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    I Traveled The World In Search Of Life Lessons From Different Cultures — Here Are The Things That Have Stuck With Me Ever Since

    In the surprise aftermath of lockdown, some learnings were much more valuable than I could have ever expected.

    Hi! I'm Annie, a travel + health journalist. A bit before the pandemic started, I was lucky enough to travel around the world doing research for my first book about global wellness practices.

    The author hiking in the mountains
    Annie Daly

    To write it, I traveled to six spots — Jamaica, Norway, Hawaii, India, Japan, and Brazil — to interview locals and experts about the well-being philosophies that define their lives.

    The author traveling the world
    Annie Daly

    I wanted the book, Destination Wellness, to be an antidote to the commercialized wellness industry in the US, rooted in the idea that well-being is not something you can actually buy — it's more about the way you live your life.

    In retrospect, the timing of the book was incredibly cosmic, because I handed in the first draft of my manuscript just weeks before the pandemic grounded the globe.

    (So yes: I ended up editing a book about travel when travel and life as we knew it had just come to a screeching halt. 😬)

    At first, I was nervous about working on a travel-centric book during a time when the future of travel — and the world at large — was so uncertain.

    But fortunately, the wisdom I gathered on my reporting trips around the world was actually the very thing that helped me feel okay during those Twilight Zone first few months of lockdown life — and has continued to help me feel well to this day.

    If anything, having the time to practice what I preach over the past year has helped me solidify the idea that lessons for living well can be applied wherever you are — no travel or serious cash flow required.

    So! With that in mind, here are seven of my favorite life lessons that I picked up throughout my travels — all of which have been especially useful in the aftermath of the pandemic.

    1. Get outside as often as possible.

    A beautiful body of water against mountains
    Annie Daly

    In Norway, I researched the cultural concept of friluftsliv, which, loosely translated, means "the free air life." This philosophy is based on the idea that life is best lived outdoors, no matter the weather. Norwegians live by the phrase, "There's no bad weather, only bad clothing."

    The driving force behind it is that fresh air is the key to true well-being — one woman from Bergen even told me that friluftsliv is rooted in the Norwegian quest for rosy cheeks. "We just don't feel like our best selves until we've gotten a bit of a rosy glow in our cheeks after spending some time in fresh air," she said. To her point, Norwegians have outdoor kindergartens and entire friluftsliv schools, and they even leave their babies outside in strollers to get them used to sleeping in the cold!

    While I was already intrigued by this "fresh air life" concept in the Before Times, I found it even more useful at home during the pandemic — especially during that frigid, ice-cold winter.

    My husband and I forced ourselves to gear up and go outdoor dining — even in 30-degree temperatures — because we knew that that "rosy glow" would help us feel a little bit better.

    And that's my favorite part of this philosophy: While epic outdoor adventures are obviously a great way to get your nature fix, simply walking outside to do your errands instead of driving counts too. Fresh air is the universal healer, no matter how or where you embrace it.

    2. Learn how your food actually grows.

    Two hands reaching for a flower
    Annie Daly

    Back when I worked on staff at a wellness magazine, I would get tons of samples of the latest healthy foods, especially snacks. I thought they were super healthy at the time, especially since the majority of them had perfectly wholesome ingredients like chia seeds and spirulina powder. But the Rastafari farmers I interviewed in Jamaica helped me see that true well-being may actually come from a deeper understanding of your food's roots — a principle I carried with me throughout my pandemic cooking when I was tempted to load up on my favorite "healthy" paleo puffs at the grocery store.

    Rastafari (which is both the name for the movement that originated in Jamaica and the people who follow it) swear by the healthy living philosophy Ital, which is all about avoiding processed foods and eating naturally. To many of them, Ital is as much about knowing where your food comes from as it is about eating it once it's there in front of you.

    "When you get your own water from the stream, or your own food from the farm, you see your connection to Mother Earth," one Rastafari farmer told me. "And we believe that actually carrying your own water — i.e., seeing where your food comes from — inspires you to keep living as naturally as you can."

    Some advice for Ital if you live in an urban area: Plant a seed on your windowsill, join a CSA, and perhaps most importantly, take some time to learn about how food grows. Another Rasta farmer I interviewed told me that he's often shocked to find out how many people don't know how a carrot grows, even though they've been eating carrots their whole lives.

    3. Simplify your meals.

    A stack of breads and sandwich meats
    Annie Daly

    If there's one thing about Norway I know to be true, it's that Norwegians loooooooove their sandwiches — and not just because sandwiches are delicious. Many Norwegians I spoke to actually talked about them as a symbol of adventure, of freedom, a sign that they are ready to spend as much time outside as they possibly can, friluftsliv style.

    "All you need to do is pack a sandwich and a thermos of coffee in your backpack and go outside and just roam. That's happiness," one Norwegian friluftsliv devotee told me. Similarly, my friend's mom who lives in Bergen told me that she packs a sandwich every day before going outside on her "daily hike," which isn't actually a "hike" per se — it's her daily walk through town to run errands. "I wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, and then pack a sandwich to take with me on my daily hike...I always go out during the day, because that's what I grew up doing. It's how we live."

    Most sandwiches I ate in Norway were quite simple — a lot of fresh bread and cheese and deli meat — but that was the whole point. The sandwich wasn't even about the sandwich as much as it was about what the sandwich allowed me to do: stay outside for longer.

