Change Things Up — Turn the Other Way 28

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We all tend to get into ruts in our life, some big, some small. That isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, a good portion of the time it is quite a good thing.

Having routines is one way to keep our sanity. Having some of your brain work on auto-pilot lets your mind wander off and think about other things.

michael hodson smoking a cigar

perhaps a routine that I should make... less routine

For a second, think about your taking a shower this morning or last night. Do you actually remember washing your hair? Not likely. You did it as a normal, completely thoughtless part of your shower routine. Then again, think about how many great thoughts you have had in the shower while your mind is freed up by the auto-pilot of your washing routine.

Routines and thoughtlessness can be a good thing.

One of the things that is difficult about extended travel is that you have to think all the time. I remember when I was working back home in Fayetteville, I could almost literally drive home blindfolded. I did that route thousands of times.

It isn’t like that when you travel. You don’t know where are you going. You don’t know where the good sandwich shop is in town. You don’t know how the bus system works. You don’t know which parts of town are safe or not. You don’t know if some places close during the siesta or if the town shuts down on Sunday. Heck, most times you don’t even speak the correct language to sort any of the small things out properly.

You have to think about every tiny, little,ย minusculeย thing that you never waste a second of brainpower on back in the comfort of your home routine.

It can be exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize I am perhaps the luckiest person on the planet. I love my life. But it can get so damn tiring to lack a series of life routines that let my mind run on auto-pilot.

I have found though that I do quickly form routines when I get to a town. I am currently in Barcelona, staying at a wonderful apartment provided by Go With Oh that is two blocks from the Sangrada Familia, perhaps the most famous landmark in this amazing city.

Even in the few days I have been here, I quickly got into a morning routine. I’d get up, check some stuff on the internet (OK fine, I’d check to see if my baseball team won the night before and watch the highlights). Then around 8 a.m., I’d leave my apartment, turn right and walk right past the Sangrada Familia to a nice little coffee shop that does coffee the way I like it and has wifi.

This morning, I got up and set off to do the same thing, but when I excited my apartment building I stopped and asked myself why I was going to the same place every morning. It was comfortable. It worked for my needs. I didn’t need to think about it. It was a positive little routine.

So instead, I turned left.

Two blocks in the other direction was a cafe that just screamed perfection to me when I walked in. I sat down and immediately felt at home. I had a great five minute Spanglish conversation, complete with the requisite talking-with-hands motions about FC Barcelona’s football season.

There is no need to overemphasize it. It wasn’t a life changing morning. I didn’t have some epiphany that will change my life.

I simply did something that was not routine. And I had one of the best mornings I have had in weeks.ย 

So perhaps as you read this today, there is something in your normal routine that you might want to shake up for one day. Take a different route home from work and stop at a cafe or store you’ve never stopped at before. Have lunch with a co-worker you’ve never shared a meal with. Read an online newspaper that you never normally read for your news, perhaps something like Al Jazeera English. Go buy a shirt in a color that you never normally wear. Something small that you normally wouldn’t think about at all.

Life is basically made up of small moments that are only important to you. This is what I did different today… what about you?

poster for life discovery

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About Michael Hodson

Iโ€™m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

28 thoughts on “Change Things Up — Turn the Other Way

  • Priscilla

    Hi Michael,
    Once again, you captured the feelings of the avid traveler really well. The danger in too much travel or too much to one particular area is that we stop exploring and fall into the mundane – the very thing we deplore and why we seek out new experiences. I guess it’s human nature to look for patterns, familiarity, but also it can be just plain comfort to see the same folks each day who take the time to smile back at us or ask us to become a small part of their lives too.
    Whatever it is, I try to strike a balance between pushing myself out of my comfort zone (taking a left hand turn) and trying to feel “at home” in a foreign place.
    Great post!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Really thoughtful comment. Thanks, Priscilla. The balance is really important, because without some comfort (for me, from transportation), you can just drive yourself batty.

  • Arianwen

    Good job you’re not Derek Zoolander. I’m glad turning left turned out to be a good decision. It really is too easy to fall into routine.

  • ehalvey

    I needed this reminder.

    My routine as of late is: check stuff online, blog, catch up on other blogs, and look for jobs. Then 6 hours have gone by.

    Unless the weather is gorgeous, I can easily spend most of my week on one corner of the couch trying to find the dream opening while participating in travel chats on Twitter.

