8 Steps to Making Lasting Life Changes on Your Next Vacation

Woman sitting on an island beach
Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

When you're deep in the rhythm of daily life — cleaning, cooking dinner, even getting regular oil changes on the car — it can feel like you're on autopilot. As the daily to-do list consumes your time and attention, big-picture dreams and goals sit idle — or forgotten.

After years of this, it might take more than a New Year's resolution or a gym membership to create a new routine, reprioritize, or reset your life — sometimes you need to literally extract yourself from the day-to-day so you can step back, evaluate the realities, figure out what you want, and start fresh.

That's a concept Light Watkins, Vedic meditation teacher, speaker, and author, is trying for himself. "I've been teaching for many years that growth and evolution happens the quickest in uncomfort and that we should find comfort in discomfort," said Watkins, who is traveling around the world and living out of a backpack. "Anytime you get out of your routine and you can see yourself, you can become more self-aware. You take that awareness back with you to your routine after your trip, and you start to question things — is this way of doing something still useful for me?"

But first, you have to get out of your routine — and that's where travel comes in. Travel can shock you out of autopilot and take away the sometimes-dangerous comfort of routine, which can lull you into feeling apathetic and unmotivated to change or question yourself or your situation. "When you travel, you're trying new things, you're seeing new things; getting in the habit of doing something new can instill that seed of change," explained Elizabeth Lombardo, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a global speaker and coach who specializes in crushing your inner critic and finding happiness.

Here's how the experts suggest you take advantage of every moment to successfully reset your life.

Reset your sleep schedule.

Harping on just how tired you are can be part of daily watercooler banter, but in reality, not getting enough sleep is serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need seven to 10 hours of sleep a night. Period.

"We are such a sleep deprived society, and at least theoretically, when you go away you can go to bed earlier and wake up later," said Lombardo. "I have my clients set a bedtime on their phone, understanding that they aren't 3 years old, but you get on social media or Netflix and suddenly it's late."

When you're on a trip, you won't need to stay up late folding laundry or wake up at 6 a.m. to get in a workout before work — you can make your bedtime and wake time what you want. And making sure you get at least seven hours of sleep a night should be a habit you bring home with you.

Roll with things, rather than trying to control them.

When you're entrenched in the routines of daily life, it's easy to feel in control — but that control dissipates when you travel. "You may have every moment of your life dialed in, but when you travel, things are going to come up — the flight's delayed or your hotel room isn't exactly what you wanted," said Lombardo, noting that going with the flow is crucial when you travel, and that it's something you can practice at home too.

Relearn how to enjoy a meal.

How often do you scroll through Instagram while eating your breakfast? Or skip lunch then get home and binge on a bag of chips? According to a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not paying attention tended to make people eat more. This is a habit Lombardo says you can break on vacation by intentionally "enjoying a meal and not sitting in front of your computer and shoving down food."

Step away from the stress.

The reason we take a vacation is to withdraw ourselves from the stress of everyday life. When we reduce or remove that stress, we may see life differently. "Stress makes it harder for people to think rationally," said Lombardo. "When we get out, we get out of the way, we reduce stress, and we can actually see things differently."

Lombardo says you should be careful not to overschedule yourself when you travel. "The goal of vacation is to see new things, but you should also take time for yourself. You don't have to be doing something all the time. Focus some time on just being — that 'you' time."

Remember how to be present.

Humans tend to think and live in the future or the past — rarely appreciating the present moment. To kickstart a departure from this default mode, Lombardo suggests unplugging when you travel. "When you take a vacation, take a vacation from social media too. Don't focus on 'how can I document this for the world to see,' but 'how can I do this so I can experience it to the fullest.'"

The process of selling his belongings and hitting the road made Watkins reevaluate what makes him — and people in general — happy. "[Traveling] makes you way more present than you would be otherwise and I think that's really what it's all about. We're not looking for comfort, we're looking for presence — and through presence we find joy and that feeling of aliveness."

Broaden your perspective.

It can be easy to get so self involved that your life, issues, and realities feel like the center of the world. Stepping away can remind you that the world is a big place, full of people who have their own problems and perspectives. The further you get away from your world, the more your issues seem small — almost trivial.

"On vacation people will give themselves more permission to talk to strangers. When we hear different perspectives it allows us to learn from other people," said Lombardo. Watkins notes that sometimes travel can completely change the way you see your life. "You've seen the happiness of people in the world who have barely anything, but they've cultivated a sense of gratitude and service mentality."

Discover a new sense of confidence.

Travel can be hard — you might get lost, miss your flight, or book the wrong dates for your hotel — but overcoming difficulties reinstills your sense of strength and power. "Trying new things can enhance your confidence," said Lombardo. "Say you're in London and you learn how to travel on the Tube, that can really help you come back with that confidence."

Lombardo says you can bring that excitement, confidence, and newness back into your daily life.

Make sure the changes stick.

Changing your habits and starting fresh is easier when you're out of your element and away from day-to-day stresses. Re-entry into daily life is the tricky part. Lombardo says that "the ones that tend to do best, tend to set an intention. So getting an accountability partner or putting aside a day to do something different or scheduling out 'me' time."

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