Live Anywhere

How Routine Builds Resilience to the Chaos of Travel

Thriving in the chaos of travel

Travel is inherently a chaotic thing, and indeed that is part of its virtue and appeal. But, when your life is about more than just travel – in other words, when you have something more to look forward to, plan for, and accomplish – it is easy for the chaos of travel to translate into chaos, instability, or inconsistency, and affect your productivity to detrimental or even devastating degrees.

From the discombobulation (that’s the technical term) of trans-continental flight, preparing for your move – from tying up loose ends and “wrapping up” your life in a place, to packing – and the readjusting period that you go through when you arrive at a new location, making movements can be stressful, time-consuming, and ultimately costly in terms of lost productivity.

Man stressing out on laptop in cafe
This guy probably just flew to 12 countries in 3 days, and now Skype won’t connect.

Not only do you lose the time that it takes to actually take care of the things you have to do, but you inevitably lose time before and after major movements while you recombobulate.

With iteration – that is, the more you travel – you become more efficient at this process.

When I first started traveling, it would take me half a day to throw together an overweight clusterfuck (we only deal with scientific terminology here) of stuff that I would call my luggage.

That overflowing luggage isn't closing, no matter how long she sits on it.
Whether a pretty girl sits on it or not, it’s not shutting, and you can bet it’s overweight.

Curious, I recently decided to time myself to see how long it took me to actually get things together nowadays. It came in at just over an hour, and it looked nothing like my randomly strewn together messes of yesteryear. My underwear goes with my underwear, my toiletries go with my toiletries, my shoes go with my shoes, and so forth. And, except for the intentional ways I plan for overweight luggage so I can carry more, it’s all perfectly weighed – of course, thanks in no small part to the luggage scale that’s become such a valuable part of my travel toolkit.

Now that's some neatly organized luggage!
A much better approach.

Even still, for all the aforementioned reasons, moving to a new place that I’ll be living in for a while, still takes a good chunk of time. Besides the flight itself, I will usually give myself a day on either side of it if I’m moving to a new city in the same country (since there will usually be fewer things to tie up, and less logistics to sort out in the new place), or 2 days on both sides if it’s a totally new country. After that time, I’m usually back up and at things in near-full-effect. I’ll have all the necessities sorted, from gym, to coworking (or cafe’s, if coworking places are unavailable or I won’t be there for too long, and so forth.

Now, if I’ll only be there for a short period of time (which doesn’t happen often, as I prefer long-term slow travel), it’s very easy to forgo some of those criteria, and I can pretty much be back to full efficiency the next business day.

Hand-painted seasonal open sign. Farmer's market? Hipsters? You be the judge.
“Working Hours”

Just like the optimization of my luggage (the efficiency and organization of which is symbolic), my ability to reduce the unproductive down time from travel has evolved through iteration and experience. It used to take me much longer, because I would be less disciplined, and half-ass my approach. I was being lazy, under the thinly-veiled guise that “just take it easy dude-bro, we’re travelling, man-bro”. The stress of having so many question marks pertaining to the bare necessities, caused the time I wasn’t spending on getting these small, yet oh-so-key tasks out of the way, to be of reduced quality, and not as enjoyable.

At the time, it wasn’t even that obvious to me that there was any stress, since there was so much going on, and that general attitude pervaded my life, so it just felt “normal”. But, once I started focusing on getting those basics taken care of ASAP, I noticed the difference, and it’s a big one.

That reduction in stress, combined with the inherent decrease in time previously wasted taking care of minutia, has resulted in the actual making of movements, becoming a far less onerous part of travel, and the minimization of the associated loss of productivity.

However, it wasn’t for any of those reasons that I actually made those changes in the first place. I had pretty much accepted the status quo of “making movements = time lost”. At some point – when I started to realize my time as being more valuable – I knew that I could improve these processes, but still somehow wasn’t interested in actually doing so. “I can afford the wasted time,” I erroneously reasoned.

In one sense, of course technically I could afford to take a week off due to the combined reduced productivity and days missed, but by that very same merit, I couldn’t. That (my) time was (is) very valuable, and I wasn’t taking time off, I was wasting time on lacklustre experiences designed with procrastination – not enjoyment – in mind.

A vague schedule in a vague day planner.
The buildup in minutia caused a vagueness in my schedule that was filled in kind.

It’s not as if the actual optimizations themselves were rocket science, or somehow beyond my capability to conceive or implement. I was just being taken for a ride, every time I would make a movement, and it was hard to catch my bearings each time. I was taking myself for a ride; literally, in a good way, but metaphorically, not at all.

That all changed when I began to integrate routine into my travel.

I have tried – and failed – several times to be a super-disciplined type of person. I’ve made plans to wake up at X time, then do Y until Z time, then A until B time, then C until D time, all the way until I would to go bed at W time, and wake up the next day (or later that same day) at X time – rinse and repeat.

Didn’t work.

