Travel in Wellness and Spontaneity

You don’t have to iron out every detail of a trip to have a fun, safe time. Leaving room for spontaneity can let in some amazing experiences that you just can’t plan.

If you’ve ever traveled with me, you know I’m pretty obsessive about daily nutrition and mobility. If you have that same need for taking vitamins and doing your stretches like I do, then you know it’s tricky to plan longer trips. But being able to appreciate the small things during travel is a big part of why we do it.

A few wonderful things that deeply touched my wife and I during our last trip: free bus rides, belly laughs with strangers, spot-on food suggestions in unfamiliar neighborhoods, and a look into the real, raw character of locals.

A couple of weeks ago, we trekked through the crisp winter of the Pacific Northwest with packs secured to our backs. The steamy puffs of our breaths led the way, the air crisp and the streets shiny from rain. We came upon many friendly, robust people in the cozy shops along the drizzly streets of Seattle.

We made friendly conversation with shop owners along the bustling Pike Place Market, bus and Uber drivers, and baristas and waiters who diligently tended to coffee shops and cafes. The perpetual overcast sky made it extra lovely to step inside of stores and public transit. It also seemed to have weathered and made wise the residents of this town.

We rolled through the snowy redwood forests along the coast up to Vancouver by train, and found another town that was used to the cold, but very different from Seattle in character. English in numerous foreign accents mixed with equal amounts of musical French tones.

A bright young British waiter in Gas Town shared a list of places to see on New Year’s Eve; the brusque Downtown poutine restaurant owner with braided beard proudly served up excellent smothered fries; and the humble staff of a unique Aboriginal hotel welcomed us to a place full of First Nations art: bold, colorful, and spiritual.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the holidays. As with any great trip, though, we had a few, let’s say rough, days. I barfed my soul out (twice) from food poisoning. While I was sick in bed, the fire alarm went off in our hotel and we had to evacuate.

As soon as I was recovering, my wife had mild hypothermia after a short hike in the below-zero climate; on our way back we missed the bus and delayed our return to our hotel.

To top it all off, a hefty earthquake in Vancouver gave us a bit of a shake. Being Californians, we sort of let our attention drift past it and continued to watch Netflix in our room.

It wasn’t any one of these things that was particularly difficult. It was all of them combined over eleven days of travel.

In the face of these difficulties, though, we had a blast and made it back alive and well. Unlike me, wife does not like to set out on a trip without ample planning and a set itinerary. We used a foundation of tools and habits to navigate unfamiliar territory and unexpected circumstances.

We made many decisions – how to get somewhere, where to eat, and what to do next – on the fly using these tools. But the tools were only as useful as we were ready to benefit from them. We made use of habits to prime ourselves for spontaneity.


Have a Daily Routine

I know, I just said we were being spontaneous. But having intention and a general flow in mind for each day  allowed us to choose the end points as they appeared in front of us. We still avoided planning it all out ahead of time.

  • Mornings:
    • As much as I could, I journaled in the morning. I used the Five Minute Journal and my own notebook for solidifying thoughts. It helped to reflect upon the amazing, the stressful, and the mundane things that happened each day and to write them down in my own words.
    • Breakfast and/or Butter Coffee. We found the nearest, best coffee shop or cafe. I got a cup of coffee whenever I could to add to my thermos, which I prepared with grass fed butter inside.
    • First point of exploration. We didn’t restrict ourselves to a fully scheduled day, but having one place or activity to start served as a guideline.
  • Midday: We left this time of day open to continue something great from the morning or find something else to do before dinner. For example, a tour guide that took us below the streets of Seattle suggested getting food in the International District. This brought us to a hot, tasty meal in a dumpling house where I got my veggie fix for the day.
  • Evenings: The sun set around 4:30 p.m., so it was important that we started to think about where we were going to get dinner earlier. This allowed us to figure out how to get back later, or end up within walking distance of our resting place by the time it was dark.

Remain limber

Hips, knees, feet, back, shoulders, you name it. Traveling on foot is physical! Pick a simple set of movements and bring minimal equipment to do them. Body weight exercises require the least packing, of course.

