zen habits : breathe

The Joyful Results of My Grand Travel Experiment

By Leo Babauta

I’m just finishing up four weeks in Europe with Eva and the kids, and wrapping up my Grand Travel Experiment. I have to say it was (mostly) a success.

I wasn’t perfect, but even in the failures, I learned a lot.

I’ve written recently about my work and workout routines while I travel, so I’ll try not to repeat too much, but this post will be an overall summary of the entire experiment.

During this experiment, I wanted to work on several problem areas for me in past trips:

  1. Overeating
  2. No regular exercise routine
  3. No regular work routine
  4. No regular meditation
  5. Not being able to let go of expectations of my kids

I did better than I’ve ever done with work, exercise and meditation, and the overeating and expectations of my kids were mixed successes but with lots of learning.

I’d love to summarize what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I’ve learned, for each area.

1. Overeating

My experiment was to eat whatever I wanted (including vegan gelato!), but to try to be mindful as I ate, and not overeat. I rated myself after every meal (More than 110 of them!) on a scale of 1 (overate so much it hurts) to 5 (not quite full but sated).

Results: I was a 3 or 4 on almost all meals, and rarely a 2 or a 5. I never got to a 1, though my kids did sometimes. I consider this a huge success over past trips, where I either 1) overate on almost every meal or 2) restricted what I could eat so much that I didn’t get to eat a lot of tasty vegan food. I would have preferred more 4s and less 3s, but honestly, that would have been an unrealistic expectation. Overall, I think with the exercise and not overeating too much, I didn’t gain much, if any, weight on the trip. Which is amazing for a 4-week trip!

What I did right: Each day, I had a goal of trying to hit about 20 points, including 5 possible points for work and another 5 for workouts … so if I did perfectly with those, I’d need 10 points for three meals. That’s two 3s and a 4, which wasn’t hard to hit. This running tally in my head reminded me to be mindful (most of the time). I also asked the kids to remind me not to overeat if I was in danger of not making my points.

What I did wrong: Sometimes I couldn’t help myself and I overate. This didn’t feel good, because I don’t like being overfull, nor does it make me feel healthy. My problem is with trigger foods (like French fries/frites, or sweets). I tend to just inhale these instead of eating slowly and being mindful of my fullness level.

What I learned: I need to notice before I start eating a trigger food, and treat it as a danger zone. I should still be able to eat it, but I should be careful as I do so, as these are difficult foods for me.

2. Exercise

In the past, I would be too tired from all the walking we do when we travel to keep up regular exercise. This trip, I wanted to do a daily workout, just something simple — pushups, or bodyweight squats. My plan was to do this every morning.

Results: I did a workout every day. Some days I was rushed, as we were trying to get out the door early for some reason, so I didn’t get a full workout, but I tried to make up for it with sprints or swimming or sprinting up stairs. This was one of my biggest successes — I’ve never traveled and had as regular a workout routine as this.

What I did right: I would do my workout as I was getting ready or working (if I worked at home). I didn’t give myself a choice — just do the workout. I also found lots of opportunities to do mini-workouts as we walked around or went to the beach — I would swim a lot, or sprint, run up stairs, dance with the kids.

What I did wrong: Nothing, really. I don’t think I could have done better unless I made workouts my top priority and found a gym in each city, but then I would have less time for exploring with the kids.

What I learned: Keep the workouts minimal, don’t give yourself a choice, and do them first thing in the morning. This is what works for me, and I hope I can remember this on all future trips!

3. Work

In the past, I would do as much work as possible before my trips, writing everything in advance. That’s not sustainable if I plan to travel regularly or for extended trips, so my plan was to purposely not do work ahead of time, forcing myself to work every day while we traveled.

Results: I did brilliantly. This was my best trip ever in terms of getting work done. I worked every morning, without fail. Some days I would only get 30 minutes in if we were in a hurry, but I did the work. The great thing is now that my trip is over, I don’t have a mountain of work waiting for me when I get home!

