mindfulness

Travel was the primary reason I started writing in 2010. I longed to note down my thoughts and impressions, to create a melting pot of photographs and words that, together, would help me go back in time to the places I had been, conjuring their smells, their smiles, their secrets.

Granted, saying that it has been a while since I last wrote is possibly an understatement. But instead of apologising or trying to justify my absence, I am moving forward with a list of reasons that have incentivised me to pack my bags and travel – and hopefully will make you want to do so, too:

To appreciate the moment

Gin tonic at sunset in Tenerife

I sometimes let what ifs take up too much of time – I worry over things that haven’t happened (yet). In fact, this is what usually happens in my head while I’m sitting in that bus staring out the window: when there’s some sort of uncertainty, I see patterns and start to play out all possible “what if” scenarios. If I had to draw a mental map of it, it would probably look something like an ancient tree with a lot of branches.

All this is great. But is it really necessary? Most of the time, it isn’t – but it’s a comfortable and safe habit (planning – a lot) to fall back onto.

Travel, on the other hand, requires you to stop thinking of the what ifs and, instead, be present in the moment. Because of the adventurous and unexpected element in travel, there’s no other place you can be but here and now.

To step out of my comfort zone

Sleeping in chinchorros in La Guajira Colombia

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”
-Paulo Coelho

I’ve always been a risk-taker. No, I don’t jump out of planes or walk around Favelas. I have, however, dived with sharks (small ones – I am against cage diving). I have also hiked 450 km across the North of Spain, solo (never having done even a 2-day trek before) and have recently slept open air in a chinchorro in the Colombian desert (see photo above).

Each time I’ve taken a risk, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m way more scared of barracudas than I am of sharks; I can actually walk 38km in one day if I’m having fun along the way; and, chichorros? comfortable, but next time I’ll need to bring sleeping pills.

Travel is a great opportunity to step outside our familiar comfort zone and try something we’ve never tried before. I promise the side effects are worth it: you broaden your horizons, learn how to deal with new and unexpected changes and harness your creativity.

To get my mind off something that has been keeping me up at night

San Sebastian Basque Country

Being on the road actually helps me gain perspective on an existing problem. It helps me see things from a different angle – and most of the time, this ends up leading to a solution.

While doing the Camino de Santiago in 2015, I met a lot of peregrinos that were taking time off precisely for this reason: to step back and gain perspective. After a few days of fresh air and with the sole objective of bringing one foot in front of the other until you reach your destination, problems that seemed impossible loose a bit of weight and often even become less scary.

Don’t get me wrong: Travel doesn’t make your problems go away, nor does it miraculously solve them. But by opening your mind, it enables you to simply see things differently.

To build new and strengthen existing relationships

Zurich with friends

Some of the best and strongest friendships I have were forged on the road – and many continue to be strengthened through travel.

I enjoy traveling with people I love because it’s an opportunity to share life-long memories with them. I still remember the time we spent dancing barefoot in Tulum, roadtripping New Zealand, hiking in Patagonia or kayaking around Stockholm. The greatest memories became even greater when I shared them with my favourite people on Earth.

But that doesn’t mean that you always have to travel with others. I’ve met some really interesting people when traveling by myself: teachers, translators, hippies, entrepreneurs, brokers, ski instructors, writers, photographers and even a priest. And you know what? The one thing I learned about humanity while traveling, is that we are all essentially the same.

To satisfy my endless curiosity

Lake Como Italy

For someone that always aims to learn something new every day, travel is an incredible tool to achieve this. Whether it is a completely new place, language or culture. A new cuisine or local fruit. New customs and traditions. New celebrations. Or maybe it’s a place I do know, a destination I’ve visited before but get to see from a different perspective. Travel expands your mind, heightens your senses and makes you more receptive to your surroundings – helping you to soak up new information much faster (and for longer) than you would do any other way.

Still feeling short on reasons to pack up and go travel? Here’s a list of 100 reasons to travel by The Culturer!

Which are the main reasons you travel?

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah

Rainbow after the Rain, London

Sometimes finding the positive side in a difficult situation can by pretty challenging. Far too often, we focus on the things we don’t have rather than those we do have, which blurs our vision of those small things that could turn our day around.

Of course it’s not ideal to wake up after a bad night sleep and realise that you just ran out of coffee. It’s also pretty annoying to spend a fortune at the hairdresser, only to step outside under the pouring rain. But the truth is, we can either choose anger or joy, to look back or forward. It’s our choice.

