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Mastering self-discipline while on the road
Checking in, checking out; late night flights, early morning arrivals; endless immigration queues and figuring out how to navigate a new city.
Travel can take a lot of time and energy.
I’ve been on the road for the past month, and all of this disruption to my usual schedule makes it harder to keep up with good habits I’ve tried to cultivate over time.
This includes making time for exercise, eating enough vegetables, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep.
The lack of routine also means I need to make more effort to schedule time for my personal goals.
The key projects I identified at the beginning of this mini-retirement include learning German, maintaining this blog, and pursuing side hustles.
And of course I need to keep a close eye on my expenditure, to make sure I’m not eating too much into the freedom fund that needs to last me a whole year.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling to maintain a healthy level of discipline to keep my goals on track, while also making the most of exploring different cities in East Asia.
However, through experimentation and practice, I’m finding that it is possible to find a balance between discipline and enjoyment.
Related: This is what my next mini-retirement looks like
Why bother with self-discipline?
I’m on holiday right? Well yes, and no.
This is not a two week vacation. I can’t just stuff my face will all of the delicious food on offer and tell myself I’ll be back to my usual exercise routine and spending habits next week.
Nor can I sleep until 9am every day, begrudgingly drag myself out of bed for the hotel breakfast, and then go back to the room and watch TV until midday (which is how I like to roll when on holiday).
I need to set healthy and productive habits from the outset, and cultivate them so that they become second nature.
It will take much more effort to fix bad habits three months down the line, rather than start with good habits right at the beginning.
Striking a balance
On the other hand, it’s important to make sure it’s a healthy level of discipline.
Sometimes I can go through a to-do list the length of my arm, but because there are a couple of items that haven’t been ticked off by bed time, I feel dissatisfied that I haven’t achieved enough during the day (does anyone else feel like that?)
By focusing too much on discipline and achievement, we can often put too much pressure on ourselves, which is a recipe for overall unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
If I obsess over getting things done, I will lose focus on the bigger picture: to spend quality time with loved ones, embrace new cultures and experiences, and generally enjoy my time and freedom.
For this reason, it’s important to strike a balance; to make incremental progress towards my goals, but not be so consumed by them that I forget to enjoy myself while travelling.
How I’m trying to maintain a healthy self-discipline on the road
Each day I try to do something towards each of my goals, no matter how small. But I also try not to beat myself up if I slip up some days.
(Or a couple of weeks, like most of the time I was in Japan!).
Working on personal projects
My main strategy is to focus on getting things done in the morning before I grab breakfast.
This means typically waking up naturally at around 7am and working for an hour or two in front of my laptop.
I list down two or three manageable items the night before, so that when I’m up, I can immediately focus on just those things and not get too distracted.
I tackle my German learning in the evening just before bed; ideally one unit a day on Duolingo.
Some days don’t allow for this routine, especially on those during which we’re moving location and I’m all bleary-eyed from the journey. But that’s also ok – there’s always the next day.
I find that exercise and eating a reasonably healthy diet are key to maintaining decent energy levels. Before I started looking after myself properly, I would wake up feeling exhausted, and go to bed feeling exhausted.
But while travelling in places with amazing food, there are so many temptations that encourage me to stray from my attempts to eat healthily. And sometimes on the road, it can be difficult to find something that isn’t just full of carbs.
When you don’t have a kitchen and are eating out all the time, nutrition can often feel like it’s outside of your sphere of control.
For that reason, I only focus on one thing: not eating too much sugar. My sweet tooth will have me eating all sorts of pastries and desserts from morning to night unless I put some restrictions on myself.
I now allow myself one indulgence a day (full disclosure: my sweet tooth often has the last say in these matters, so this only works about 50% of the time).
In terms of fitness, not being stuck in an office helps a lot with staying active. I’ll usually walk 10,000 – 20,000 steps a day, and try to knock out some basic strength exercises in 5 minutes before breakfast.
Sticking to a budget
At the beginning of this backpacking trip, I set myself a budget of roughly £33 per day for accommodation, food, and entertainment.
While I’m taking a note of my daily expenditure on my phone, and periodically updating a spreadsheet, I’m not poring over my figures on a daily basis, or getting stressed out over whether I overspent.
There is a danger of becoming quite obsessive about keeping expenses low while travelling, which can detract from enjoying the place you’re in.
This is why I set a budget that is actually achievable: it’s not too low that I would struggle to keep to it, and not too high that my mini-retirement funds run out too quickly.
How do you maintain self-discipline on the road? Any tips to share? Comment below!