But, that isn’t the degree of routine that I am talking about. I think that being super rigid in your schedule conflicts with one of the core benefits of travel: the spur-of-the-moment type of adventures that can arise, as well as the benefits of setting your own priorities and schedule in life, that give you the freedom to enjoy things that people stuck working 9-5 for a boss have to beg for permission to do.

What I am talking about, is some sense of consistency throughout your days, weeks and months. Something – even something small – that you can rely on and turn to time and time again, that gives your life a sense of continuity, serves as a springboard for rebounding faster, and is a stable foundation (even if only the start of one) on to which you build a bigger and better life.

It's morning time at this Macbook Pro's desk.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing at 07:21:58 tomorrow?

The good news is, that you (hopefully) already have a starting point, and that’s going to make this so much easier. (Hopefully), you (at least) already brush your teeth every morning and night. What this means, and why it’s so valuable, is that you already have an existing routine on to which you can hook more significant activities.

As for what it is that your routine consists of, in the beginning the “what” is less important than the “that” – that is, the fact that you do it at all.

The reality is, there is such a wide variety of possible activities, that you will want to experiment over time to see what you get the most value out of.

One window open among many closed windows.
I hope the metaphor here isn’t lost.

As for where to start, a general guideline is to start with things that are personally indulgent, and for your own self-benefit. That doesn’t mean brush your teeth then eat some chocolate, but rather, do something that benefits you personally: psychologically, physically, and/or spiritually.

There are plenty of opinions out there about what constitutes an “optimal” start to your day. There are a lot of common themes between them, and there is a lot of assumed context as well – context that is taken for granted, and not necessarily fit for your situation.

What I have found to work for me, is the gradual introduction of new habits, picking what I feel will be most beneficial for me to start with; something easy, that I feel strongly will address something I want to improve.

Here are some popular, nearly-universally well-regarded options, that are easy to pick up, and don’t require much of a commitment of time or resources:

  • 20 minutes of physical activity, ideally cardio, but even stretching or (Hatha) Yoga
  • 20 or 40 minutes of a mindfulness-based meditation practice, such as Zazen
  • 20 minutes of journaling
  • 5-10 minutes of gratitude, in your head and/or written (e.g. “today I am grateful for _____”) – making sure to genuinely feel grateful
  • 5-10 minutes of a skincare routine, especially your face (yes, even for men – you only get one face, unless your name is Sean, Castor, or Zartan – and it’s okay to pamper yourself)
  • 20-30 minutes of learning, either personal or professional

Which one(s) stick out to you? Which do you remember hearing about from other people, that stick in your mind? Which have you been thinking of doing from time to time, maybe for a while?

Pick one or two of them to start with.

A single flower among many begins to bloom.
When it’s the right time, the right thing becomes apparent.

Begin integrating them into your morning routine, starting tomorrow. It’s generally easier to put them in at the start of the day, as you have easier access to your willpower, and will get your days started off with the consistency and rhythm your body craves – especially if you combine it with something like waking up at the same time every day. Keep them there for 30 days, and see how your life has been affected.

Pay attention to your state of mind, your resilience, your productivity, your overall levels of energy, and your engagement with your life. Notice the changes in these areas, how things have improved. After 30 days, try adding another one or two for the next 30 days. When you get good at it, and can keep your commitments to yourself consistently, you can add in nightly ones as well. You can then begin to tweak them, find which combinations affect you and how, and add more.

A building with multi-colored panels.
Eventually, you will put together a routine that’s uniquely yours, and helps you reach higher.

Generally speaking, filling up the first 60-90 minutes of your morning with specific, focused, consciously chosen, consistent activities is the point at which many people notice the greatest return. That’s enough time to get your day started on the right foot, without turning it into an ordeal, or chipping away too much time from actually going out into the world and doing things.

It isn’t that doing this is wasteful, not by any means, and in fact the opposite: dedicating time to take care of yourself first and foremost helps you bring more to your life, with consistency creating compounding benefits.

You will notice improvements in your life by virtue of that consistency, improvements which are inherent in the activities themselves, duly performed, in earnest, and diligently protected.

One such improvement, which comes from the structural level of having a routine – the real benefits of which you genuinely recognize as tangible and worthwhile – is that by being able to rely on something that you are in control of, you can bounce back with greater resilience, be it from the literally ground-shifting events of travel, the day-to-day uncertainties or unexpected events that are part-and-parcel of the experience of travel, or other stressful events in your life.

Neon sign in some bar or hipster cafe that says "This is the sign you've been looking for"
The commitment is minimal. Take advantage of the momentum. Try something new!

So, now it’s time for action. Pick one or two of those options – or another you’ve been thinking about – and start integrating it into your life, starting tomorrow. Capitalize on the momentum of the opportunity; just try it, and see how it works for you.

If you don’t brush your teeth, start with that! (Please)

Which one(s) will it be for you? Post what you’re going to do in the comments, then set a calendar entry for 30 days from now and reply to your original message with how it’s affected your life, and what you’re going to do next! Keep it up, keep accountable, and you will notice the differences!