Last year we were in the best shape of our lives. Among other things, we spent 30 days hiking and camping along Turkey’s famed Lycian Way, eating a healthy Mediterranean diet, drinking only occasionally, and completely disconnecting from the world to commune with nature and each other.
We were buff, focused, and fully present in everything we did.
At the end of the hike we flew to Spain for a month-long house sit in a quaint village. While were there, we met a real estate agent and decided to buy a house.
(When you’re buff, focused, and fully present, big decisions are remarkably easy.)
Over the following months, we renovated the house, published our fourth book, and started our Spanish residency visa process. We were on fire with life, making big moves and accomplishing more than we ever imagined.
We got to know the villagers in our new community, as well as enjoy the tapas and flowing wine at the bars and cafes within walking (or stumbling) distance of our front door.
We ate a lot of chorizo, cheese, pork, and olives with our new friends.
After we moved into the house, we went on a book tour by train, visiting 10 European cities in just 6 weeks. Because of the fast pace we didn’t do much cooking, which is our normal habit when traveling, so we mostly ate out. And since we were meeting new friends, readers, and tourism professionals, this meant trying all the desserts, wines, and specialties of the area.
We wrote articles for places like Huffpo, made a lot of videos, and took a lot of pictures. If we’d been paying attention, we would have seen the evidence of our neglect in every frame, but we were moving too fast to take notice.
By the time we hit our last book tour stop of Madrid, Spain, we were in full overboard status. We ate like maniacs, drank like fish, and partied like we were in our 20s. No good writing, thinking, or communicating happened during that time.
When we finally got back to our village at the end of the tour, it was “welcome home” time with our new friends. We proceeded to continue our daytime-drinking, bad-food-eating, sleep-deprived lifestyle because…why not? It wasn’t until the Fiesta del Imigrantes, a celebration the first week of August for the returning members of the community who have moved away, that we finally realized how bad we’d gotten.
Our friends were visiting for a week, and they regularly bowed out of the social events we had planned. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why they’d skip the third night in a row of concerts that started at 1 a.m. or the afternoon get-togethers where people began drinking at 2 p.m. As vegetarians, they actually planned to eat some healthy food during their stay. They expected to get a full night’s sleep and exercise every day. Alcohol was not one of their food groups.
Seeing our lifestyle played out in front of our visiting friends, people who are very much like us in travel style and temperament, made us realize how far off the rails we’d gone.
We gained weight, lost focus, and were perpetually tired. Our skin was dry and flaky and our hair was dull. Our teeth were yellow from all the wine and coffee. Creativity was at an all-time low, and our income showed it. We looked and felt like hell.
It was time for an intervention.
The Geographic Intervention
As we were spiraling out of control on the health front, we started to look forward to our house sit in Portugal: almost 7 weeks at a 300-year-old farmhouse in a rural setting.
This is one of my favorite aspects of travel, the ability to reimagine life in every location. And in this location, we were imagining healthier, happier, saner versions of ourselves. We started talking about it a few weeks before we left, negotiating all the ways we could adjust our poor habits and reclaim our bodies.
- No alcohol for a week.
- At least eight hours of sleep every night.
- Prepare 90% of meals ourselves with unprocessed ingredients.
- Walking for at least one hour per day.
- One big creative project we could finish in 7 weeks.
When we arrived at the farm after two days of road-tripping across Spain in Blanca, our second-hand car, we were surprised at how quiet it was. The only sound was the gentle tinkling of bells from the sheep and goats in nearby pastures. The closest town was a 45-minute walk, and we would drive 20 minutes to buy a week’s groceries.
No stumbling home late at night from the cafe, no easily available restaurant food, and no one we knew. We couldn’t even speak the language.
If we wanted a remote location to detox, unwind, exercise, and create, we couldn’t have found a better one.
How We’re Doing
Admitting you’ve let yourself go is tough. Having your partner agree with you is even tougher. But the alternative is to keep sliding down the path until it’s too late to turn around, and neither one of us wants that. We’re too in love with life, adventure, and exploring to get bogged down by bad habits.
We’re in bed by 10 every night, up at 6:30 every morning. We’re getting more sleep than we have in years, and it shows. No more under-eye circles, no more yawning through the day. What helps me is turning off the laptop by 7 every night, giving me hours to relax and unwind before bed. We’re also watering the gardens every night, a chore that takes about 45 minutes and helps us wind down from a day spent writing.
We didn’t have any wine for the first 7 days. And now that we have it again, we’re limiting ourselves. It’s not hard to do when it’s just the two of us, as we aren’t sitting a cafe sharing stories all night. We’re back to the moderate drinkers we were before, and it shows in our deep sleep and alert thinking on waking up. I’m more than a little embarrassed over the amount we were consuming the past few months.
All our food is healthy. No microwave, no packaged foods except cereal, and no junk food. Warren is cooking vegetarian meals 5-6 days per week, and we’re eating fruits from the farm. Pears, blackberries, grapes, and figs are ours for the taking.
Every morning at 6:45 we walk. The weather is still warm, so we have to walk early or it won’t happen. I have to admit struggling with this, as I’d prefer to have breakfast and coffee before exercise. But I can’t deny the romance of shared sunrise every day. We pass a house with two small dogs who chase us up the road every morning. I expected their names to be something like Fausto (lucky) or Marcos (defender), good Portuguese dog names. But instead, their names are Rex and Snoopy.
We’re writing a contemporary romance novel. Earlier this year we were challenged to write one by some writer friends, and we’re planning on finishing the first draft by October 6 when we leave. This thing is hot and sexy and funny, and we’re excited to branch out and try something new. (Isn’t that what life is all about?) You’ll hear more about this in the fall.
How We Got Our Groove Back
I wouldn’t say we’re there yet. We still have more muffin top than we’d like, and the weather has been too hot to do much more exercise than our morning walk. But we are well on the path back to our normal selves, and we’re appreciating the fact that we can recognize and control our behavior swings.
Everyone talk about work-life balance, but I don’t believe you can live your life that way. There are too many outside forces to stay in balance all the time. We’d drive ourselves crazy constantly adjusting to make that happen.
We know we can work hard and produce a lot of work if need be. We know that we can challenge our bodies to complete grueling hikes if we choose. We know that we can travel fast and furious to promote a book. We know that we can overindulge for periods of time without wrecking our health. And we know how to nurture ourselves after we’ve overextended our bodies and brains.
Knowing you have the power to change your habits is an incredible feeling. There’s no such thing as “stuck” – just adjusting and moving forward.
And that’s how we’re getting our groove back.
Want to know more? Discover how we learned to say “you’re letting yourself go” to each other (among other difficult subjects) through the wild, weird, and wonderful adventures in our latest book, Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World. Our latest reader review comes from Greg, who writes: “…the world needs more concrete examples of people who are actually walking the talk, taking action, and doing it. Betsy and Warren are those people.”
Get your copy of our 5-star rated book by clicking right here.