06 Jul 5 Important Life Lessons From Our European Vacation

Fresh off a European vacation, I’m always learning valuable lessons in health and strength.

We’re back from Santorini, Greece and other locations I’ll tell you about in just a minute.

My wife and I have been wanting to do a big trip like this for a decade now, maybe more.

We always said, “Someday, we’ll take a big trip to Italy and Greece.”

You could say that Italy and Greece were our “dream” destinations because my family is from Italy and my wife’s family is from Greece. I’ve been fascinated by these countries and have always wanted to travel to them.

About a year ago, we decided that someday was going to be sooner rather than later. We pulled the trigger, putting our thoughts into action.

We started to go “all in” and plan our european vacation that we had been thinking about for years.

The trip was beyond words, but I wanted to share some of the lessons I took away from this.

Life provides new experience and new lessons all the time, you know what I mean?

Before I share some lessons, let me tell you a little bit more about the trip.

OUR TRIP

Our trip covered 13 days and 12 nights in Italy and Greece.

The primary places we visited were Rome, Pompeii, Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Katakolon (*Olympia in Katakolon was the birthplace of the Olympic games – an incredible place).

I had only been to Italy only once before when I was honored to speak at the 4th National Congress of Strength in Venice, Italy back in October of 2016.

That was a quick trip.

And,  I wasn’t there with my family. Since that trip, I have been even more motivated to get back to Italy – but this time with my family.

For the record, I love Italy.

Of course, I want to go back there and we’ll be planning our next trip again soon.

As a kid, I grew up influenced by some of the Italian tradition that comes from my father’s side of the family.

My Dad used to listen to the ‘old school’ Italian music when I was little. Believe it or not, I’ve come to really enjoy that kind of stuff.

And, the Greek history, culture, and beauty has also been fascinating to me.

Let me tell you, there is no place on earth like the beautiful island of Santorini

To get a quick sense of what I mean, you can check out this short 2-minute video. While the video is amazing, it really doesn’t come close to actually being there.

Yeah, it’s a special place. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. We must get back because we simply didn’t have enough time there.

I could go on and on about the trip, but I should probably get to some of the lessons I learned.

Here are 5 important takeaways that immediately come to mind as I thought about the idea for this article.

LESSONS FROM OUR TRIP

LESSON #1: Walking is THE fundamental level of strength and endurance.

You and I probably take walking for granted, would you agree?

Walking is something that we do everyday to get from point A to point B.

But, it’s important to recognize that walking is the fundamental level of strength and endurance for normal – and even a high level of – function.

If we have poor strength and endurance, we won’t get very far (literally).

I once heard the legendary Dr. Fred Hatfield say that “movement is strength and strength is movement.” He was right about that – and a lot of things.

At the bare minimum, we need strength to walk every day, to propel our bodies forward and move with physical freedom.

We need endurance and stamina to walk for a long period of time and at a certain cadence (or pace).

Why am I telling you this?

Because we did a lot of walking during our vacation and it made me think about the value of walking as exercise – and how we need a baseline of strength and endurance to walk (especially for long distances and at a standard pace).

Each day we averaged around 10,000 steps or roughly 4 miles plus the addition of stairs, inclines, and many uneven surfaces.

If we consider the most fundamental level of strength – it’s walking for extended periods of time.

Never forget how important it is to have the fundamental level of strength and endurance just to walk (far, fast, and over multiple terrains).

Being stronger helps us to walk more, walk better, walk faster, and walk with ease.

Being stronger helps us to pull, push, drag, and accommodate to any potentially rigorous demand of walking.

This was a glaring observation during our trip.

Walk often.

Walk far.

Walk briskly.

There’s no weightlifter, powerlifter, kettlebeller, athlete, or fitness enthusiast I can think of that wouldn’t benefit from a “lifetime” walking program.

LESSON #2 : Don’t feel guilty about what you eat (as long as it’s a short-term thing).

As you probably know, the food in Italy and Greece is incredible. 

While I’ve been fortunate to develop healthy eating habits through the years and have learned a lot about quality nutrition, I still experiment with my nutritional habits.

I’ll tell you exactly how I handled my eating habits when I was away, but the point is that we shouldn’t feel guilty if we deviate a little when we go on vacation.

Listen, I’m not saying to go “hog wild” and eat everything and anything – and eat yourself into oblivion.

Not a good idea.

What I am saying is to enjoy yourself and the experiences, even if you experiment and deviate a little over the short-term.

Short-term are the key words here.

Over the course of our vacation, I may have eaten different foods than I typically do on a given day, but I didn’t gorge and overfeed.

I still ate a lot of lean, quality proteins, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables while on vacation.

Here’s the best Greek salad I’ve ever had (I enjoyed this on the beach of Mykonos, Greece).

But, one thing I did outside of my normal was to eat a few deserts (something I rarely do).

I had some gelato.