    Thinking of food in such a utilitarian way is not easy in our food-obsessed culture, but it was a great reminder to me — especially during pandemic cooking overload — that not every single meal has to be the most delicious and Instagrammable thing ever. Sometimes lunch can just be lunch, the easy and simple thing that keeps you going until dinner — and that's enough!

    4. Master the art of "self-forgetting."

    A beautiful, far-off locale
    Annie Daly

    One of my favorite wellness lessons from Japan was the concept of ichigo ichie, which translates to "one time; one moment" or "once in a lifetime." Rooted in Zen Buddhism, the phrase is based on the philosophy that nothing is permanent, and we must therefore do everything we can to honor every interaction every day, because it could be our last.

    "This means that you should give value to every moment in your life, especially to all of the time that you spend together with everyone you meet," my Japanese guide told me while we were hiking in the forest one afternoon. "Living this way helps me stay present in the moment and appreciate each new day — that's wellness to me."

    I found this philosophy especially useful throughout the pandemic, when interactions were limited — so every single one counted. Inspired by Keigo's outlook, I made a point to stop and chat with my local coffee barista if she wasn't too busy, for example, because it was a great way to stop worrying about the pandemic and live in the present moment.

    "Most people are so caught up with themselves and don't know how to forget themselves — but ichigo ichie is the art of self-forgetting," a Japanese philosophy professor told me after my trip. "Of course you have to attend to the important things in your life, but for all other times, the best way to forget yourself is to fully engage with the ultimate reality that's playing out right in front of you, whatever that may be."

    5. Hang out with your loved ones — no matter what.

    The friends sprawled out on the sunny grass
    Annie Daly

    Throughout the past year of isolation, I've found myself returning to the Brazilian concept of wellness again and again — especially when I'm feeling particularly lonely. While Americans tend to define wellness as a solitary pursuit, many Brazilians believe that it's a group effort, one that's ultimately about spending time with other people.

    One Brazilian professor I interviewed, who spent five years studying culture in America, said it best: "I found that wellness in America is about yourself: If you're healthy physically and psychologically, if you're financially well, if you're in a good relationship, and if you eat well, you're considered healthy in the public eye," he told me. "But while Brazilians of course care about those things too, the biggest factor of all is your family — you cannot be well if your family is not well. Well-being is a group thing, not an individual thing." This truth is so baked into Brazilian culture that they even have an entire word, saudade, for the emotional pain that comes from missing the ones you love.

    Reframing wellness as a group effort has truly helped me get through the pandemic. Rather than retreating into my burrito blanket, I've been reminding myself to think of social dates as wellness dates and making myself call someone or set up a socially distanced hang when I feel down. It's helped me not bail on Zoom happy hours too!

    6. Eat to balance your body.

    A plate of delicious-looking food
    Annie Daly

    It's no secret that we live in a Band-Aid nation, one where we're taught to go to the doctor primarily when we're sick, not when we're well. The opposite is true in parts of India, where many people practice Ayurveda — the ancient Hindu medical healing and prevention system — to prevent illness and disease before it even arrives.

    One of my favorite takeaways from Ayurveda is that the 5,000-year-old science encourages us to eat foods that balance out our doshas, or our body's natural dispositions, in order to stay well.

    There are three doshas in Ayurveda — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha — all of which are a different combination of Earth's five elements. The thinking here is that once you know your primary dosha (you can take an online quiz or visit an Ayurvedic practitioner to determine yours), you'll be better able to eat the foods that work best for your body type to keep you healthy. Pitta types, for example, are made up of fire and water, so generally speaking, cooling foods and spices like coriander and cumin are best to balance out their fiery nature (spicy foods, not surprisingly, are discouraged for Pittas).

    My husband and I relied on Ayurvedic recipes quite heavily during those initial months of the pandemic, when all we wanted was to try to stay well when the world was especially scary and full of unknowns. We are both fiery Pitta types, so we made lots of non-spicy stews and curries with cooling spices to stay well. In a world where certain foods are often marketed as healthy for everyone, I find it incredibly helpful to recognize this idea that what's healthy for one person may not be healthy for the next — and to pay extra-close attention to what works for you.

    7. Honor the connection between all living beings.

    Dolphins swimming in the sea
    Annie Daly

    The pandemic taught us all so many valuable lessons about how to be a human in the world, but perhaps the biggest one of all — one I kept coming back to over and over throughout the past year — is that we are all in this together. And as it happens, this is also one of the Hawaiian principles I wrote about in Destination Wellness — it's the foundation of their spirit of aloha.

    While many people tend to associate aloha with hello and goodbye, it's actually much deeper than that. It's about love and connection and empathy, all emotions that have become increasingly necessary in these trying and unprecedented times.

    Saying aloha in Hawaii is an incredibly powerful wellness practice, because it means that you recognize the connection between all living beings. "Problems happen when we don't recognize that we are all the same thing in different forms," one Hawaiian language professor told me while I was there. "I really think that aloha is the only thing that will heal the world. It's inside all of us, in our spirits and our souls. We just have to access what's already there."

    In the end, I hope these wellness philosophies will help you as much as they've helped me throughout the past year. Happy exploring!

    Two hammocks hanging on the beach
    Annie Daly

    For more inspiration like this, pick up a copy of Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are for $19.59 on Amazon or $21.11 on Bookshop.

    Chronicle Prism / Via amazon.com, Annie Daly

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