For the past four weeks I have been getting up every morning at 6 am to walk the dogs we’re looking after at our house sit in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Three quarters of an hour later I make breakfast, grind some coffee, jump in the shower and make the bed. By 8 I’m out the door to catch a bus that takes me Spanish class for four hours, then I go to lunch with friends and head back home to do what ever writing work needs to be done and go for a run by the river.
Carmen joins me for all of it, aside from the run (she prefers to run on the treadmill in the house.)
Rinse and repeat.
Carmen and I have been travelling for more than a year and while it is a joy to leave behind the old ways of work and worry we find ourselves missing the surety of a routine. The day in, day out repetition provides a measure of comfort amid the chaos.
We travel because we want the crazy. The unpredictable and the scary. But sometimes, just sometimes, I want to get into the groove. I want a routine.
The faster you travel; the more this feeling can bubble up. Maybe you just want to stay in for the night instead of going out to a bar. Or maybe you begin to feel homesick as you long for the ordinary.
Whatever the symptoms, the cause can be that you miss having a routine.
I consider myself to be a spontaneous guy. But at my very core I have to acknowledge that I am a creature of habit and given half a chance I will lay down a pattern so predictable I’m surprised I haven’t been kidnapped.
Routines are a normal part of life. They are safe and easy and if used properly they can drive your success. But they can get you down too. A big reason a lot of people (including us) travel is to escape the rut, call off the rat race, shatter the nine to five drudgery that’s predictable down to the second.
Travel blows the doors off all of that and it’s utterly invigorating.
If you find yourself craving your own bed while you’re camping in the Amazon, or wishing you could go for a nice long run every day while you’re taking a night bus, just consider this; you can have a routine while you travel.
Just doing a few little things every day can keep that nagging need for normality at bay and allow you more fully embrace the unpredictable wonders that travel throws at you without warning.
I do these things myself and have found they are a big help:
Get up early
When you travel its tempting to think of it as a holiday, a time to just let it all hang out and sleep in like you’re a slothful teenager again. But if you’re up by eight, you’re too late. Our parents are right – the morning really is the best time of day – and the best time of day for a routine.
Get up early and go for a run or do some stretching or yoga or a Nike fitness work out. Check out our fitness tips for the road if you’re not sure how to incorporate a workout into your travel.
If you’re in Venice, get up at 6am and walk through the deserted alleys before stopping for a nip of espresso at a hole-in-the-wall cafe. Just get up and do something rather than roll out of bed and before heading downstairs for the complimentary breakfast. The country you are visiting comes alive in the morning. Sleep when you’re dead.
Write or create something
I don’t keep a diary but I do make sure to write something every day. I just finished the second draft of a book I’ve been writing as we travel and have sent it to my editor for some serious gouging.
It was great to have something to work on every day and I routinely carved out time for it, twenty minutes, two hours, whatever. Now I jot down ideas, sketch out things for future projects or just doodle. Carmen keeps a diary and paints water colours. We both have sketch books that we take to museums or pretty vistas so we can draw what we see.
I find the simple act of creating something every day keeps the nagging routine monster at bay. You feel a sense of achievement that colours your experience and gives you a project to hack away at.
Carmen and I have been taking Spanish classes for the past three weeks and it’s great to stimulate your mind while you travel. Learning the language is probably the best way to educate yourself on the road because it opens doors. Doors to new cultures and new friends.
We’ve made lots of new friends at our Spanish school, learnt a lot about Ecuadorian culture, and stimulated our brains at the same time.
Have a little ritual
When Carmen and I drove across the USA last year I would start my day with 50 push ups, because you know, you gotta keep the doughnuts in check. When we house sat on Dominica every day at 6 pm I would say “the sun is over the yard arm” and we’d have a stiff drink on the balcony as the day faded over the jungled hills.
The little things count for a lot. Often it’s not until you give them up that you realise how important they are. When you travel, new little things can become a part of every day life if you let them. It can be as simple as having a coffee at the same place every morning and getting to know the barista or reading a chapter of a book before bed.
Often in the real world we sacrifice the rituals in exchange for expediency. I used to shave in the shower to save time. Now, I lather my face in front of the mirror with a proper shaving brush and take my time. I buy coffee beans and grind them fresh every day. I curl up on the couch and read. The rituals are routine.
The best way to establish a routine while travelling is to stay somewhere for a long while. We travel slowly and tend to house sit a lot so we have some time on our hands to explore.
If you’re on a two week trip, embrace the madness and just go with it; your routine will be waiting for you when you get back home.
But if it’s long term travel that turns you on then it’s a great opportunity to establish the life you really want to live. We try as much as possible to split our days in half – fun and work. The work pays for the fun and the fun makes the work worthwhile. If you can spend a month somewhere exotic then you can establish a rewarding routine that lets you pursue your goals in your way.
I can’t sit by the pool and read a book for too long. I need something to do. We travel to escape the predictability of modern life, but sometimes that predictability can give us the life we have always wanted.