Keeping up with habits can be difficult when you’re traveling, because all of your normal triggers are gone.

I’m in the middle of a long stretch of travel (2 trips, traveling 19 out of 23 days) and I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with habits while traveling.

Let’s take two quick examples:

  1. Exercise. Let’s say you normally go for a run or do a workout after you drink coffee, process email, brush your teeth, and eat breakfast … if you’re traveling and in a hotel room, you might wake up later than normal (after an exhausting flight or day of sightseeing) and go out for coffee and check your email in the coffee shop (for example). Now when will you run or work out? You usually do it after a certain sequence of events, with your breakfast being your main trigger for the habit. Without the trigger, the habit doesn’t happen automatically.
  2. Healthy eating. Let’s say you tend to eat a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats, nuts & fruit at home, right after taking a shower … but when you travel, you don’t have the same meal in your hotel room after you shower, and maybe you’re in a hurry, so you grab something quick & easy (and less healthy). You’re walking around all day and grab a pizza for lunch (rather than the healthy lunch you normally pack for yourself). The change in your routine has changed your healthy eating habits.

Yikes. And this happens with every habit you have, if it’s tied to something in your routine at home or your office (and pretty much every habit is).

A Better Way

So what can you do?

Here are some things I’ve learned as I travel, from numerous mistakes:

  1. Think ahead. It’s no good to say, “I’m going to stick to my exercise habit on this trip” and then hope you do. That’s like a New Year’s resolution — those guys never come true. Instead, figure out an actual trigger for your habit. Set up a reminder. Prepare your stuff the night before. Have an accountability buddy.
  2. Hold loosely to your expectations. Habits like exercise depend more than you might think on how much energy you have. If you are exhausted from walking and sightseeing, you might not be able to exercise like you do at home. This takes a flexible mind.
  3. Try to do the minimum. Keeping with your flexible mind: if you normally exercise for 30 minutes, try 5-10 if you’re pressed for time or low on energy. If you normally meditate for 20 minutes, try 2 or 5 minutes. It’s better to keep it going with the minimum, than to only do it if you have the time/energy for the full session.
  4. Know your keystone habits. If you have 5-7 habits you try to do every day, what are your most important ones you should try to do when traveling, and which ones can you put on hold? For me, I kept meditation, flossing and running, but let go of the rest.
  5. Pick it up when you finish traveling. If you don’t have the time or energy, just put the habits on hold, and take extra care to start as soon as you get back. You might even get some accountability buddies to help make sure you get started asap. The longer you put it on hold, the harder it will be to get started again. Also: when you start after your trip, start small.

I hope this helps! Happy travels, my friends.

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