The Relation Between Daily Ritual and Long-Term Travel

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The Relation Between Daily Ritual and Long-Term Travel

Me in Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland

Do you have any daily rituals? And do you keep it on the road?

There’s ‘routine’ and ‘ritual’.

Routine usually indicates the repetitive actions that happen without any notion. Ritual, however, represents something more meaningful. Do you have any? Have you ever experienced that you feel better after dressed up nicely? Pajama bottoms are comfortable, but do you work well in pajamas? What’s your regime to calm you down? These little daily or weekly rituals are connected to the power of self-control. People work better in nice clothes (doesn’t mean expensive, means well-dressed) and have higher self-pride when they look better.

Explorer Henry Morton Stanley and his secret regime

Henry Morton Stanley, journalist for an American newspaper in 1871, is the simple most impressive model of the self-control. He went up to the Congo River in 1887 as his third African expedition, long after his assignment to find a Scottish missionary to Congo that got him famous with his first words of their encounter: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Henry M Stanley

Henry M Stanley

He and his team spent months struggling to find a way through the dense Ituri rain forest. They suffered from hunger, malaria, countless sores, injuries, and torrential rains. They even got attacked by natives with poisonous spears, screaming “Meat! Meat!” Imagine, they’ve been in the dark rain forest for months, eating berries, roots, fungi, caterpillars, and ants, if they have been lucky enough to find these. Still, men have been either left out behind or dropping dead on the road. Yet, Stanley managed to survive through the challenging expedition. How?

Shave. That was his secret. By his wife, Dorothy Tennant, whom he married in 1890, said: “He had often told me that, on his various expeditions, he had made it a rule, always to shave carefully. In the Great Forest, in ‘Starvation Camp,’ on the mornings of battle, he had never neglected this custom, however, great the difficulty.”

He grew strength by keeping his ritual every morning. Not just shaving, Stanley always tried to keep a neat appearance with clothes and his surroundings, according to the record. When the world you live is full of disease and only people will see you outside are the half-naked natives, you might think the energy spent shaving in the jungle would be better devoted to looking for food or fighting for life. But Stanley’s belief in the link between external order and inner self-discipline was the reason why Stanley could live every day.

Stanley’s neat face saved him

The link between self-discipline and the external outcome has been confirmed recently in studies. A group of participants answered questions sitting in a nice laboratory, while others sat in a messy room. The people in the messy room showed lower self-control. They tend to go for donuts and sugary snacks rather than fruits, for example. On the other hand, the answers from the people in the neat room were leaning toward self-disciplined decisions and actions of helping others. And they preferred fruits. Have you ever experienced that you felt much better and inspired after dressed up nicely? Have you ever cleaned your room before studying or starting a new project? When you work at home, do you concentrate better in sweatpants or in nice pants after a shower? Stanley himself once said, according to his wife, “I always presented as decent an appearance as possible, both for self-discipline and for self-respect.”

The relation between daily ritual and long-term travel

Ritually is important for long term travel. We are not dying of hunger or chased by cannibals but traveling for the long term is challenging in its own way. Habit is a strong thing. Daily ritual gives a feeling of being safe at home, opportunity to have self-respect by doing so. For a few months or longer period of time, the bed changes every week, there has to be nothing left behind and security issue is always on the table. These are not the things that people normally worry about. I have to admit, a long-term traveler myself, I think normality among abnormality is an important part of daily life.

My daily ritual

Making tea.

I’ve been highly engaged in tea culture ever since I started drinking PG Tips in New Zealand. My interests for beverages got only bigger, from English black to Chinese Pu-er tea, from Americano coffee to Italian cappuccino. Tea and coffee are always very close to my daily routine, but it became an important ritual ever since I changed my career. During my Asia tour, Runaway Europe project and my time in the US, making tea in the morning is the one thing I do every day. I boil the water, put the tea in the pot, pour the water and wait for about three minutes. I start the day with English black tea with milk, have some green tea after and then move on to Italian espresso or French press coffee. It is repeated, no exception.

Me and Pu-er tea tasting in Menghai

Me and Pu-er tea tasting in Menghai

Tasting tea was the number one reason why I decided to visit China last spring. During our time in Yunnan and Sichuan province, we dropped a couple hundred dollars to high-quality tea, such as Yunnan Pu-er tea, and traveled with a Chinese tea strainer for four months. It was hard to keep the ritual in Europe, but there was coffee.

Discipline is extremely hard if you are not pressured by outer source. It’s easy to push today’s list to tomorrow, sleep late and eat unhealthy. Working as a self-employed is a challenge with myself every day. This ten-minute process in the morning helps me to keep my day straight. I’ve never thought of it as a serious action, but I was very glad that found out I have this habit of spending ten minutes in every morning. As much as long term travel is a peculiar lifestyle, I need a certain of order to be sane. I think of it as a common human behavior, the nature to have a home, keep the habitat safe, nice and neat. I don’t have a place I can call home just yet, but at least I can make tea anywhere I go. I don’t wear suits for work every day, but I’m keeping the self-respect level by repeating things I like.

Yes, I travel with a big bag of tea.

Do you agree? Have you ever had a daily ritual when you were on the road for a long period of time?

