Is Travel The Ultimate Self Development Tool?

When most people think of taking a holiday in their favorite international locations I guess you could say that relaxation is the priority. Is it not interesting that for most of us, time away from work means more stress?

In recent months (and a whole lot of work related travel for my book) I’ve become more and more aware of the urge to check my phone, complete another project and just as a rule of thumb, ‘remain busy’.  Being busy does not mean that high quality output is being achieved and for me for that is disastrous.

If you truly want productivity or even success, these weaknesses need to become strengths. In this article I believe that taking a holiday might just be the most powerful way to begin doing that.

Urgent Vs Important?

Between the periods of 2005 to 2007 I moved 37 times. This holiday was appropriated at that time with a working holiday visa to the United Kingdom. I was the kind of kid who lacked just about any common sense. I remember the first piece of baggage I bought for my ‘holiday’ and it was a large red duffel bag that in retrospect was one of the worst travel items I’ve ever bought.

It’s funny to me how impractical some of our ideas about health, wealth, and love can become, especially when we compare them to scenarios in everyday life.

Most people are not taught to spend less money than they earn. We are raised to be risk averse, inclined to worry constantly and conversely, take absolutely no action against anything that might be damaging our relationships with friends or family.

For most of us, urgent always comes before important.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Michael Blevins (Henry Cavill’s Coach for Superman). He was coaching some colleagues at the time. It left such an impression on me!

Michael teaches an old Gym Jones Adage that the mind is primary and that in any scenario in our lives, it’s often our own beliefs, thoughts and emotions which can hold us back from our true potential. In the actual training session this can be anything from negative self-talk to self-sabotage.

The lesson on this particular day was how to get under the bar during the Clean and Jerk. The bar had to reach a certain height before the lifter could begin the descent into the catch and, this requires more commitment and speed as you progress in your lifting career. 

For me lifting is similar in some ways to travel, the act itself requires commitment and the ability to change direction quickly. In today’s world this is a tremendous advantage.

Change can be the linchpin between the management of chronic disease or optimal health. The ability to adapt quickly changing environments, languages or countries can all be beneficial.

The key to long and happy career or fading out in your mid 40’s is balance; sitting in a chair for 40 hours a week seems to be an accepted norm.

The irony is that there are pro and cons to everything in life but there is certainly one sucky moment when you know you are letting yourself down either by not taking the time to see something through properly or, rushing the process and looking for changes that do not exist.

We all tend to oversimplify the complex as a way of justifying our excuses.

The Way Out Is Through

Struggling to make progress is exactly when you are moving in the right direction. There is a reason why eating the right foods is inconvenient, there is a reason why getting enough sleep is hard. The point is that until we address the former, the latter is not going to make much of a difference. This is why starting with the right perspective is so important.

Have you ever noticed that guy or girl who really wants to be in the greatest shape EVER but has never quiet gotten there? He or she might be you, me, or any number of people that feel they have been shortchanged by the ever ubiquitous term ‘fitness’. I know I’ve felt this way MANY times.

For years the idea of washboard abs and being ‘lean’ was my ultimate goal. I weighed my foods, took my supplements and did my cardio but  I noticed that each time I used a particular method, it became harder and harder for me to look my best.  I felt ‘stuck’ and I found myself associating my self-worth with my physique.

Why do we always feel that deep sense of worthlessness about abs, or any other form of narcissism? The abs, arms and body we enjoy should be a product of the work you can perform, of the movement that you have honed and refined. The ability to resist stress and do what you want with your life irrespective of perceived limitations. A simple example is just how many strict chin-up’s you can do perform. We don’t need to associate our self-esteem with success or failure, doing the work is enough.

‘Fitness’ seems to have moved towards the idea that being a beginner should never train hard and that effort is not something to be scrutinized. That coming undone is something to fear.

The rhetoric goes like this in modern advertising.

