Do I have a guiding list of principles or rules that I live by?
As a world travel adventurer, professional inspirational speaker, and author, people often ask me for advice. Some want travel tips, others ask about technology and photography gear, others are looking for life-lessons learned from the road. Many are curious about how I can even make a living doing what I do.
I was sharing breakfast with Sandy many months ago, a fellow traveler I met several years ago in Greece. She posed the question, “Do you have a list of guiding principles or rules you live by?” She presented the question as a challenge for each of us: without overthinking, jot down thirteen things we believe are essential for a purposeful, mindful, happy, and healthy life. I pulled out a couple notepads and pens, and while I sipped my drip coffee, and she sipped her double macchiato, we tackled the challenge and compared notes.
Since then, I’ve shuffled my list of “13 Rules To Live By From A Life On The Road” around my desk with hardly a glance. Yesterday, after eight months, I paused and read the coffee-stained paper with my spontaneous scribbling. I pondered each of my rules and asked if, since then, I have followed them — especially in the crazy and challenging times of the coronavirus. I checked off twelve, and there remains an opportunity to fulfill the thirteenth. Read on, and you’ll understand.
Newly inspired to plant my stake in the ground, I elaborated on my thirteen rules, and now wish to inspire you to live a more healthy, happy, and fulfilled life. I hope you’ll spread the word by liking and sharing my creed with others.
1. Stay Curious
We are born curious. But as we age, we lose that sense of curiosity and become complacent in our surroundings and day-to-day life. So we need to work harder to embrace and indulge our curiosity. The best way to do this is to wonder — wonder why, ask questions, and take a greater interest in your environment.
Staying curious means being more observant. It means changing your perspective and seeing things differently. I force myself to look around, change my surroundings, and ask myself, “Why?” Doing something as simple as taking a different route to work or the grocery store will open you up to new experiences. You’ll be more mindful, see things fresh, and you’ll begin to wonder.
I like to ask people questions like “What’s this?” or “How did you do that?” When you open your eyes in wonder at this fantastic world, you re-energize your mind and your body. So stay curious and never stop exploring.
2. Be Kind To Strangers
We humans, have much more in common than differences. Let’s celebrate our humanity by being kind to each other more often. Smile at strangers, say hello to people you pass on the street, and if you see someone struggling, offer to help.
There’s no better sound to the ears than the sound of someone speaking your name. Is that person helping you at the store wearing a name tag? Be kind, smile, and thank them by name.
I genuinely believe that there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met. Like the woman I noticed at a wine bar in Ioannina, Greece, who I’d passed on the street earlier in the day. When she began humming along with a song playing in, I asked her who was singing. I learned she was on a road trip and had been traveling for three weeks, all the way from Poland. We shared travel tips, toured the city, and shared a meal together the next day. We still chat and text three years later.
3. Drink Water Every Day
We are composed of about sixty percent water, and our blood is about ninety percent water. Water covers over seventy percent of our planet. Water is life. Yet as ever-present water is, many people don’t make drinking it a daily priority. By drinking water, you are doing wonders for your skin, kidneys, and digestion, to name just a few of the many health benefits.
Grab a glass and toast to your health.
4. Take The Stairs
Some twenty years ago, I visited my friend’s elderly grandmother. She was a frail but strong-spirited woman, barely five feet tall. Marguerite lived on the top floor of a three-story assisted living facility. We met her for lunch in the community dining room on the ground floor. She had an immense sense of humor and a gift for storytelling and wasn’t afraid to pepper her language with profanity.
After lunch, she invited us to her residence for a cup of coffee. We walked to the elevator on the far side of the lobby, and I stopped to push the button. Grandma walked right past it and swung open a door. “I take the stairs,” she asserted, with a crack in her voice, “while I still can.”
How could I refute such a bold command? We climbed the stairs to her apartment on the third floor. I’ll never forget that afternoon with Marguerite. Now I smile as I walk past the elevators in modest buildings with just a few floors. Think about Marguerite the next time you approach an elevator. Before you push that button, think again. Take the stairs — while you still can.
5. Be Open And Try New Things
I find closed-mindedness evil and dangerous. Holding on to opinions, preferences, and habits you’ve harbored for years saps your motivation and creativity, and creates an obstacle to success. When we’re open-minded and willing to try new things, we challenge our brains and bodies and release stagnant or under-used neurotransmitters and muscles. Our bodies and minds thrive on attention.
