Every year on Labour Day Weekend, my girlfriends and I pull out the scrappy pieces of paper with our goals we scribbled from a year earlier. We reflect on our achievements, celebrate our successes, and then jot down new goals for the year ahead.
Some of us are more career-oriented, while other friends are looking for love or to make big life changes. I've always been a huge goals person and last year reflected that: travel the world; get published in a major fashion magazine; grow my partnership; keep contributing to my RRSP; and get to the root of my digestive problems.
I'm happy I met most of my goals in the past year; however, the past seven months of travel have shown me the power of practical, incremental goals -- like the power of happiness -- in building a routine.
I've been reflecting on the past year from Auckland, New Zealand, where I will celebrate the start of a new year. I've realized that it's not travel that has made me the happiest I've ever been, it's something more practical: building a routine.
When I quit my job to travel Asia and the Pacific, I thought that I would find immediate happiness. My stress, created by a job I wasn't enjoying, disappeared instantly. I had money saved. I was going on a year adventure with my partner. I was free to design my days the way I wanted: I could read all day on a beach, or hike a waterfall in Laos while making time to write.
My endorphins lasted for a few months until other inevitable realities set in. I was removed from the safe and comfortable lifestyle I was used to for more than eight years in a big city.
I've never been good at keeping a routine. I used to hit my phone alarm on average four times before I got out of bed. I'd go to yoga when I felt stressed, rather than practicing yoga consistently to handle stress more effectively when it arrived. I was a sporadic reader, who read half of a fashion magazine that I had to have. I would only ever get through a few pages of one of several books stacked on my bedside table before my eyes would start drifting.
While continuing to travel next year will make me happy (sorry, Toronto, I'm not ready to come back yet), it's through a routine that my partner and I will continue to do so.
I started small and didn't put too many things in front of myself. I read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit for pointers. Once I had been reading consistently for about two weeks my habit formed. I applied this same technique to exercise, writing, and baking.
Some days I slip, like not exercising for five days during the holidays. As long as I don't let myself linger for too long, my routine stays in tact.
Here are three ways a routine has enabled consistent happiness:
1. A routine creates my ability to travel long-term
My partner and I first set out to travel for at least a year, but now we've made the decision to travel indefinitely. We want to create a lifestyle of travel and work, and luckily as writers we can work remotely.
Most people have thought that my partner and I had a year of leisurely travel. The reality is we've had to build a weekly routine of work one day and exploring the next in order to make more money and stay relevant in our industry.
This meant that we weren't out sight seeing or relaxing every day. For part of the day we were in a café working on stories or waking up at 7:30 a.m. to Skype with a client in North America.
Getting into this routine took some time, but it's what has kept us traveling. Without the work and money, we wouldn't have been able to travel seven countries in seven months.
2. A routine keeps me healthy to keep traveling
Traveling through South East Asia can be exhausting. It's particularly tough when you don't have the money to travel by plane. Our trip to Cambodia by land took us two days from the South of Thailand including travel by boat, bus, train, tuk tuk, and taxi. What's worse is that every time we entered a new country, our bodies had to adapt to new food, new water, and new time zones.
To help keep a strong immune system, I developed a regular exercise routine - for the first time since I was a teenager - whether hiking, jogging, or getting a day pass at a gym. The more I exercise, the healthier my body and mind, and the more energy I have to travel.
The same routine goes for eating. I've developed new routines like eliminating gluten from my diet (it's much easier in Asia where most dishes are rice-based), eating a healthy breakfast of eggs and avocado (I used to eat a bagel with almond butter at my desk in my old office job), and eating within an hour after exercising to keep my energy up.
Developing a more healthy eating routine has given me more energy and a better understanding of what my body needs.
3. A routine is helping me integrate my work and life
This is the first time in years, I've maintained a regular writing routine for more than three months. Before I'd pick up gigs in Toronto, cram writing into one day, and then be so exhausted of the process that I'd stop writing altogether.
I used to always think of work and life separately. I was always too busy to find time for myself, when I just wasn't prioritizing time for me. I'd love writing for websites like Toronto Standard about fashion, but I was always rushing to get the pieces done, rather than enjoying the opportunity. The reality is that I wasn't prioritizing or being productive. I didn't have a balance of work and life.