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

30 Comments

  1. Great post Juno. I really like the way it’s structured incorporating the example of Henry Stanley.

    Did reading about him inspire the post or did your research about the subject lead you to him?

    My only ritual is having coffee every morning. I wonder, though, where is the line between ritual and addiction?

    Cheers,

    Will

    • Juno Kim says:

      I read this article first through Smithsonian magazine. I was fascinated by his experience and how the writers put the fact and his adventure together. I’m trying to have only one cup of coffee a day since I’m drinking so much coffee.

  2. Ayngelina says:

    I would like my ritual to be exercise but I can’t seem to make that work. I like the idea of tea though.

  3. Abby says:

    Tea is such an interesting thing — that and my favorite vitamins are what I brought to Costa Rica from home when I lived there for a year. I love that you are bringing attention to rituals! I feel off when I don’t get to “do my morning” before work. I have certain things I do even while on the road to maintain my “normalcy.”

    • Juno Kim says:

      True. Some things are just too important to give up, and having a hot cup of tea is mine. There are some core principles we do as a human being, and that cannot be changed no matter where we go. 🙂

  4. Alex says:

    I once saw Samantha Brown speak at a conference — a woman who travels well over 150 days a year. She said no matter where she is in the world, even if it’s only for one night, she unpacks her bag to make herself feel at home. I loved that!

    • Juno Kim says:

      That’s a good idea. When I was little I didn’t understand why there was a drawer in the hotel room and people put their clothes there when they have a perfectly good suitcases. But yes, now I understand.

  5. Nico of A Travellers Journey says:

    I have a similar ritual. The world normally looks better after a good cup of tea.

  6. The Guy says:

    Very interesting article Juno. I don’t shave everyday, I usually take the weekend off from shaving. I can see the observation though, certainly feel cleaner and prouder with shaving.

    Keeping a routine helps maintain a balance and familiarity especially when in strange surroundings.

  7. Nicole says:

    *whispers* Don’t worry, I travel with a big bag of white tea as well 😉

  8. Bethaney says:

    I think the little daily rituals are important when travelling too. Especially for us, travelling with a child, we try to have the same morning ritual and the same evening ritual no matter where we are. It’s nothing out of the ordinary… but that’s the point! When your whole day is about experiencing new , different, weird things – it’s nice to eat the same cereal for breakfast and read the same stories before bed when you’re two years old!

    • Juno Kim says:

      True. Consistency is really important for kids I think. And also for grown-ups. Drinking tea in the morning (doing it as we speak) gives me such a comforting feeling. Something I know very well, before having a challenging day.

  9. Lovely post. I actually read the book about Stanley’s expedition. It was fascinating! My ritual is to do exercise twice a week and try and get an Indian curry once a week. The one is trying to stay in shape and the other one is just comforting. 🙂

    • Juno Kim says:

      Oh you did! I read an extended article on Smithsonian, it was brilliant. Such a fascinating story! Admire your exercise regime. I’m trying to jog as much as possible, and it makes me really hard on weather like this!

  10. I totally agree with you that rituals are important, especially in situations where it would be easy to be an unproductive blob otherwise. But I am now laughing at the thought of you fending off cannibals in the jungle with your bag of tea 🙂

  11. Sorin says:

    Hmm. I have been on the road for only 3 weeks and I never thought about a ritual. Drinking my coffee in the morning can be one; checking the emails can be a second one.

  12. I could never be a perma-digital nomad as I thrive on ritual and consistency. During my months I’m at home, I get into productive routines, and then when I’m on the road, that all goes out the window!

  13. Federico says:

    Interesting post Juno.

    As a tea lover, have you thought about visiting Darjeeling in India?

  14. So true, with a new bed nearly every night, it’s great to have something constant. Tea is my ritual, too. Making it is the first thing I do in the morning, and I also carry a bag of tea with me on my travels :]

  15. Ally says:

    I think its great to keep at least one of your daily rituals while traveling. Its keeps a little piece of home with you as well as keeping you sane. Mine would probably be waking up half asleep brushing my teeth and then going back to bed in the early morning. It doesn’t sound like much but it has a sense of comfort to it while I’m away. Although I haven’t been on any trips longer than a couple of weeks so I can’t say if I would keep it up while traveling long-term (the waking up early bit at least, I’d definitely keep up the teeth brushing side ha ha)

  16. It’s funny how many people (including myself) drink herbal tea on a day to day basis. 😀 But it is true, life looks much better after a fresh cup of tea!

  17. iqi616 says:

    Hi Juno, I found this page by accident. My favourite tea is Lapsang Souchong but the problem is it de-stresses me too much. I find I lose my self discipline as well as the stress so instead I have to drink regular Orang Pekoe or similar. I drink tea without milk or sugar.

    Anyway. I was looking for information on non-religious rituals to help my self discipline and this page was interesting and helpful. Personal cleanliness and tea is a good start, now I need to extend the ritual to my work life.

    …Mike.

  18. I definitely agree that a routine is important. I try to do yoga 6 days a week, and actually drink tea every morning as well! I am really loving the Chinese green teas and am making my way through all Asian teas since I’m based in China at the moment. Any good Korean teas to recommend?

  19. Great post Juno! Beautiful observations on the importance of our daily rituals! I have to admit to loving and relating to yours!~

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