Introduction

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself home.”
Basho

I find that travelling alone is like counselling. You meet people with no expectations: you can be who you want to be, or perhaps who you truly are (assuming you know who you are in the first place). And you decide how much you share with them. You have time and space to reflect and let go of your emotional baggage.

(Hopefully not your actual baggage though, that makes travel substantially more difficult.)

My situation may be different to yours. I run my own businesses and although I can travel whenever I please, I still have to work. That means I have different constraints and different freedoms. For example, I may have to schedule a client call at 3am because of the time difference, even though I’m on holiday.

You may travel for different reasons, you may travel with friends,  but I think these lessons apply more generally. I know that they’ve improved the rest of my life, even when I am back home.

1. Change your environment

“Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work.”
Alan Watts

I have lived through depression and anxiety for most of my life and I have learned how to resist them. Marcus Aurelius talks about the fortress of the mind free from passion. You should build your own inner fortress and rule it. When thoughts that torment you arise, treat them like invaders and act ruthlessly. You don’t need to know where they come from or why, all you need to know is that they do not belong.

But despite practising this I find that the winter is difficult for me. I feel burnt out and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that fortress: the cold and the darkness are a constant onslaught.

I decided to break out of the seasonal cycle.

Now I travel over the winter to escape the worst of the weather back home. It gives me time to regenerate and return with renewed focus and energy.

Are you struggling with bad habits? Are you stuck in a destructive cycle of behaviour?

Remove yourself from the environment.

Remove distractions.

Remove toxic influences.

Pull out the hooks that keep dragging you back to your old ways.

2. Invest in yourself

“Only by exhibiting actions in harmony with the sound words which he has received will anyone be helped by philosophy.”
Musonius Rufus

I’ve often struggled to justify spending time and money on myself. It’s a kind of thinking that creeps in when you’re self-employed. You hold back from buying new clothes, eating out, and going on holiday.

I believe it’s important to have times where you live modestly, eat plainly, and appreciate simple things.

But how can you ask people to invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself?

All that you pray to reach at some point in the circuit of your life can be yours now – if you are generous to yourself.

Marcus Aurelius

And if you invest a lot of time and resources in cultivating your lifestyle and your appearance, then what about your thoughts?

(But at the same time, you’ll find that it’s easier to elevate your thoughts if you dress well and look after your body. And it would be foolish to think that other people will not notice if you neglect your appearance.)

Nourishing the whole person goes beyond what you eat and how you exercise: it’s about what you think and how you act.

That’s why I read philosophy; I’m looking for practical insight into how to live a better life.

The problem with self-help books is that they’re telling you how to think.

They’re offering you an easy solution: but what you really need to do is examine your own life and learn how to think for yourself.

And you have to start taking action.

3. Let go

“For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it. Provoked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.”
Epictetus

When I say let go, I mean let go of things outside of your power. Stop trying to control everything. There’s nothing wrong with sensible planning, but don’t stick rigidly to your plans or allow yourself to become anxious when they don’t work out. When you book a flight there is the possibility that it may be delayed or cancelled. Trust yourself to be able to cope with those challenges.

And be prepared to let go of things that were only temporary to begin with.

You spent money on your travels. You can earn it back and more.

You worked hard on your physique for years. You can let it go for a few weeks.

You can stop obsessing over macro tracking and training. Eat an adequate amount of protein when you can, judge your portions, eat when you’re hungry, and savour your food. Train using basic equipment if that’s all you have. Use bodyweight movements if necessary. Or do nothing at all, it doesn’t matter.

Whatever you lose, you can get it back.

4. Spend time alone

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”
Seneca

(Of course, Seneca would say that, he was exiled on Corsica for eight years…)

When I say alone, I mean truly alone: you and your thoughts.

Put your phone away.

How can you spend time with your own thoughts if you’re constantly bombarded with trivial notifications, desperate for your attention?

The apps you use every day are designed to hook you. They create powerful habits that pull you back to that glowing blue screen.

And will a sleep quality app be able to tell you about all the problems in your life that are keeping you awake?

No.

Do you need a meditation app to tell you to spend five minutes in your own company?

If you do, you have bigger problems than an app can solve.

One of the best decisions I made this year was to use an alarm clock instead of the alarm on my phone. I leave my phone switched off at night, often in a different room. My sleep has improved tremendously.

5. Live with less

“But in fact the more a man deprives himself of these or suchlike, or tolerates others depriving him, the better a man he is.”
Marcus Aurelius

Travel is an opportunity to pare down to the things that are important, the things that are essential for life.

(That means a laptop, adequate wifi coverage, and maybe clean drinking water.)

It’s powerful to know exactly how much you need to live anywhere.

Your list might look like this:

  • Credit card
  • Laptop
  • Aeropress (and good coffee)
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Pair of Oxfords

(In fact, you could reduce that list to one item: a credit card.)

But more importantly, it’s liberating to know what you can do without.

I don’t need all of my books.

I don’t need dozens of pairs of shoes.

I don’t need a waffle maker.

I’ve enjoyed all of those things, but if I had to throw them out tomorrow, I could do it. And because of that, I’m not afraid if my circumstances change.