  • I used one Iron Woody Fitness band in the evenings for strength, when we didn’t have an extremely tough transit the next day.
    • How I did deadlifts and rows: step on the middle of the band and, bent over with a solid torso, pull up on the ends. Grab closer to the feet, keep arms straight, and use hips to push up for deadlifts; grab closer to ends of band, remain in bent position, and pull up with arms for rows.
    • For resistance pushups: wrap the band behind upper back and hook the ends in hands. Get in pushup position, trapping the band ends on the floor. It takes a bit of adjusting on the ground to get in the right position. A bit uncomfortable, but a good exercise if you maintain a solid torso and keep your hips from bending.
  • I did hip mobility in the mornings before getting fully dressed.
  • Calf stretches and squats were perfect for waiting to cross intersections. Always happy to give locals fodder for conversation!
  • Overhead arm stretches on the bus and train, using the rail overhead.


Nutrition on the Go

It’s difficult to eat well on the road with limited resources, so draw a bottom line below which you will not drop. I packed some stuff and found the rest on the go.

  • Good fat is non-negotiable for me. It’s my best fuel and wellness weapon. This is usually something that’s hard to pack and carry, so finding fresh sources of good fat is key.
    • Butter coffee. I get unsalted grass fed butter at specialty grocers if available. To prep for the day, I slice a chunk into my Thermos in the morning, and add a cup of the best possible coffee once I find it. Shake and magic. Best butter so far: Kiwi Pure, New Zealand brand from Whole Foods in Vancouver. Bam!
    • Egg yolk – the unparalleled healthy fat fix outside of grass fed butter. When there’s no Whole Foods, cafes that serve eggs are key. I get my yolks minimally cooked, like soft boiled, poached or sunny side up.
  • Green leafy veggies. Best bet is Chinese restaurants. Bok choy, on choy, you choy. Delicious life savers.
  • Micronutrients. I bagged my supplements in day and night portions. Eleven days’ worth fit into a small plastic tupperware. Each morning I pack a day baggie with me to take with butter coffee or breakfast. For this trip we brought an extra suitcase, so we usually had a room to return to each night. This allowed us to keep things there while we walked around the city.
    • Mornings: Vitamins D, K2, B12, Methyl Folate.
    • Night: Mg (Natural Calm powder in water), Vitamin C, and Kelp.
    • Other essentials:
      • Extra Vitamin C. One of the cheapest and most effective supplements. I pack almost a full snack baggie full and take a little throughout the day if I have the sniffles.
      • Activated charcoal for food poisoning and after eating wheat, beer, wine, or fried foods.

Last Minute Navigation

So how do we do things last minute? Here are some of the apps we used:

  • Yelp and Foursquare (better for international) for single source coffee, the nearest bank, and the tastiest croissant.
  • Google maps for public transit.
  • Hotel Tonight app for last minute hotel deals. Genious tool found by my genious wife.

Books we read for quick background info on places:

  • Lonely Planet Seattle. Gives both objective and opinionated reviews and tips.
  • Frommer’s Seattle Day by Day and Frommer’s Vancouver and Whistler Day by Day. Great culture insights to both places.
  • Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria. Great guide to neighborhoods for pedestrians.
  • All of these books had the maps in good shape from the library, so we made good use of these as well. Nothing like a good paper map to see the bigger picture! I know, I can be old school.

So, use habits and tools to allow yourself to make decisions as you go and to travel in wellness. The important thing is to be open to the spontaneous interactions with people and get yourself immersed in the moments that happen. Prepare and then explore!

What have you used to find your way around unfamiliar towns? Are there specific habits you’ve utilized on longer trips? I’m planning on more travel in the near future, so any insights will be appreciated!

To powerful living!



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Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge Steve Back BrilliantBeastBlog.jpeg
The beautiful Lynn Canyon suspension bridge in North Vancouver


The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day

How to Make Butter Coffee

Iron Woody Fitness bands

My go-to Kelly Starrett hip mobility exercise



Hotel Tonight app

Lonely Planet Seattle (Travel Guide)

Frommer’s Seattle day by day

Frommer’s Vancouver and Whistler Day by Day (Frommer’s Day by Day – Pocket)

Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria: with Whistler, Vancouver Island & the Okanagan Valley (Full-color Travel Guide)

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