Travel is not vacation

Making special occasions special, and standard occasions standard, regardless of where you are.

If you’ve ever interacted with me (or just followed me on Instagram) you might notice that I’m often traveling to various exotic (and, well, not-exotic) destinations to attend events. One of the most common questions I hear from friends and colleagues when they learn about my schedule is, “How do you stick to your health and fitness goals while you’re on the road?

I totally understand the struggle here. Attempting to follow a normal routine when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, in a different timezone, or following an inconsistent schedule is very tough. For instance, I definitely know I won’t be at my normal level of productivity when I’m away from home, especially since my travel is usually centered around attending an event, which tends to fill up my days and evenings with a long list predetermined activities.

Many of my peers choose to treat their travel as a vacation – a break from the everyday, an opportunity to indulge in choices they wouldn’t normally make. And I think that’s a fine (and certainly fun!) approach when you don’t travel very often. There’s nothing more fulfilling than being able to sample delicious local cuisine, stay out late enjoying people’s company, or being able to relax into an alternative schedule without worrying about rigorous planning.

But what if you find yourself away from your home routine once, twice, three times a month? Or more? I’ve watched many of my friends who spend a majority of their time traveling for business struggle with the health effects of being on a “permanent vacation” – too many late nights, too many drinks, too many indulgences, not enough healthy food, not enough movement, not enough sleep.

Personally, I thrive on consistency. My brain loves the gamification aspect of a “streak,” and it’s a lot easier for me to motivate myself to keep going if I don’t disrupt it. If I’m consistently breaking my routine, it isn’t much of a routine at all. Developing habits is a challenge, and doubly so if you don’t give them time to stick.

I realized that, if I was going to continue following this exciting yet erratic travel schedule (which I enjoyed), I was going to have to think a little bit differently about what was a “special occasion” and what wasn’t. How can I be consistent enough to achieve my goals, but flexible enough to leave room for joy, celebration, spontaneity, and exploration?

I determined that it isn’t a physical location that determines whether an occasion is “special,” it’s a mindset. I can be in “vacation mode” at home, choosing deliberately to deviate from my normal diet and workout routine (maybe for a celebration or special occasion). And I can be in “standard mode” when I’m traveling, making my normal choices about food, exercise, and sleep despite being in a different environment.

If I am away from home in “standard mode,” I will make choices that enable me to stick to my normal routine as much as possible. This may mean leaving social events a little earlier in the evening so I can get up early and fit in a workout, or finding time to workout during the day. It may mean sticking to my normal dietary choices rather than choosing to indulge in something unhealthy, or finding my own meals rather than eating what’s included if it doesn’t fit my goals. It may mean some extra planning on my part to be able to fit movement, meals, alone time, or client work in between my scheduled events.

Of course, I always remember that I’m on a trip for a reason. If I’m attending a conference or retreat in order to connect and network with people, I make sure that my schedule is flexible enough to accommodate social time. If I’m in a new city that I’ve never visited before, I make sure my diet is flexible enough to accommodate trying a local specialty I don’t normally eat. And of course, I always communicate to clients that I will be on a reduced schedule when I’m on the road, because I want to be able to be present and engaged at the event I’m attending, rather than just burying my head in my computer.

The common element here is being purposeful in my choices, rather than just letting my external circumstances dictate what I “should” be doing. Purposefulness is effort, but I believe the reward is worth the work, because you can pursue all of your choices fully, without any guilt.

What ways have you found to pursue your health and fitness goals on the road? I’d love to hear your story!

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