Keeping Your Shit Together On The Road
Balance is shaping up to be our industries 2019 buzzword, and if with that comes some more honest accounts of the realities of the job, and in turn some healing and better practices, then let the haters hate and here’s to the rest of us making sure we take care of ourselves. Having wanted to write this for a long while, consider this my (Kelsey’s) own account of the swings & roundabouts life on the road in this industry can bring.
While the majority of our blogs posts very much surround how-tos and lessons we’ve learned, in this article I felt I needed to share my story over the past year. Anyone who might be considering starting up their own company, or taking to the road in a new career, just read on for glimpse into what life on the road was like for me.
Coming out of 10 months straight travel was an incredible experience, we got to see corners of the world we never imagined we would ever see, and experience so many new cultures, languages and cocktails all in what felt like a whirlwind. But let’s be real for a minute here, being on the road for almost a whole year was fucking tough. A new city every 2-3 days at times, constant flights, and though on that first day on the road as we headed to Paris via the Eurostar and vowed to never travel hungover or eat in airports, the reality that followed was like the cold, harsh welcome of a RyanAir “customer service” employee.
Travelling that much took a hell of a toll on our health mentally, physically and emotionally. And while we didn’t kill each other (yay us!), at times we came close, questioned a lot if not all of what we were doing and learned some mega lessons along the way.
We weren’t alone with feeling these tolls either, over the course of the tour we met so many other people that travel as part of a brand job, or to promote themselves or their bars. It has become a major part of our industry, and so many people we talked to, seemed to be going through the same struggles that we were. Travel can be tough, it takes a lot out of you, and being constantly around people, without that time spent alone regaining balance, I noticed myself starting to really feel frustrated and depressed and wasn’t sure why. Throw in the added pressure of being in a relationship, homelessness, and that constant nagging of “we should be doing more social media” and at times it was far from easy.
Starting out, Iain had done some of this kind of stuff before, the travel and pop-ups with the Lyan fam and had some of the connections set up which was great to get us started, but I was feeling pretty alone at this stage. Flying into a new city every 2 days without knowing anyone except Iain, constantly meeting new people, coupled with being in some countries where women seem to get spoken or looked over, it resulted in some serious frustration and internal negativity for me. I couldn’t figure out why I was wanted to just shut it all down and head back to Vancouver.
A big part of what we do is hanging out with people, checking out the bars in each new city and make new friends along the way, and while it’s part of what we love about it, but it’s also a major stressor for me. Constant interaction in public spaces (bars), combined with exhaustion and jetlag, throw some alcohol in the mix and my ability to cope with anything seems to go straight out the window.
The first leg of the tour, through Asia, I started having feelings of inadequacy around other people and with my work, and depression in a big way. My creativity felt dead, and I was existing in a constant state of overwhelm and exhaustion, even in the “easier” cities. Why did just the thought of having to go for dinner seem like a massive hurdle?
Once the tour slowed down and I had some time to self-reflect, I started talking to other people about feeling exhausted after having a lot of social interaction and feeling anxiety before seminars and even before going out to a bar or meeting pals. Panic attacks after daring to leave early on a night out became a thing and touching down in a new city became a source of many less than wholesome emotions. Being ‘on-show’ behind the bar, and even feeling like those outgoing personality types in our industry seem to take the stage, it’s sometimes easy to feel like we need to be the loudest, or the funniest or whatever else, to measure up.
It took me a while to figure it out but everyone interacts with people in a different way and it’s our job as bartenders to support each other and simply create the best possible experience with the people around us. As I started having more of these conversations and found more people feeling this way, I unintentionally started to create a travelling emotional support group, because we’re not the only ones that struggle with this stuff. We came to know and become good friends with bar and brand people that travel just as much as we now do. We’ve exchanged many a late night drink and chat with each of them on the challenges and frustrations each of us find when we’re travelling this much and how we’ve each dealt with it in very different ways.
I still have (or maybe, have found once again?) that thirst to travel, but if not feeling balanced and have the energy to get out and explore, all this amazing travel becomes is a missed opportunity. Having the extra pressure to make sure I’m making the most out of this seems to just make the problem worse.
Professionally, we have bartenders taking time out of their day, or taking a day off from the bar, and sometimes driving hours out of the way to come see us speak or to show support by way of buying a drink at the pop-up. What would be worse than to get there and see us giving a half-assed seminar because I was too tired or hungover to give them the energy they deserve? It’s not only personal well-being that is so important, professionally I started to feel a responsibility to take care of myself as well.
It’s not like I’m perfect, once we had a roof over our heads and our own bed, I felt like the balance was once again restored, I was sleeping regularly and felt rested and ready to get on the road again, only to find that 4 days in or 2 flights later I was exhausted and anxious all over again. I would chock it up to being another tough trip, even when the pop-ups were short and we were only on the road for a few weeks at a time.
Doing the work at home to regain that sense of balance means fuck all when you can’t keep your shit together after one measly flight. Figuring out that I need those few hours of quiet after being out in social settings was key for me. I’m not of the personality type that can come up with ideas in a group setting, and that doesn’t mean I don’t have good ideas, it just means I need time mulling stuff over and thinking on my own before I was comfortable sharing them with a group.
Iain and I are obviously two very different people, and we interact with other people differently and that’s TOTALLY FINE (if not key to our success). I just needed to figure out what those things are that keep me sane while I’m travelling. Finding the space and time to be on my own, saying no to nights out occasionally - it’s okay, people will understand that I can’t always make it to every bar in a city and it actually sets a positive example to be taking care of myself first.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I can’t go out, or that I don’t enjoy it, I really do. It’s fucking awesome getting to a new city and getting all stoked to go check out what the bar scene there has happening and it’s what makes this job so awesome. There’s been late nights getting lost in the 6am dive bars of Taipei, to dancing in honky tonks in across Texas, to having cocktails in some of the most beautiful and inspiring bars in the world and I wouldn’t trade it for a damn thing. I just know I’ve got to make sure that I’ve got some time on the other side of it all for myself.
I know this is going to be an ongoing battle, that finding time to rest and having an understanding of how I am most creative and what feeds those parts of my soul isn’t going to be a one stop solution. But I did feel it was important to share my story so far, in the hope that y’all might have a read and see a bit of yourself reflected in it all or just a bit, and know you’re not alone. We’ve always operated Trash Tiki with a no-bullshit policy and to that end, I felt it was important to be honest about the realities of #tourlife, that for all the perfect happy-fucking-sunshine-rainbows it appears to be on social media, there’s a good sprinkle of good ol’ real shit to go along with it.