CEO of MediaSpike Blake Commagere's recent piece, Rethinking Work-Life Balance, is the best perspective I've seen on this topic. Commagere says that doing the things that will enable him to be productive and efficient at work - his passion - is his life balance. He points to things like exercise, getting sleep, and eating well.
My partner bought me a kindle this year, and I've been reading Joan Didion and Haruki Murakami for hours at a time. I learned that reading during the day when I'm not tired ensures I get through more than a few pages.
I started baking; I was a self-professed non-baker before, but that's because I never gave it chance. When we got to Australia and had access to a kitchen, I started small. I picked my mom's mock skor bar recipe that I was familiar with and started experimenting with different types of chocolate. Focusing on one recipe helped me perfect my technique and improve this dessert by using different baking methods and ingredients. When we get to Perth in January, I'm excited to learn how to bake bread.
A routine is my happiness
Travel has given me the opportunity to start a routine. But now it's up to me to maintain, strengthen, and adapt my routine to grow the lifestyle I want.
My passion is travel, my work is writing, and when reinforced with a routine, I'm happy.
For more than a decade, Marrakesh has been the Moroccan destination on everyone’s list. Fez, about 240 miles northeast, was often an afterthought. But slowly, quietly, a sophisticated scene is taking root. It started with expats and locals restoring riads, and continues as hotels, restaurants, and galleries pop up. The biggest news is the Hotel Sahrai, with a hip rooftop bar and 50 rooms, many overlooking an infinity pool. Other notable places to stay include the medina’s Karawan Riad, whose seven renovated suites offer a modern alternative to more traditional riad hotels, and Palais Faraj, a 19th-century palace transformed by architect Jean-Baptiste Barian. On the culinary front, Restaurant No. 7 is making waves with a rotating series of acclaimed guest chefs. It’s the brainchild of British food writer Tara Stevens and American Stephen Di Renza, part of a group of expats who are encouraging experimentation. So far, overdevelopment isn’t an issue. Whether this will last—especially with the 2015 debut of an upgraded airport, set to accommodate 2.5 million passengers, five times the current volume—is anyone’s guess. Don’t wait to find out. This is the moment to see Fez. Find out more about T+L's top pick for 2015. —Richard Alleman
The region that welcomed Jewish families in the ’50s, hippies in the ’60s, and soon, perhaps, casino gamblers is also making room for a new tribe: hip, design-crazed travelers. A string of stylish B&Bs have opened, many of them by transplants from Manhattan and Brooklyn (call them “hicksters”) who value buzzwords like local, authentic, and handmade. Among them are the bohemian-chic Hotel Dylan in Woodstock, the Arnold House in Livingston Manor, with its tavern and diminutive spa, and Phoenicia’s Graham & Co., where the retro amenities include Tivoli radios, bonfires, and a badminton court. Area farms provide the ingredients for inventive restaurants like Table on Ten, in Bloomville, which just added a trio of whitewashed rooms upstairs. The blackjack tables—and a few megaresort proposals that envision the return of the area’s Borscht Belt heyday—may be only a few years off, so now is the time to enjoy fly-fishing, hiking, antiquing, microbrewery-hopping, and other placid pursuits. —Peter J. Frank
If Amsterdam is a study in old-world elegance, then the scrappier port city of Rotterdam is all big, futuristic ambition—and its constantly unfolding city center has become one eye-popping explosion of style. The latest attraction, and reason enough to visit, is the MVRDV-designed Markthal, an igloo-like horseshoe that houses 96 stalls (Dutch cheeses to Moroccan spices, reflecting the polyglot city), 20 shops, nine restaurants, and 228 apartments. It also happens to feature Holland’s largest artwork: a trippy nimbus of mammoth, tumbling fruits and vegetables arching across the market ceiling on 4,500 aluminum panels. Other recent starchitect landmarks include the multipurpose Rotterdam Central Train Station and native son Rem Koolhaas’s nhow hotel, sitting like a pile of stacked metal boxes on the south bank of the Maas River, the city’s reigning cultural hub. After visiting the neighboring Netherlands Photo Museum and the lipstick-red New Luxor Theater, toast a trip well-taken with a Dutch Blossom cocktail in the hotel bar. —Raphael Kadushin
