When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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As some of you may know, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend 10 days in the beautiful country of Italy, which is where my ancestors are from (both my mother and grandmother were born there). As I fully loved each day we spent in Italy, I realized how many “firsts” that I experienced on the trip and not because I was doing any new adrenaline spiking activity but because I was truly living in the moment and focused on the experiences that this trip provided. I wanted to share this with you in part because I’m proud of myself for “letting go” more than usual on vacation and also to show others that it’s OK to relinquish rules around diet and exercise and “just be” while on vacation. That doesn’t mean that you eat and drink junk food to excess or stop moving, but when you allow yourself to relax you may find you’re able to listen to your body with more ease.

Here is what I did or didn’t do for the first time on an extended trip and my learnings; I think each of us can take away something from these lessons to incorporate into our daily lives.

  • Left the running shoes and workout clothes at HOME! I brought comfy walking tennies but no running shoes and only clothes to take long walks. This was a first EVER, and it was quite liberating not to fill 1/4 of my suitcase with workout gear. I focused on movement each day, which was easy to do in a culture where walking and being outside is embedded into the normal daily routine. I workout pretty hard at home, and I recognize my body’s need for rest and change of pace.

  • Did not set an alarm to wake up early to work out! I took several early morning walks before my family woke up, but I let myself wake up when my body was ready, often with the sun rise. My favorite part about walking outside is not only the fresh air and sun but just observing people in their day-to-day life and taking in the architecture and surroundings.

  • Did not listen to any podcasts or music on my walks. As much as I LOVE podcasts, I made a conscious decision on this trip to leave my headset back in the room so that I could be more in the moment and take in all that my new environment had to offer. I observed and took pictures of the olive trees in Tuscany and the amazing ancient buildings and statues in Rome. Plus, in the larger cities I was too concerned about getting hit by a vehicle to be distracted by an interesting podcast.

  • Enjoyed cappuccinos (and macchiatos) every day! About seven years ago I stopped drinking my daily cups of coffee, enjoying one latte a week and favoring green tea the rest of the time. I knew on this trip that I would drink more than normal, but once I had my first cappuccino I knew I couldn’t limit myself. The coffee is truly amazing and better than any place I’ve ever been. Plus, there is literally a coffee bar on every block (if not more than one). Part of what we loved is the community aspect of the coffee bars. The concept of “take away” doesn’t really exist in Italy, even in the capital city of Rome. Even when in a “hurry” Italians take five minutes to go into the bar, order their desired drink and enjoy it for a few minutes before going on their way. They exchange greetings with the barrista and others they may know from their local shop. Our kids really enjoyed this daily routine (ok, multiple-day ritual) and they started asking for scoops of the crema with the cute little spoons that were served with the coffee. No rushing and guzzling down a huge cup of coffee or drinking it in your car. The portions were much smaller, making it feasible to enjoy more than more coffee throughout the day without any jitters.

  • Enjoyed full-fat dairy every day! I drank whole milk in my coffee, which was so creamy and satisfying. Plus, given the size of the cappuccinos there was probably only 1/2 cup in each one. I didn’t see a single nut-based milks in Italy, but honestly I didn’t look or ask either. I also had plain full-fat yogurt and, of course, multiple gelatos. I did notice a few “symptoms” but overall felt pretty good and certainly nothing that would hold me back.

  • Enjoyed gluten every day. Yup, I enjoyed bread, pasta and pizza with passion and gusto. It’s a known fact that many people who are sensitive to gluten in the United States are able to enjoy it in moderation in Europe given the differences to how the wheat is grown/manufactured. By the end of the trip, I did have some skin issues but given the amount I consumed some days it was definitely manageable. Plus the bread and pasta is made with just a few real ingredients and tastes so much better than most of what we can find back home.

  • Packed like a minimalist. OK, I’m sure some people may not entirely agree with this statement but for me this was a record! First, I only packed three pairs of shoes (and two were comfy walking shoes). Secondly, I wore every single item of clothing that I brought (and most were worn multiple times). I packed with the intention of mixing different pieces in the same color pallets, and the key was that I brought pieces that I loved so I didn’t mind wearing them multiple times.

  • Hit my goal of 10K steps per day without any effort. At home I often struggle to get my steps in as I find myself sitting at my desk or in my car for hours a day. Even on our travel days when I was sedentary for a couple of hours, I still hit the goal, and on my multiple days I was in excess of 20K steps. The big difference is that we walked almost everywhere and thought nothing about a 30-minute walk to and then from dinner. In Florence where our apartment was a 30-minute walk from all of the main attractions, we didn’t take a taxi even once! Yes, being in a big city helped with this, but part of it was a mindset shift. Where we live there are shops, restaurants and grocery stores within a mile of our house but we rarely walk there to run our errands. We’ve decided as a family that we are going to walk or bike to these places now that the weather is nice and plan more time so that we don’t feel as rushed to get places.

  • Did not rush through meals. We would easily spend two hours eating dinner and not even realize it until we looked at our watches. We enjoyed our coffee at the bar or at a restaurant and didn’t walk around town with large coffee drinks. I realized a few days in that I wasn’t mindlessly eating or snacking due to stress or emotions. That’s not to say that I didn’t eat a little too much a couple of times but it was while enjoying a delicious meal while connecting with my family over meaningful conversation.

  • Did not bring my laptop or iPad! This habit is something I’ve been guilty of doing since my corporate days when it was almost expected that you be connected even on vacation. As much as I love my work, it was liberating to not have my computer to temp me to work at the end of the day and instead spent time reading before bed.

  • Ate minimal amounts of meat. I didn’t realize it until several days in, but many of the meals we ate contained little if any meat. Yes, there is plenty of meat in Italy but based on my personal preferences I chose dishes with either fish, which was not always available, or simply vegetables. If I didn’t feel like eating pizza or pasta I ordered two vegetable or bean side dishes (large amounts of spinach with EVOO was something I consumed almost daily). Similar to when I’m at home, I ate a primarily plant based diet, which was satisfying and delicious (the main difference was the homemade slice of bread I regularly enjoyed with EVOO).

  • Did not watch any TV for 11 days. We all had a little screen time at night on our phones but no TV, and only watched movies on the long flights.