Trying something new changes our perspective and allows us to see things differently. When we see things differently, we see things we missed or previously ignored. Our new perspective introduces us to a broader range of possibilities for work and relationships.
You might start by trying food that you haven’t tried in years. After all, our palates change over time. Once, when I suggested a white wine for our appetizers, my friend folded her arms and said, “I don’t like Chardonnay.” I’d never heard such a closed-minded statement from her! That evening I changed her mind and, I hope, expanded the possibilities in her life.
How about listening to a different music genre, learning to play an instrument, speaking a new language, enrolling in a community or college course, or riding a motorcycle? When we step outside our comfort zone, we can feel, see, and recognize more opportunities.
Trying something new also helps us break the monotony of routine and changes our biorhythm — jolting and stimulating us intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
If we maintain a habit of trying new things, we progress and learn to be more open to change, new experiences, and new possibilities.
6. Call Old Friends
Don’t text. Pick up the phone. Call someone you haven’t chatted with for months — or even years. I’m sure you’re flooded with memories of good times, meaningful experiences, and even life-altering moments. As life speeds by, we get busier, and our social circles evolve and change. Maybe we move far away. Think of all the people in your life who have brought color and smiles to your life. Call them.
With the increasing number of digital communication channels we use, our relationships are in danger of becoming impersonal or superficial. We may think we’re connecting with people through our social media habits, but studies show it distances us further by fooling us with a false sense of connection.
Make yourself and your friends feel better by sharing a genuine conversation — listen to each other. Make it regular, weekly, monthly or whatever interval suits you. You’ll be surprised at how this will enhance your day — and the day of your friend.
7. Read Books
Invigorate your life with the joy of reading. Too many of us with eyes glued to our devices, read text messages and are distracted by alerts, social media posts, and content from links that catch our attention or are forwarded from friends and colleagues. When was the last time you read a book?
I admit this one is tough for me. That’s why I make it a rule to force myself to follow my advice.
It’s important to mix it up, too. Read fiction and nonfiction by a wide range of authors. If you prefer the convenience of a Kindle or ebook, that’s fine. Just read! While audiobooks are convenient, I love the thrill of choosing a new book from the library or the bookstore, and I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment when I finish that book.
Do you have books in your home or office that you haven’t read, or started but didn’t finish? I challenge you; pick one and read it. Make it a habit and a priority to snuggle up with a book and a cup of tea or glass of wine and drift away. You’ll enjoy the energy, and it will invigorate you and add vitality and quality to your life.
8. Stretch Like A Cat
If stretching is the key to a long life, I think I know why cats have nine lives. Have you ever watched a cat slowly wake up from a long nap? Before opening her eyes, my cat lets out a long and wide-open yawn followed by a leisurely shudder as she arches her back and stretches her paws far in front of her, craning her neck and tucking her head in for a long deep stretch. She lifts her head up, high and long, and rolls over to stretch her paws out for a belly-revealing stretch. I think we can learn plenty from a cat’s stretching regimen.
Who doesn’t want to maintain their nimbleness and flexibility as we age? Regular fitness practice is critical for our heart and health, but stretching is something I try to practice each day. Perhaps you enjoy the various stretches inherent in yoga poses. If you haven’t tried yoga, find a YouTube video, and learn a few relaxing or energizing stretch moves.
You don’t need a special mat or equipment. What you do need is to discover the benefits of stretching, twisting, and moving your body — independent of any workout. Stretching and yoga keep you flexible, increases strength, improve your health, your posture, help prevent injury, increase your range of motion, and reduce back pain.
So the next time you see a cat stretching, think about your stretching regimen, yawn big, and get on with it.
Like drinking water, walking seems so simple. It’s so easy and keeps you healthy. It’s especially crucial for sedentary people, sitting at a desk working in front of a computer. And even if you regularly train or work out, you still need to walk.
Brisk walking is the most beneficial. Walking in brief spurts is good too. Here’s a simple idea. Instead of jockeying to find the closest parking space, park in the farthest space from the entrance to the shopping center. Then enjoy the walk. (And fewer dings in your car doors.)
I found tons of literature and research on the benefits of walking. It improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, and increases your heart rate. And you can lose weight by walking. A 30-minute walk will burn 200 calories or more. Walking strengthens muscles, and bones and stimulates your joints. It improves your mood and your balance and coordination.
Finally, it’s proven that walking extends your lifespan. Studies show that people who regularly walk or exercise in their fifties and sixties are 35% less likely than non-wagers to die in the next ten years. So grab your favorite walking shoes and head outside and take a loop or two around the neighborhood.