While London has definitely set me a challenge from the start, it has also given me plenty of joy and happiness. Here are a few things that brighten my days.

  • Waking up with the sun shining in my face.
  • A pre-breakfast run in one of the many parks around me. I feel lucky to be able to choose between Tooting Bec Common, Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common every day – who gets bored with so much choice?

Morning run in Wandsworth Park, London

  • Having avocado on toast for breakfast. Not a daily routine, unfortunately, but my favourite source of morning energy nonetheless.
  • Grabbing a coffee-to-go from one of London’s top independent coffee shops. I’m a regular at Black Lab Coffee and Lantana Cafe.
  • Getting on the Northern Line tube via Charing Cross (instead of Bank). This means that I’ll be able to fully immerse in my current book without risking to skip my stop!
  • The excitement of winning a pitch and anticipation of working full-on on a new project.
  • Surprise afternoon snacks in the office. Mini cupcakes, anyone?

Mini cupcakes at work

  • Meeting a friend for dinner somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Food shopping at Planet OrganicWhole Foods and my most recent discovery – As Nature Intended. Seriously, this is way better than shoe shopping!
  • Watching the sun set over the neighborhood’s rooftops while preparing dinner.

Which are the little things that brighten your regular day?

April was quite a month. I sprinted from one point to another, rushed through crowds, always thinking of to-dos and deadlines. I multi-tasked through most of my day and usually ate in front of my screen while typing yet another e-mail. I spent 8 hours a week studying the GMAT (which in my case meant 8 hours doing maths!) and brainstormed the future of my blog. I pushed myself to study or read something useful in the evenings, before falling asleep a few hours before picking up the entire race again.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana, Tenerife (Spain)

I knew this wasn’t going to last – eventually, something had to change. And I knew the time to reevaluate my priorities had come when, at the end of the month, my body collapsed of weakness.

It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau

I had been so busy with my career and ambitions that I forgot to take care of myself. I had forgotten about things as simple as eating well, drinking water and getting a good night sleep. Instead, I was constantly being hard on myself for not getting up earlier, for not making more hours to study, for not being more active and for not feeling inspired to write.

After my roadshow finished, I flew home for a long weekend. Soon after, I was hospitalised with severe anaemia – and what was meant to be a short break became a week-long recovery.

Terrazas del Sauzal, Tenerife (Spain)

This was my wake up call, so I hit snooze and reevaluated my priorities. When did I allow to get too busy to listen to what my own body is trying to tell me?

At some point in the last few months, I became someone who glorified busy. I thought of busy as a status symbol – one that represents productivity and ambition. But the truth is, there was no end to it. There were always more tasks to tick off the to-do lists, and most of those tasks were self-imposed.

That was my first realisation: I was in this by choice.

It was clear to me that the way I made my choices had to change.

Tulip Festival in Morges

Learn to say no (specially to the things I want to do)

It seems obvious that there comes a period in your life where you have to learn how to say no to things that you don’t want to do, but I think the biggest, trickiest lesson in holding onto the stalwart commitment to your creativity is learning how to say no to things you do want to do.”

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Intelligent Channel interview

I’m curious and enjoy acquired new knowledge and skills. Maybe my only hope to beat overwhelm is to limit what I am willing to get overwhelmed by. This will mean saying no to plenty of things I want to do, like a photography course, blogging 3 times a week or drinking that 3rd glass of wine on a Thursday evening.

Be more intentional about my choices and focus

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with choices, but by aligning my choices with my core values, the array of alternatives are narrowed to those that are in line with who I want to be.

My goal is to learn to pick more wisely. Instead of constantly adding new projects to my to-do list, I want to choose what I really want to do and focus on doing that one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is evil, seriously. You might think you are being productive, but you’re actually doing things half-heartedly without being really present and involved in any of them.

I’m starting to realise that I’d rather have a few meaningful projects than a stressful over-scheduled calendar that doesn’t allow time to recharge my batteries.

Unplugging more often

Today’s technology has allowed us to be available 24/7 – which means that we never really rest from work on any day of the week.

I am conscious about my dependency on electronic devices (specially smartphones) and feel uneasy and sort of naked when I don’t carry my phones with me – it’s like leaving the house without wearing shoes.

And while I’m already on the path of creating a habit of limiting my plugged in time, I’m still battling against the unconcious reflex of checking for new e-mails every few minutes.


