Create healthy habits the easy way, by tapping your adventurer within
In his bestselling book Atomic Habits, author James Clear lays out the four laws for creating a good routine: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy and make it satisfying. Our good intentions often fail, he argues, because we make it too hard for ourselves. We reach for sky-high goals in an unlikely time limit – and then our motivation plummets when we inevitably fail to fulfil them.
Willpower is also a depletable source. So even if we make a flying start – by running every day for a week, or eating quinoa for lunch – eventually that energy will stall. Much better, then, to start slowly and aim low with enjoyable routines that are designed to last.
Travel can help this process in two key ways. First, when you travel you have this rare window of time away from your hectic schedule. It creates the perspective from which you can grow new habits, a pace apart from your usual distractions. Secondly, travel has a way of making new habits seem enjoyable and fun. You can wrap that feeling up and take it home with you, for a better way of living.
Here are 10 ways to kickstart a healthier life, via the wonderful world of travel:
Eat fresh fruit every day
Let’s face it, getting your five a day can be a stretch. Faced with a buttery croissant or a bruised, days-old apple, it’s hardly a fair contest. But travelling will open your eyes to a trove of fruity treasures. Take Bali, where colourful breakfast bowls overflow with the likes of mango, coconut, wild berries and jackfruit. Or Mexico, a land dotted with juice bars on every street corner, alongside stalls selling passion fruit, guanabanas and juicy avocados.
Peaches and pomegranates have never tasted so fine as in the ancient groves of Oman, while in Brazil, you can get your fruity fix via a strawberry or pineapple Caipirinha (just beware the pungent alcoholic hit). Travelling the world will fire up your appetite for fruit again, and before you know it, you’ll be creating your own breakfast fruit bowls back home – even without the side serving of palm trees.
Work out in the wild
Outdoor exercise conjures up greater feelings of energy, engagement and enjoyment compared to sweating it out in the gym. But few of us make it out of the confines of four solid walls for a workout, especially in winter. Again, this is where travelling comes up trumps.
When you wander the world, free wild workouts abound; and they’re often so fun, you don’t even notice you’re burning calories. Stand-up paddle-boarding is on the rise, offering a low-intensity core workout – and a truly great way to explore the world – everywhere from Lake Bled in Slovenia to the tropical interiors of the Philippines.
Beginner mountain hikes, meanwhile, will keep you firmly in the moment as you give those glutes something to think about on the summit route to Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, or amid the Himalayan peaks of Nepal. And let’s not forget river tubing, an exercise that is 100% joyous whether you’re in Colombia, Costa Rica or Canada (for a snowdrift twist).
Interact with people in real life
Connecting with people is a surefire way to get a hit of serotonin, the so-called “happy hormone”. Even incidental encounters with strangers carry a positive effect that we tend to underestimate. Instead, we’re determined to disappear behind our screens in a way that directly contributes to a modern-day loneliness epidemic.
Travelling reverses this trend. Suddenly, you’re reminded what it’s like to have an impromptu conversation with someone that lasts the length of an overnight train trip in Vietnam, or the delight of striking up an unexpected friendship in a far-flung Bolivian town. In an age where you’re always too busy, even for your own friends, hitting the road carves out time and space. You’re able to reinvest in those genuine, real world connections that don’t only feel good – they prolong your life.
Tap the power of being, not doing
What with work pressures, social demands and financial worries, we live in an age of task – as well as information – overload. Little wonder that so many of us feel drained by daily demands and record levels of stress. It’s as if we’ve forgotten how to exist outside a frantic whirl of activity. Travel is useful because a lot of it is simply about being: you’re not trying to prove yourself. You might have a long, lazy day on a beach in Zanzibar, with no call to do anything at a certain time. You may wander aimlessly in the souks of Marrakech, or pinball between coffee cafés in Hanoi.
Travel forces you to slow down, too. You’re not rushing anything on a two-hour border crossing to Zimbabwe, or on a chug-boat through Laos with zero wi-fi. Things will go at their own pace. It can be frustrating at first, coming from such an angsty, full-on sphere. But there’s a quiet delight in simply accepting the way things are, and slowing down your own tempo to match.
Cut back on the booze
We routinely hit the sauce more than we should – and travelling the world offers a good opportunity to cut back. Sure, you might have the odd night on the tiles in Bangkok, or on a boozy sleeper train through the Russian outback. But for the most part, you’re too involved in the moment to engage in the kind of mindless drinking that’ll leave you three sheets to the wind on a Wednesday night back home.