10. Cook For Yourself
When was the last time you cooked a meal for yourself? And I don’t mean fast food, reheating something, or plating prepared meals. Instead, when have you taken multiple ingredients and cooked yourself a delicious meal?
If your answer is “more than a month,” or “I don’t know,” you need to make your way to the kitchen. Reward yourself with the simple and satisfying activity of cooking and eating a dish you made with your own hands.
There are plenty of excuses for not cooking. Perhaps you’re too busy, or don’t like to cook. Maybe you feel like a klutz in the kitchen or are insecure and lack confidence. But there’s no better way to practice mindfulness than cooking for yourself.
Choose a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and focus your mind on chopping, slicing, marinating, seasoning, or sautéing. When I tune my senses to the aroma and flavors, I fall into an almost meditative state. Even before I eat, I feel just how good the process is for my body and mind.
You don’t need to make it complicated or fancy. Start by choosing something new, perhaps something you would order in a restaurant. Keep it simple and enjoy the process. Practice with a couple of dishes you make once a week. As you become increasingly more mindful, add new dishes. Need ideas? With cooking and food, the internet is a massive global library of recipes, how-to videos, and inspiration.
11. Visit National Parks Every Year
In the USA, our immense national park system is a treasure worth exploring. With 419 national parks spanning more than 84 million acres, there’s a national park near you.
They designate fourteen of these parks as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And if you can’t find a park nearby, check out one of our 128 national monuments.
While it takes an act of Congress to designate a national park, a president can proclaim a national monument. Sixty-two parks have the words “National Park” in their names, while others are called battlefields, historic sites, memorials, lakeshores, parkways, reserves, recreation areas, trails, seashores, rivers, and riverways, among others. They all fall under the jurisdiction of the United States National Park Service.
So why visit a national park each year? National parks are wide-open classrooms where you can learn and experience soul-nourishing sounds, smells, sights, textures, wildlife, and even solitude. I feel invigorated when I’m outside in nature.
From tall trees to glacial mountains, rivers, streams, lakes, underwater wonderlands, red rock deserts, mysterious caves, and caverns, there is so much diversity in our vast country that these parks beg to be discovered. So lace up some sturdy shoes and go exploring.
This is the one rule I haven’t been able to follow in these challenging times of coronavirus. I hope that I can visit a park before the end of the year. That way, I will have followed each of these rules since the day Sandy and I wrote them.
12. Wear Sunscreen
Our sun is both friend and foe. It fosters our body’s vital vitamin D production. It also brightens our days and improves our mood. But sunshine can be extremely dangerous to our health if we don’t protect ourselves.
The depletion of the earth’s ozone layer exposes us to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunscreen protects our skin from exposure to these rays and decreases your risk of developing melanoma, one of the most deadly cancers.
So, wear sunscreen.
Not only does sunscreen provide essential protection, it can keep you looking young, even your skin tone, and protect you from heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Sunscreen is convenient and easy to use, thanks to all the different products, including sprays and moisturizers. So treat your body and skin well.
13. Find Quiet Time For Yourself — Digital Detox
We are bombarded by notifications, alerts, and text messages every minute of every day. With our eyes glued to tiny screens, we unconsciously impair our brain and health. Studies show that too much screen time with large and small screens can cause insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, heart disease, and even obesity. Staring at these screens causes eye strain, dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. Craning our neck down to look at these screens can cause chronic neck and shoulder pain.
I try to be mindful of how much time I spend looking at a digital screen. It’s challenging to leave our devices at home while we walk, ride our bikes, take a ride, or even just sit still in our favorite chair. But making it a habit to untether ourselves from these screens will reward us with peace and solace.
Can you sit silently, without even listening to music? Abandoning the pinging and dinging of alerts, the flicker and flutter of screens take conscious effort these days of ubiquitous communication.
Embrace being alone and cherish your quiet time. Your body and mind will thank you.
There you have them: my “13 Rules To Live By From a Life on the Road.” I’m happy I stopped pushing that coffee-stained paper with the original scribbles for these rules. They serve as a reminder to me of the importance of inspiration and aspiration — to follow these rules, whether I’m on the road or locked down in quarantine.
Join me, and start today in a conscious effort to lead more fulfilling, happy, and healthy lives. I hope you’ll spread the word by liking and sharing these rules with others. Thank you.
© 2022 All text and photos by the author and photographer Allan Karl