Everyone I know is busy. So, tell me something – What do you do to stay healthy and focussed?

If you’re feeling inspired, why not hop over and read a bit more about the glorification of busy and intentional choices? Below are my favourites:


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Most of the time, I’m hopelessly addicted to technology. I have the habit of answering e-mails while I walk, placing my phone next to my plate while having a meal and dropping anything I’m doing whenever the red light blinks on my Blackberry. My news feed is filled with inspiring article on behavioural psychology, entrepreneurship and travel waiting to be read. Throughout the day, I take a picture of everything worthwhile. Then I crop it, enhance it, and instagram and tweet it.

London Eye, London (UK)

While technology has in many ways contributed positively to my life, I am constantly battling electronic temptations that threaten to take over more of my time available than I would like to commit. The promise of half an hour surfing the web rarely ends after 30 minutes. A quick Facebook fix can easily become a 20 minutes distraction. One interesting article links to another one, and without realising it another 40 minutes have passed. After an hour and a half of meaningless browsing, I wonder: where did my time go?

On a regular morning commute, I stopped immersing in my Kindle and looked around me: most of my fellow commuters were too engaged in their phones, their music or e-books to acknowledge anything around them. If George Clooney walked into that wagon, nobody would have noticed.

It was then that I realised we are missing out on the real moments. We are missing out on the opportunities to be moved by something real instead of a photo or a Youtube video. We are missing out on the chance to experience something unique instead of reading about it on someone’s Facebook wall.

Sunset in Thailand

As part of my 2014 goal to simplify, I’ve started to be more mindful of my use of technology – not only because I want to be more present and available to real experiences and connections, but also because the overuse of technology causes unnecesary stress and busyness. Does our technology addiction make us think that we are more essential than we actually are?

I have started turning off my iPhone at night and only checking my e-mails after breakfast. I regularly take my 45 minute commute without electronic distractions, taking this time to think and observe. And whenever I get the urge to check my phone, I first asses whether I really need to or it’s just a reflex. And I’ve come to a great realisation: the world did not end while my phone was turned off or without reception.

I want to be conscious of how I spend my time and figure out ways to reduce the importance of it in my daily routine. Being addicted to technology is simply a bad habit that needs to be broken.

For the rest of 2014, I’m going to explore more of the art of unplugging: picking a phone-free day and putting my iPhone and Blackberry away from the table when I’m not on a live project. Limiting my texting and e-mailing to times when I’m not in a social environment.

Do you unplug regularly? What are your best tips?


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Back at IE Business School, I learned about how psychology could explain the effects and anomalies of the stock market, which, in extreme cases, can lead to bubbles and market crashes.

Sunset from the Empire State, New York

Some of these investor biases show up on my daily life. If something goes well, I’ll feel overconfident and float on a puffy cloud. Usually, I start paying less attention to small details and, as soon as there’s a turn of events, I crash. After a few falls, I’ll feel more averse to taking up new challenges and risks – After all, nobody likes to fail and get hurt, right?

Right. But wrong.

Studies show that positive and negative information of the same importance do not have the same weight in our minds. They don’t balance each other out – instead, we’ll feel worse than neutral. Naturally, our mind tends to give more weight to the negative experience than to the positive one (this is called Negativity bias). For example: if someone has given us a bad first impression, this one is more resistant to disconfirmation than a first good impression.

Those who know me, know I have occasionally been an emotional roller-coaster. I may have started the day bright and with a smile, but if something goes wrong, everything just feels like it has crumbled into pieces. Every evening, I used to evaluate the day on my way home:

  • The bus came on time: + 5 points
  • It started to rain: -5 points
  • I forgot my umbrella at home: -10 points
  • I got positive feedback at work: + 10 points
  • I lost my Oyster card with 50 GBP on it: – 50 points

At the end of the day, I felt mediocre and deflated – even though the day, as an overall, hadn’t been that bad! Was I aiming for perfection all the time? Maybe. Maybe I was being too harsh with myself and maybe I was just being ridiculous monitoring each day’s performance.

The truth is: putting more weight on negative experiences than on positive ones is exhausting. I continuously tried to improve the day, and when the overall outcome was below zero (or neutral), I felt like it had been a bad day overall. Instead of trying to change every day’s score, I have decided to change the way I evaluate the day. I will be grateful for the good things that happen throughout the day and hold on longer to these positive experiences than to the negative ones.

Do you tend to cling to negative thoughts too long?