There’s less of an impulse to crash on the sofa with Rioja for company, because you’re out and about doing stuff. And hangovers rapidly lose their appeal next to a 4am start to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, or a day-long trekking trip in Torres del Paine National Park. Plus, in some places – Oman, Jordan, parts of India – a drinking culture simply doesn’t exist, meaning alcohol can be harder to come by. And once you have a taste of the benefits of less booze (better sleep, more focus and energy), you’ll want to keep the habit up at home, too.
Connect with nature again
Nature has a wonderfully still and peaceful quality to it that is soup to the soul in these frazzled times we live in. Studies have shown that just five minutes in green space is enough to significantly boost mood, leading to a calmer, more focused state of being. Travel paves a way to power down those screens and reconnect with the natural world – whether you’re trekking through the Colombian rainforest or trying morning meditation in the Atlas hills of Morocco.
This is a chance to recalibrate your senses and focus on the little things again. Being out in the wild brings you into the moment: with a proven restorative effect. Instead of being edgy and stressed, you re-frame your attention span to a slower, more measured pace. This brings it into line with your hunter-gatherer within who once roamed the open plains (and, needless to say, never clapped eyes on an iPhone).
Put distance between you and your phone
We check our phones around 80 times a day, in a tic that often kicks off ahead of other basic functions such as brushing teeth or getting out of bed. This habit is killing our concentration and dulling our relationships, leading to nagging sense of overload without any achievement. Clearly, phones could do with keeping their distance. And it’s a boundary you can start to enforce when you’re out exploring the world, your mobile buried in the bottom of a bulky backpack.
Just by not seeing your palm pal, you won’t use it as much. The compulsion to reach and scroll is lessened. And you’re more conscious that if you do give in, you’re literally letting the world pass you by in return. Once you’ve got used to loosening the reins a bit, you’ll want to keep going in everyday life.
Get perspective on your job
Work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives, outstripping other key concerns such as finance or health. If your job is troubling you, it’s easy to get obsessed: the problem snowballs and starts overshadowing everything. A toxic culture of presenteeism and unpaid overtime doesn’t help. Travelling reminds you that you are not defined by your work. The world at large doesn’t care that your boss has continually overlooked you for promotion, or that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of your inbox. Frankly, it has problems of its own; and will carry on regardless.
When you head abroad, even just for a few weeks, you gain perspective on your work woes. The mere act of taking off in a plane is therapeutic; putting distance between you and a source of constant stress. But beyond that, the act of travelling will remind you that you have many skills beyond your job. You are brilliant and full of talent, just by yourself; you don’t need your work to prove it. And that’s a big validation, exactly at the time that you need it.
Break free from carb overload
Mac cheese, sodas, takeaway burritos: we’re straining at the seams with carby, additive-stacked food. These “treats” are so moreish and convenient, they slot right into our daily lives: merrily bypassing all our best intentions. But travelling is something that cuts short the slippery slope. You can’t just automatically reach for your favourite comfort eats when you’re on the road. But also, your palate is opened up to a whole new sphere of inspiration and flavour.
One of the delights of globe-trotting lies within the delicious regional cuisine that it unlocks. Often, this includes options that are naturally healthy like Brazil’s açaí smoothie bowls, Mexican ceviche or green curry from Thailand, one of the world’s most vegetarian-friendly countries. But more importantly, travel will shake up your eating habits – throwing open the doors to a world beyond your go-to staples. Because really, who needs the cushiony comfort of carbs when you have steaming bowls of Vietnamese phở or idli rice cakes dipped in spicy sambar sauce (thank you, southern India)?
Watch less TV
You may be a Bake-Off addict or a Breaking Bad fan. Either way, in an age of digitally streamed TV, bingeing habits die hard. One way to shake ‘em off for good, and break free from the clutches of the couch, is by letting loose your inner adventurer.
When you’re travelling the world, your TV time should be limited to a movie on the plane over (crying optional). Because frankly, if you’re one of those people who watch films on the beach, you’re doing it all wrong. Quite apart from the fact that you should aim to pack light and leave your laptop at home if you can, travelling time is for – well, travelling. See the sights! Meet people! Try new foods! You’ll never look at your sofa in the same way again.
Photos: Shutterstock, Flash Pack