Far from the resort-clogged beaches of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s less-frequented northern shore has remained largely under the radar. But developments slated for 2015 in Puerto Plata are bound to lure well-heeled sun-seekers. First up is The Gansevoort, offering three-bedroom apartments with private pools and four-bedroom penthouses equipped with rooftop hot tubs. Later in 2015, Aman Villas will become the second Caribbean outpost from Singapore-based Amanresorts and the first golf-integrated Aman Resort. It’s the first phase of a development that aims to introduce some 400 residential villas, along with sports and equestrian facilities. Each is a welcome departure from the island’s cookie-cutter all-inclusives—and a promising sign of what’s to come in the luxury circuit. —Lindsey Olander
You can craft a linear story arc from the first edition of Robert Redford’s film festival in 1984 to the summer 2014 purchase of Park City Mountain Resort by Vail Resorts—the behemoth operator’s second recent foray into Park City (it bought the Canyons in 2013). Along the way a small mining town became a cauldron of Olympic athletes, Hollywood’s A-list, and luxury hotel brands like St. Regis and Waldorf Astoria. But a ski region blessed to have won the geographical lottery—seven world-class resorts span three parallel canyons in the rugged Wasatch Mountains, all within an hour’s drive—remained second fiddle to neighboring Colorado, whose star has shined brighter. That’s about to change. Where Vail’s vaunted Epic Pass goes, a legion of loyal snow junkies follows. The new year brings new restaurants, high-speed chairs, and lifts, including one that connects Canyons to PCMR, making it the largest ski resort in the U.S. And the industry is buzzing over a proposal that seems headed for approval called One Wasatch, which would link all seven ski areas in a European-style mega-network spanning 18,000 acres and 100 lifts. The project will have major tourism implications, introducing a new flock of riders to what locals proudly declare on their car license plates: the greatest snow on earth. —Nathan Storey
You can’t walk through a neighborhood in Istanbul these days without stumbling upon a debutante hotel primping for its grand entrance. Political unrest hasn’t deterred visitors, with tourism numbers soaring to new highs and hotel groups rushing to meet growing demand. In September 2014, Raffles moved into the business district’s glitzy Zorlu Centre, one of many sleek additions to the ancient city’s sinuous skyline, featuring a mall, office space, and a $350 million performing arts center. Up next: St. Regis in tony Nisantasi and Soho House in trendy Beyoglu. The Vault Hotel debuted in March in Karaköy, Istanbul’s neighborhood du jour, with stately interiors befitting its provenance as an erstwhile bank: an ornate façade, an old-fashioned cagelike elevator, a steel vault–turned–liquor cabinet presiding over the bar. In November, the Morgans Hotel Group unveiled 10 Karaköy nearby, steps from a bevy of new restaurants (join the throngs of stylish locals grazing at Colonie). Even hallowed Old City isn’t immune: Morgans’ next venture, the Mondrian Istanbul, will glam up prime real estate amid Fatih’s Ottoman domes. —Sarah Khan
Famous for its 1,600 pandas, most of which still live in the wild, Chengdu has introduced a 72-hour no-visa policy that makes it easier for Americans to drop in on one of the city’s three major panda research facilities. (For seeing the black and white bears without turning blue, the best months are June to October.) But it’s worth sticking around longer to experience what’s doing in Chengdu, a city on the rise. One of the shiniest attractions is New Century Global Centre, the world’s largest building, complete with an artificial beach. And there’s a slew of new hotel addresses. London-based Make Architects wraps a three-dimensional woven façade of timber, brick, and step stones around The Temple House, which also incorporate a thousand-year-old Chinese Buddhist temple and restored Qing dynasty courtyard building. Swire’s third “House” hotel opens in January 2015 with 100 rooms, while Six Senses opens the sustainable timber doors at Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, with 113 whitewashed suites, 30 minutes outside town in the still-unspoiled bamboo forest near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qingcheng—the birthplace of Taoism and the Dujiangyan irrigation system, an ecological engineering feat dating back to around 256 B.C. —Cynthia Rosenfeld