“I need at least a few minutes of solitude, I need a healthy breakfast, and I need to feel like I’m prepared for the day. Everything else is negotiable.” – Nichole Powell Share this quote on Twitter

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Nichole Powell

What is your morning routine?

My morning routine varies depending on what country I’m in and what I have planned that day. But there are a few things I manage to do consistently every morning.

I try to wake up before anyone else so I can have some quiet time to myself. I wholeheartedly embrace being a morning person, and cherish the peaceful early hours before the rest of the world wakes up. It’s when I do my best work and I’m able to think most clearly.

Once I’m awake, I’m immediately up and out of bed. My first mission is almost always breakfast; it’s my favorite meal of the day! If I’m staying somewhere with a kitchen, I really enjoy being able to make my own breakfast - usually eggs scrambled into whatever other ingredients I can find, with fruit and coffee or a green juice. If I don’t have a kitchen available, I’ll pack up my laptop and head to a nearby cafe. Either way, I prefer to have foods that are made with fresh, local ingredients, and that are packed with protein to keep me full.

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After I finish eating, I’ll usually put a few songs on repeat (right now I’m loving Odessa’s Hummed Low and Josef Salvat’s Open Season) to zone out and write for a while. I’ll hit a block eventually, and that’s my signal to figure out what I want the rest of my day to look like - maybe deciding on a neighborhood or subject to photograph, or pick a new destination to explore. If I’m not feeling inspired, sometimes I’ll just grab my camera and head out the door. Every day is an adventure, and that’s especially true when traveling!

I’ve been in Bali for the past few weeks, and mornings are so wonderfully relaxed here. One of my favorite days started with an early surf session, which might be the best addition to my morning routine ever. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit this as a multiyear California resident, but I finally caught my first wave in Canggu and it felt amazing! There’s something so powerful about being out on the ocean first thing in the morning: paddling through the clear water, feeling the morning sun rising on your skin, taking a deep salty-aired breath after coming up from a crashed wave. Surfing also works up a massive appetite, which makes breakfast even more enjoyable.

If I were to TL;DR my morning, it would probably read: Wake early. Seek a healthy breakfast. Enjoy the quiet. Be present and productive. Drink coffee.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

It’s a continuously evolving process. I plan on being one of the old ladies who goes for a swim every morning, but I’m still waiting for that part of my routine to kick in.

I’ve kept with my current routine, more or less, for three or four years now. Of course, with traveling, I have to learn to adapt to whatever country I might be in at the time.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I’ve gotten a lot better at defending my early hours as “my time”.

While I was at university, it was easy to protect my mornings and use them productively because no one else wanted to be awake that early! When I started working after school, I had a long (too long) commute — nearly two hours each way — and my mornings disappeared into a rush to get out the door on time to catch my shuttle. I got frustrated that I didn’t have time to get centered and accomplish things before the day got started, and disliked that a lot of my morning habits and writing activities were getting pushed to the late evening hours.

When I quit my Silicon Valley job to travel, I had no idea what would happen to my morning routine. What if I wasn’t even actually a morning person? Turns out that regardless of country or time zone, I still really love mornings. I never know quite how a day will unfold in a foreign country, so the time right after I wake up is sacred space for me to take care of anything that I might need or want to get done. After I take care of the things I “gotta do,” I’m free to say yes to whatever adventures might come my way.

I’m sure I’ll have to adjust my morning routine again when I’m done traveling sometime later this year, but it’s been really enjoyable to discover what “sticks” about my routine despite a total lack of consistent structure or context.

What time do you go to sleep?

I try to make it to bed before midnight, but that doesn’t always happen.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I always set one, but I don’t usually need it. Most days, I manage to wake up before my alarm goes off, though sometimes only by a minute or two!

I tend to hit snooze if my alarm is pre-6:30am, or if I was out late the night before. I know it’s a bad habit, so I try to keep the snooze short (under two minutes) to push myself to wake up. I’ve never been one of those people that sets an alarm an hour ahead of when they need to be awake so they can snooze. Hitting snooze too many times for me usually means I’m going to be late!

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

As soon as I can get it! Breakfast is one of my favorite parts of the day, and if I don’t eat within an hour or so of getting up I tend to get cranky. My favorite breakfast here in Bali is a big bowl of granola, bananas, and cashew milk, with two eggs on the side, a cup (or three) of strong black coffee, a green or beet juice, and a fresh wheatgrass shot. If it sounds like a lot, it probably is - but I like to eat a lot early on, and then supplement with light meals throughout the day.

With that said, breakfast varies wildly depending on what country I’m in. Iceland was all spreads of meats and cheeses, with sides of creamy yogurt. A cafe au lait with a croissant was typical for Paris, and days in Morocco couldn’t begin without at least four kinds of bread, accompanied by a dizzying array of jams and spreads. Thailand was a shrimp & rice soup if I was in the north, or a fruit-muesli bowl from a roadside stall if I was in the south. When in Malaysia, I tried to start my day with Hokkien mee as often as I could - it’s delicious, and can be found on nearly every street corner.

My favorite breakfast I make at home is a fresh mint jalapeño green juice and an egg scramble with avocado, spinach, and chicken sausage. If it’s a really good day, my morning will also involve Philz Coffee, which is a San Francisco institution; get the Philharmonic blend and you’ll know what life is all about.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

I try to! I love being able to work out first thing in the morning, though that’s sometimes hard to maintain when traveling.

My favorite morning workouts are the really physical ones, like rock climbing, surfing, or a challenging run. I like feeling as though I’ve pushed myself and accomplished something early on in the day. That way, even if something somehow goes horribly wrong, I can think back and say, “Yeah, but at least I was able to climb that really hard route this morning.” That’s a good feeling to be able to hold onto.

The easiest consistent travel workout is probably running. I got injured after running a half marathon earlier this year, so I’ve been easing back into it, but I’m looking forward to getting up to longer distances again. There’s no better way to get your bearings in a new place than to cover a few miles on foot.

How about morning meditation?

I don’t meditate per say, but I love nothing more than being able to sit and enjoy my coffee and breakfast in total silence. I don’t need a book or anything; I just like to be present and have time to think. I suppose some people would call that meditation, but it’s not deliberate.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

It depends. I check emails first thing in the morning, before I’ve had a chance to plan out my day. If something urgent happened overnight, then I’ll respond. Otherwise, I try to hold off until I’ve sorted my day out, and then I use the time after breakfast to start replying to emails. It makes me more anxious to not know what’s in there.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

Every day for me is a new home, so I’m in a continuous state of adaptation.

What I’ve found to be the most helpful is to know myself and know what I need in the morning. I need at least a few minutes of solitude, I need a healthy breakfast, and I need to feel like I’m prepared for the day. Everything else is negotiable.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

A good morning sets the tone for the entire day, and makes me feel centered, purposeful, and calm. By the same rule, stressful or rushed mornings where I don’t get to go through my routine often make me feel unsettled, and that feeling can be tough to shake.

I’ve learned a few tricks to get things back on track, though — a solo coffee run after morning meetings; a walk around the block to reconnect with my surroundings; a quiet minute to breathe deeply between obligations. Some days the best solution is just to hit the restart button with a quick workout or a power nap, and to tackle the day fresh from there.

I’m still working on the best strategy to remedy a rough morning, so if you have any tips I would love to hear them!

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