep is the most important factor to our physical and mental wellbeing.’
Intrigued, I find myself already hastily handing over the cash to buy it. I can’t remember much of my eventual journey home: too absorbed in a book that, with every page, satisfyingly confirmed a decision that I’d made early on in my travel blogging career. It was a decision that prioritised my wellbeing over frantic bucket list ticks and whirlwind sight-seeing. It was a decision to sleep.
It therefore seemed fate that the morning after discovering Why We Sleep, an email titled ‘Stress and Success’ popped into our inbox from Tempur. The email introduced Tempur’s sleep campaign that’s soon to launch ahead of the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018). Champions of a good night’s sleep thanks to their dream-inducing memory foam mattresses and pillows, Tempur invited us to write about our own experiences of sleep and stress. As mental health advocates, it was a challenge I was happy to accept.
“She’s overtired,” was a phrase commonly repeated by my parents growing up. From meltdowns over a dropped ice cream, to unexplained tears at having to visit yet another museum on holiday, it seems that sleep has always played a leading part in my mental wellbeing. As someone who has suffered with bouts of crippling anxiety throughout my twenties, and having sought support to improve my mental health, I understand that the amount of sleep I get each night is unequivocally linked to whether I feel calm and focused, or an anxious mess.
Throughout my twenties, I therefore diligently built 7-8 hours of sleep into my daily routine: even through my university days when pulling an ‘all-nighter’ was common. As my fellow course mates stocked up on energy drinks and disappeared into the library for the night, I was already in bed – living my very best life. Unashamed to turn down nights out if I was feeling a little bit anxious, sleep was something I respected and made time for.
Or it was, until I became a travel blogger.
In an industry where the phrase ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ is batted proudly around by people seeking endless adventure, travel blogging quickly transported me to a world where sleep had less value. In fact, it seemed to have none at all. It seemed that instead, me and my fellow millennials should be pushing ourselves like never before: jumping on long-haul flights, crossing time zones, and embarking on gruelling 12-hour itineraries; an ever present FOMO haunting us. Life is to be lived, but all of the time. After all, who knows what you might miss if you dare have an early night?
Maintaining any resemblance of a healthy sleep pattern whilst travelling, particularly while on press trips, can be near impossible. Searching for maximum return on investment, PR companies and tourism boards will often squeeze every last minute out of a day. It’s something that of course makes sense, but it’s also an experience that if done too frequently, can end in burnout.
Something I discovered first-hand.
Stood in the marble bathroom of a villa located deep in the Majorcan countryside, I burst into tears. It was 2pm on a warm summer’s day, a whole afternoon of exciting activities planned, yet I was miserable. Having woken up at 6am after only 4 hours sleep, I felt anxious and drained. In the words of my Mum, I was “over-tired” – but this time my parents weren’t around to put me to bed.
The pressure to feel excited, energised and well – awake – on this trip had been exhausting. As I dabbed my eyes, I wondered what I was doing here. Sitting down on the side of the bath, I had a sudden flashback to my older sister having a similar watery breakdown in a Tokyo elevator: the incident the result of intense jetlag. I had laughed at the time, thinking her overly dramatic, but – as I sat on the side of that bath, anxiously fiddling with a piece of toilet paper – I understood her reaction. My family, it seemed, needed their sleep – and my quota of it was seriously lacking.
In a bid to calm myself down before the afternoon activities began, I rested my head against the cold wall of the bathroom and closed my eyes, eager for just a few extra minutes of sleep. If this was the reality of travel blogging, I was going to quit. I was obviously too constitutionally weak.
The Majorcan trip continued in a blur of activities that I can barely remember, and parties I was hardly awake for. In fact, the other week I had to check whether it was indeed Majorca I’d visited at all. The whole trip now seems a foggy, stressful dream rather than an exciting, vibrant adventure (as portrayed in the photos posted to my Instagram account). What a fraud.
Returning home from Majorca – abruptly collapsing into bed for the weekend – it became apparent that if I was to continue with travel blogging, I urgently needed to change the way I travelled. I wanted to move at a pace that was slower and explore somewhere where sleep was a given, rather than an optional extra. Ultimately, I wanted to remember the places I’d visited – to create happy memories of turquoise seas and delicious dinners that could be remembered from my armchair in 40 years’ time. I didn’t want my memories of Twins That Travel to be dominated by vague recollections of micronaps in a communal toilet.
Several years on since my decision to embrace a slower pace of travel – something that has also been kinder on my mental health– it’s clear that it has had an incredibly positive impact on the success of Twins That Travel. Over time, our adventures have become sustainable, authentic and enjoyable again. Once a flurry of tired words and vague memories, our blog posts have also improved and our photography too. Our writing is now a careful reflection of our adventures: reflections that come with a natural enthusiasm and genuine clarity.
Writing this blog post from my hotel bed in the The Hague – my second trip here in just three short weeks – it’s satisfying to reflect on my travel/sleep journey. Indeed, having visited this city a few weeks earlier on a short press trip, we decided to revisit the city under our own steam – eager to unearth more of this brilliant place at a slightly slower pace. From a lazy morning exploring French inspired cafes, to an afternoon spent gazing at the Girl with the Pearl Earring, at the Mauritshuis, this trip has been slower and richer for it.
The decision to embrace slower (sleep rich) travel hasn’t always been an easy one, particularly when enticing emails land in our inbox. From four-day trips to Sydney, to three night stays in Singapore, I’ve grappled with the desire to see new countries alongside the reality of knowing that such sleep-deprived trips would ultimately end in disaster. Another micronap in a public toilet likely – a persistent sense of anxiety most definitely. Further to this, sticking to a style of travel that promotes positive mental health, all whilst being bombarded with blog posts on ‘How I visited 24 countries in 12 months,’ has also been difficult. It’s caused a niggling feeling that I’m failing in my travel blogger career by not flouting my ‘busy’ badge quite as much.
Fundamentally however, travelling less but more authentically has meant that Twins That Travel has not only survived but flourished. In a society and industry that pushes for minimal sleep and maximum productivity, it can be all too easy to sacrifice something so essential to our very existence. But, is this sleep sacrifice really worth the return? I may not have travelled to 24 countries in 12 months like some of my peers, but the trips I have completed are those that I was at least present and well for. From memories of lazy evenings spent on a Florida beach watching candyfloss sunsets, to entire afternoons spent kayaking through the turquoise Caribbean seas, my memories of travel are now far richer thanks to one simple activity: sleep.
It’s now 11.00pm in my quiet hotel room and it’s time to bring my reflections on ‘Stress and Success’ to an end. Sure, I could still be out drinking in a bar or exploring a club, but I’ve already made plenty of memories today. Besides, a local advised me that an early morning walk down the streets of The Hague is a must – something I’d like to be awake for.
Satisfied I’ve fulfilled my own mission (and not that of the sleep-deprived) I switch the light off and welcome a deep, restful sleep.
This post is in collaboration with Tempur but all thoughts (and moments of tiredness) are my own. TEMPUR® are supporting the Mental Health Foundation as the chosen charity for 2018.
The Mental Health Foundation have pioneered new ways of looking at mental health and improving the lives of people experiencing mental illness for more than 60 years.
TEMPUR® will be donating £10 for every mattress sold through the TEMPUR® UK website, or through a TEMPUR owned store (brand or outlet) throughout May 2018.