    So what will I do to shake it up? Email organizations with my qualifications and MAKE an opening happen.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I don’t even want to think how inefficient I am about working. Don’t make me think about it!

  • Christine

    Love this! Sometimes my favorite thing to do in a new city (or familiar city) is get lost for a bit and see what new things I can come across ๐Ÿ™‚

  • jules

    I always said I’d never live west of Yonge. Then I moved west of Spadina and convinced myself west of Bathurst was basically outerspace. Today, to be honest, I turned right first, then left and found Ossington, west of Bathurst–and found the best curried ox cheeks and Blanche de Chambly by the pint at Hawker Bar. En route home (another series of lefts to catch the sunniest bits of the streets heading north), I happened upon a farmer’s market at Trinity Bellwoods Park and bought local maple syrup and grazed through sea asparagus samples, walnut honey, lavender shortbread and the like. It was a good left-wing detour!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    I crave routine so much now that I’m constantly moving. I need to remember to change things up when I do stop somewhere for a while. But it’s so damn hard to find good coffee in South America ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    Routine is great but needs to be changed every once in a while because as you said, great morning lie just around the corner!

    I also just changed the cafe I was used to sitting at, it is hard to find the perfect WiFi/coffee combination in Egypt ๐Ÿ˜€ But I think the one I just started sitting at is a lot better. And for the great co-incidences, one guy that used to work in my favorite cafe back in Alexandria works in that cafe now! He was like “Aren’t you the guy that used to sit in Cilantro cafe in Alexandria for 6-7 hours everyday studying almost 2 years ago?!” haha ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Katherine

    But that person needs to change for themselves, because they WANT to, and not because somebody else wants them too.

  • Trav

    Thanks for the reminder not to fall in a “rut”.

    It’s funny, because everyone assumes that since I’m living abroad in Japan, my life must be some crazy adventure every single minute of every single day.

    Instead, I often feel the opposite, and feel like I’ve been complacent because I’ve been here for two years and that nothing is new anymore. And then I do something small, like decide to go for a walk during lunch instead of sitting on my computer, and find the world’s most beautiful green tea park up in the woods.

    It’s amazing, but its the simple things that happen to you like that that make living abroad worth it.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I get the same thing. A lot of people assuming things are this way and that way, but in reality, I just have a great office to work out of for about 6 days a week. I love my life, but its not nearly as crazy as most think.

  • Leah Travels

    I’m a left turner from way back, Michael. I love this post. It is thoughtful and motivating. Well done. And, welcome to the Go with Oh family. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Simon P

    Or you can run the other way, like in my case. A year ago I found I was in a rut living in London so, after four years there, it was time to backpack once more. Off to Asia we did go – and now I’m at risk of falling into a rut here, too! I’ve just got to keep running…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Sounds like time to go do India. Or Africa. Or South America. Get on it!

  • Marcos T. Rodrigues

    Sometimes it is boring when you are always in a comfort zone, it’s best to try something cool, that will enhance to make your life useful, that’s the time you will have to see life is worth living.

  • Larissa

    Great post, Mike! So timely as well since I myself recently just turned left instead of going right on one of my usual runs and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Had more than usual on my mind (in a minor rut, I guess you could say) so I wasn’t really paying attention, just going somewhere else. Wouldn’t you know that road took me straight to the coast. Why did it take me 2 years of living here to realize that I lived much closer to it than I thought? I could have been running to the beach and back the entire time but always chose to just run around the park twice instead because it was my routine. Well, well – happy to say I’m onto a new, much more beautiful routine now. Who knows where I will find myself the next time this happens…maybe Denmark?

  • Mustafa

    I feel you man! the cigar routine is hard to kick , if you ever visit Orlando, there is sweet spot in Downtown Disney called Sosa cigars, just across from Gloria Estefan’s restaurant (Bongos). The lounge there with some jazz music and either a Mojito or cuban cafe and Montecristo n#2.

    Ah the good life , i miss that darn place!!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Montecristo number 2…. my single favorite cigar. Wanna buy me a box? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Jarmo

    I do remember washing my hair this morning in very vivid detail, mostly because there was a problem with my shower and there was only ice cold water. Not pleasant. However, you are absolutely right about routines, they do make some things easier and allow you to focus on other things, but they still are not good. If I notice any new routines I pick up, I try to break them purely on principle ๐Ÿ˜‰

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