What I did right: First, I purposely didn’t do all my work ahead of time, so I was forced to do work on the trip. Second, I didn’t even question whether I’d work each day — the only question was whether I would do it at a coffee shop, or at home if there wasn’t a good coffee shop option nearby. Third, I did it in the morning rather than giving myself an option to do it later in the day, when I probably would have been too tired after walking around all day. Last, I only asked myself to do an hour a day, aside from maybe answering a few emails at night.

What I did wrong: I assumed there would be good Internet wherever I went, but in some coffee shops and some of the apartments we rented, the wifi either wasn’t great or didn’t exist. So a couple of times I had to use my phone’s data to connect, which wasn’t ideal.

What I learned: This trip taught me that I can quite sustainably work every day while traveling … in the past, I didn’t think I could while mindfully enjoying the trip. It wasn’t a problem, which is welcome news to me.

4. Mediation

I often drop my meditation habit while traveling, simply because my routine isn’t fixed, and often because I don’t have a space to meditate nor the energy after so much walking around.

My idea was to do a minimal amount of meditation as soon as I awoke, every day.

Results: I remembered almost every day as soon as woke up. I did sound meditation, where I would try to listen to all the sounds around me. I also did some sound meditation while out at busy squares and beaches in the different cities we visited. A few days I didn’t remember to meditate as soon as I woke up, but I would remember a little later in the morning and do a short meditation wherever I was. Overall, much better than any previous trip!

What I did right: I kept the meditation short and simple, and allowed myself to do it while lying down in bed (which I don’t do at home). This helped, because I didn’t have to disturb the kids (who were often sleeping in the living room on a couch bed in the apartments we rented), and it lowered the barrier to actually doing it.

What I did wrong: Nothing — I’m happy with how this went.

What I learned: Keep the meditation short, do it immediately upon waking, and if you forget, don’t be afraid to meditate wherever you are.

5. Expectations of the kids

This has always been a problem area for me — while I think I’m a pretty good dad, I can lose patience when the kids aren’t behaving as I’d like. This gets in the way of my enjoyment of a trip, and just as importantly, it makes the trip less enjoyable for the kids. Most importantly, it can hurt our relationship when I’m bossy, or lose my patience with them and say something out of frustration.

So my plan was to try to relax those expectations of the kids, or notice when my expectations were getting in the way of enjoying the trip. This meant a lot of mindfulness, and a lot of compassion for myself when I was feeling frustration due to expectations.

Results: This was probably my most difficult and least successful area. For the most part, I was calm and relaxed, but there were times when I lost patience and showed some frustrations when the kids didn’t behave as I’d like. A couple of these were not good at all, and I feel bad about them. While I didn’t lose my patience every day, there were definitely times when I got frustrated, regularly.

What I did right: I tried to be mindful of my frustration levels, and give myself compassion when I was feeling frustrations. I tried to notice my expectations of the kids and see when those were unrealistic or unnecessary. I also let go of frustrations much faster than normal when I did this.

What I did wrong: I can’t expect “perfection” here, so I’m not going to beat myself up for losing my patience … but there were a few times I wish I hadn’t said anything and instead dropped down into myself and dealt compassionately with my frustration. When I get frustrated, sometimes I’m not mindful. This is something I can continue to work on.

What I learned: I definitely have a lot of expectations of others that I don’t realize I have. Those can get in the way of my happiness and the relationships I have with people, and I need to continue to practice mindfulness around this.

Conclusion

Considering all these areas, I think the experiment was a joyful success, and I’m very happy I did it. I learned how to work and workout and meditate while traveling, which were big areas of weakness for me. I learned to control my eating a bit more, which is another big improvement. I taught myself that I can travel for a long period in a sustainable, enjoyable, healthy way, and that’s a major success in my mind.

And I enjoyed the trip, immensely and with great joy. Now time for a nap.


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