I have an uncle who’s a flight attendant. He often jokes that I travel more than he does, except it’s not really a joke. In the next three weeks I will be in eight different cities. That’s a lot of going places. Living much of life out of a suitcase has left me fascinated by all the ways travel changes us.
Travel can give us new lenses through which to see the world. It can open our minds and hearts in ways few experiences can. It also has a unique ability to wreak havoc on our routines and our health.
One of the most common things I hear from people is this: Travel wrecks my good habits. How do you stay healthy when you travel so much?
Instagram Travel vs. Real Travel
Let’s get this out of the way first. There are the drab realities of travel and then there is the glamorous narrative of travel. Let’s call this Real Travel and Instagram Travel. In my experience, about 95% of travel is Real Travel and 5% is Instagram Travel.
Real Travel includes being bored in airports, standing in line a lot, eating really old sandwiches, circadian rhythm disruption, feeling strange about not speaking the language and sitting for so long that you wonder how long it takes to get those blood clots in your legs and if this lifestyle might in fact lead to your death.
Then there is Instagram travel, the 5% of moments that are so beautiful and life-altering that you have to capture them. It’s this 5% that makes you want go all Eat Pray Love on your life, or at the least makes you jealous when you check Instagram.
Is the 95% old sandwiches worth the 5% that changes the way you see the world? Absolutely.
I think the number one benefit of travel is that if we’re paying attention, it gives us more compassion. It reminds us that we’re all in this together. There is no us and them.
So now that we’re clear on the vicissitudes of travel, back to the question.
How do we reap the benefits of travel without allowing it to sabotage our health?
First, we name the problem: Routine disruption. Now, I recognize that sometimes routine disruption IS the point. Sometimes you do indeed travel to lose yourself. Sometimes you travel to shake up your routine. But for our purposes here we’re assuming you have some healthy habits you’d like to keep.
If we’re aiming to be integrated healthy people, we long for rhythm and ritual. It’s what centers us. Regular routines say something about the kind of people we are. The daily rituals we keep become the building blocks of a life and are tremendously important.
Being on the road involves distraction and inconsistency and can disrupt our routines. This is why doing it well requires intentionality. For me, this includes two simple things: A Tiny Morning Routine and Planning Ahead.
1. Keep a Tiny Morning Routine
At home, I have a morning routine that takes an hour or two. It clears my head, sets the tone for the day and gets my heart rate up. On the road, I work long hours and typically start very early in the morning. Even so, I keep the routine. Every. Single. Day. I just abbreviate it, usually to less than 10 minutes. On my last few trips, I did 5 minutes of burpees and a 2 minute meditation.
Keeping a tiny morning routine not only allows you to reap the benefits of a healthy mind and body while traveling, but also cuts back on the dreaded “I got out of my routine and now I can’t start again” cycle upon returning home.
2. Plan Healthy Habits BEFORE You Go
Yes this sounds basic, but it’s so easy to forget. Know before you go. Plan to do certain things or you’ll be at the mercy of someone else’s agenda. Remember, bad sandwiches is the baseline. Be the boss of your own diet and routine and up your game. Here are three simple tools:
Airports and airplanes are full of terrible food. This is not a surprise, so plan ahead. Don’t be the person who complains, be the person who packs snacks and feels better. Do your homework and know where to find real food once you arrive. I travel with food in my suitcase. I plan ahead and often get groceries upon arrival. Food is fuel for your mind as well as your body and you need both to bring their A-game on the road.
Get Up and Move
Walk, walk, walk. If you don’t have to sit, don’t sit. Walk around the airport, walk around the city when you arrive. Plan to walk everywhere you can. Or run! Added benefit: Running or walking in a new place gives you a unique view of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.
Seriously. Go to bed. This is the lesson that’s taken me the longest to learn. We simply cannot thrive without good rest. Travel is full of compromise, but don’t sacrifice sleep. Plan ahead to turn in at an hour that sets you up for good rest.
Start with these two habits on your next adventure. Keep a tiny morning routine and plan ahead. Then sit back and let traveling blow your mind.
While you’re at it, show some love for the flight attendants.
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