I had some deserts that I never eat – or had not eaten in many years (I discovered an eclair that was probably the best eclair I’ve ever had in my life – and I’m not even a fan of eclairs).

Yes, I also had some pizza in Italy (and in Greece, too).

Give yourself permission to eat without the guilt.

It’s OK.

Just don’t form the habit pattern of eating all this stuff on a regular basis, that’s when you run into trouble.

I still made some smart choices when I could (choosing no or low-sugar desert options, just as an example).

I didn’t feel guilty about doing a few things different with my eating habits – knowing that it was only a short-term thing and not how I eat day in and day out.

Remember, when it comes to nutrition, good nutrition is about eating high-quality foods consistently over the long-term.

Good nutrition is about eating high-quality foods consistently over the long-term.

You and I shouldn’t feel guilty about deviating a little over a short period of time.

If I can summarize this, enjoy yourself and enjoy your food.

Make smart choices when you can, but enjoy your experience.

It’s what you do over the long-term that matters most.

LESSON #3: Train with what you have – or simply build in time off.

During this trip, I wasn’t sure how or if I was going to be able to train.

But, there was a kettlebell I discovered in my travels, which is why that picture is at the top of this post.

I was optimistic I’d have access to a gym or fitness center, but I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do.

As it turned out, I did indeed have access to a fitness center, so I could train to maintain.

Since I don’t typically use “machines” and other “cardio” equipment, the tools that I made the most use of were:

  • Dumbbells
  • *A single kettlebell (24 kg kettlebell)
  • A smith machine (not a huge fan of the smith, but…)
  • A short barbell (that I used for deadlifts and front squats)

These are the tools I had.

Again, my goals during the trip were simply to “maintain” so that I wasn’t starting from ground zero when I came back from my vacation.

In other words, by doing some training, it would help minimize or negate the de-training effect (see more on this at the end of the article).

The bottom line is “do what you can with what you have – and don’t stress about it.”

When I travel, I either have the expectation that things will probably be a little off during my trip or sometimes I simply build in planned time off (which takes the pressure off).

Of course, sometimes you can continue to train as you normally would, depending on the situation. If I can do that, it’s a huge plus.

LESSON #4: Be fully present and enjoy every minute.

My mind is always working and thinking about things (business, life, projects, things I have to do, etc).

During this trip, I completely shut things down (meaning no computer, no work, no social media, etc.).

I just lived fully in the moment.

I didn’t worry about anything – else except where I was and who I was with.

I enjoyed every precious minute that I spent with my family and enjoyed our experience to the fullest.

Living in the moment has been something I’ve worked hard on because I always seem to have a lot going on in my life (as I’m sure you do, too).

I can honestly say, I was fully present during our trip. 

“Presence” is a wonderful thing.

This is a valuable life lesson not necessarily related to strength, but it can be useful there too (ex. during a training session).

LESSON #5: Turn someday into today.

This is big and can relate to many things in life.

Often times the word “someday” translates to never.

Think about it.

Someday I’ll do this, someday I’ll start that.

Someday can be a code word for procrastination.

I don’t really remember the exact moment last year when my wife and I said, “let’s do this trip” – but I know at some time we both basically said…

“What are we waiting for? Why not now? Let’s do this now.”

Then we started researching and putting things into action to make it happen.

Even right now as I write this, I’m still shocked that we did actually did it.

Anyway, this is an important lesson.

When you say to yourself “someday” about anything – ask yourself “why not now?”

Don’t let someday turn into never.

Life is short and our time is precious.

I know it’s cliche’ – but I want to say it again.

Life is short.

Today matters because we don’t know what tomorrow brings.

WHAT’S NEXT?

If you want to see a little more of my European trip (and learn how to get stronger of course), be sure to connect with me on Instagram.

I’m also getting back to posting consistent content here on the website (may even have some surprises here, too).

To stay current with the latest content and happenings, join our community by subscribing below.

Finally, take note of the lessons I’ve shared with you today.

There are some key insights here about life, health, and strength.

BONUS lesson…How To Come Back After a Layoff.

As I come back to my regular training now, I have noticed a slight decline in my strength levels. This is normal and expected as my training has been limited, reduced, and off track for the last couple of weeks. I also know my body well enough to realize that I should return to my previous baseline in about 1-3 weeks – with consistent training.

My plan involves easing back slow.

There is no need to rush back into training and load the weights too heavy, too fast (you risk injury when doing that and it’s just unnecessary).  I’m pointing this out because it’s important. When you come back after a layoff or after a reduction of volume and intensity, it’s very important that you don’t rush back to previous levels too soon. If you want to stay injury-free and resilient, strongly consider this advice for your own good.

Help spread the word! Please share this on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere you’d like.

Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS is a strength coach, athlete, and former “physio” who’s mission is to bridge the gaps in strength, performance and injury prevention. Scott is the author of the book, The Edge of Strength.
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