Long-Term Traveling and Productivity

When I first started traveling, I was very worried about its effect on my ability to get work done. I was afraid I would get very excited and spend all of my time sight-seeing and meeting new people, but in the process, drop all my hard-won daily habits.

As so often, my worries were unfounded.

I’m not saying traveling can’t be a distraction – it can. But traveling can also act as an incredible boost to your personal productivity if you understand it and are able to utilize its effect on your emotional dispositions. So let’s look at some basic rules I found to be essential when you want to travel the world AND still get stuff done.

1. Don’t go Euro-Hopping

Euro-hopping describes what your typical American tourist will want to do during his 10 precious days off the rat race, i.e. his or her vacation: Go to London for 2 days to take pictures of Big Ben, hop over to Paris to do the same with the Eiffel tower (and make fun of French people), do a Segway tour in Rome, and round it by an Absinth-inspired visit to Prague. “Got to make the most of it, right? Time is money, right? More bang for your buck, right?”

In my eyes, this is a complete perversion of travel. This is just an extension of the rat race mindset. In contrast, traveling should be about immersing yourself in a new culture and allowing your views to be challenged by it. Aimlessly walk the city for hours, just strolling. Get to know the locals, feel their mindset and their way of seeing the world. Go on unplanned adventures and, sometimes, take a risk while doing so. THIS is traveling, and THIS is potentially life changing. Cramming as many places and events as possible into 10 days is not – and it’s complete poison to your productivity as well.

Rule of thumb: Less time in one place equals more frantic vacation mode behavior.

Both traveling and upholding your productivity require you to give a place it’s due time. Don’t go to Paris for 2 days – go there for 2 months! This not only allows you to really experience the place in-depth, but also to maintain a certain personal rhythm. Long-term traveling is not about suddenly dropping everything else you have to do; it’s about doing things in a new environment and seeing how one influences the other.

In practical terms, I’d say the bare minimum for a single place is 3-4 weeks; 6 weeks to 3 months is ideal. After that, you start to soften to the effects of the new environment a little bit; that usually marks the point when I like to move on.

2. Make your habits feel fresh again

I am a huge believer in habits: Whatever you want to accomplish, it’s not going to happen overnight. Instead, incremental change is where it’s at. That means doing the right things, every day, for the next several years. That is the only secret to success.

But this can grow boring really quickly. If you practice a bunch of the same habits religiously, every day kind of starts looking like the next. And don’t we just hate that… As human beings, we crave distractions and novelty. And a strict habit routine is the complete opposite. Unfortunately, at the same time, it’s also the only way to get the job done. What do you call that? Right, a dilemma.

This is where traveling comes in. I’m always amazed at how the simple act of changing location can suddenly make my same old habits feel fresh and new again. I mean, nothing has changed! Instead of doing my pull ups at the construction site behind Munich central station, I’m doing them at Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan. It’s exactly the same, old movement that used to bore me tears back home – but for some reason, suddenly, I can’t get enough of it. This is obviously very irrational behaviour, but it works, and that is what counts – anything to NOT break the chain, uphold your daily habits.

Traveling in this sense can become a strategic boost to your productivity, wisely used to keep you doing what you need to be doing. It’s the antidote to the boringness of the grind.

3. Declutter your processes

Traveling naturally leads itself to minimalism. If you want to be as mobile as possible, the less stuff you carry with you, the better. The same goes for your work processes and your habits. So, instead of signing up with a new gym every time you arrive in a new place, start to do bodyweight exercises. Instead of eating all kinds of crap to make up for your miserable 9-5 life, cook the same basic 4-5 meals that require little ingredients and keep you healthy on the road. Instead of keeping an overblown social circle in your hometown to keep you entertained and distracted, only stay in touch with the 2-3 core people in your life.

This is to be embraced. Traveling forces you to focus on the essentials or discover what these essentials are in the first place. I can honestly say I have made more progress understanding where my own priorities lie in the last year than in the 5 years before that.

On a side note, the decluttering-your-processes advantage starts to lose its impact when you stay in a place too long. Many people make the mistake of giving a new place too little time, getting caught up in vacation mode, as I explained under 1. But staying too long can be counterproductive as well: It will allow you to take root again, to refill your life with things that are not essential to it. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.

I’m still jet-lagged and dead tired right now, so I’ll stop here. Tomorrow is another day.

Talk to you soon.