If you are fat, you are worthless. If you are depressed it’s likely you will be like that forever. If you have a headache you might have Cancer or, if you ask your boss for a raise you might get fired.

We all know what it’s like to be up at night asking Google strange questions about illnesses we know we are intentionally making worse by overthinking the situation.

Training, travel, these are just simple tools that anybody can use to get out of their comfort zone.

We can overcome all sorts of self-sabotage with training but only to the degree that we embrace the process and stay mindful of the journey. We just can’t say, “I cant” before jumping up to the chin-up bar and seeing what can be done. You might need a band to start with, or a coach, maybe a training partner but, if there is one trend stopping you from making progress personally/professionally it is simply over thinking. To me getting under the bar meant more than completing the lift, it was a symbol of the commitment needed to succeed.

One of the main themes that I see with clients  is ‘stop, start’ or program hopping ruining not only their productivity but their training. I think that training is the perfect way to reset our understanding of effort (especially on holiday) because it forces us to come to terms with our own impatience.

A classic example of was the first time I was introduced to time under tension in my own training. It’s basically the allocation of a pre-determined tempo to a rep. My coach at the time had me doing chin-ups with a 40X0 tempo and I think I did 5 before I was not straightening my arms.

At that time it was such a new idea to me that my knee jerk response was to hate it but, it turned out to be one of the training methods that would help me the most over the years. Training is a great way to help us learn more patience. 

Patience increases adaptability.


If we look at the corporate environment,  it’s very clear that time is the major factor in stress management.  Some people fight the after effects of intense productivity and others learn to thrive.

I think that the critical theme here is that if we continue to rush the process, we are essentially shooting ourselves in the foot. Sure many people will find another gimmick or method to say that they got ‘faster’ results but ultimately nothing poses more of a greater threat to our long term well being than stress and neglect.

Here are a list of tools that I have used to optimize my output while travelling the world.

  • Stress and Time Management are inherently connected. If I control my time and know where it goes I can eliminate unnecessary distractions. Eliminate bottlenecks wherever possible.
  • I can batch non-negotiable home tasks like food preparation on a pre-determined day. Small efforts at the right time can make a huge difference, as an example I always make my breakfast for the next day at dinner. This can be a huge time saver especially when you need to consume high quality protein for breakfast while running out the door.
  • Discretionary time is a principle taught in the The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. By learning to say no to unnecessary arrangements we can hold ourselves accountable and automate our lives.
  • Buy a small diary that you can carry with you each day. Begin documenting what is creating so much stress in your life. This can be anything from frustrating work relationships to sitting in traffic. Write down the episode and date in this diary with a rating from 1-10 for each situation you encounter. If you can predict stressors you are already winning the war.
  • Spending time in the outdoors has been shown to decrease feeling of anxiety, shame and depression drastically. I consider Sunday afternoons to be the perfect time to get out of the house (with or without family) and head out for a hike or bicycle ride. Don’t underestimate the power of simple activities. Having fun is a mandatory stress management tool.
  • If you can’t take a holiday regularly try to book time off after a long weekend, better yet, try and aim for a ratio of 3 days off for every 40 hours of work that you complete.
  • In a number of studies it has been clinically shown that men with low testosterone are significantly angrier than their counterparts. Excess hormones and micro-nutrient deficiencies (whether in men or women) are a significant indication that your quality of life is being affected by imbalances in your day to day life. Common micro-nutrient deficiencies include VItamin D3, K2, Zinc and Magnesium.
  • The right kinds of training and nutrition strategies have been shown to dramatically alter our ability to tolerate chronic stress. As an adjunct, the most powerful tool that you have available is what you eat for breakfast. Get it done for at least 5 days out of 7.
  • Intermittent fasting poses a challenge to those of us who respond badly to stress, this method of dieting actually increases the secretion of stress hormones.
  • Training is by and large the easiest way to manage stress. Read more about psychoneuroimmunilogical health here (yes that is a field of study) 

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