We all have our beloved rituals, the things we do that center us, that comfort us, that make us feel that all is right with the world. It can be anything from the way we prepare and enjoy our favorite morning beverage, to walking our dog the same route every day, to watching a favorite show before bed.

But what happens when we get so attached to these rituals that we can’t do without them? Does this rigidity and inflexibility not limit us? Is comfort overrated?

To travel is, almost by definition, to get out of one’s comfort zone. So perhaps we should aim to leave those comfortable rituals at home when we travel, and instead seek out new ways to do things. We might just discover something new to love. And letting go of our rituals when we travel leads to a deeper experience.

You can listen right here, or find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and elsewhere.

Full Episode Transcript:

Katy

Welcome to Rome. This is the bittersweet life with Katy Sewall and Tiffany parks. Hello. This is the bittersweet life. I’m Katy Sewall.

Tiffany

I’m Tiffany Parks.

Katy

Tiffany in Rome, Katy in Seattle. And today, Tiffany, I’m going to toss it to you. You’re going to introduce today’s topic.

Tiffany

Well, Katy, I think that all of us who travel regularly, we all have those little things that we take with us when we travel that are comfort items. And I don’t mean necessarily a favorite stuffed animal, but my son, who travels with his kiwi bird, very nice. But for most of us, I mean, I guess I’m only speaking for myself here and someone who I recently saw on Instagram who felt the same way, I bring something that has to do with my morning caffeinated beverage of choice, which is.

Katy

I could guess.

Tiffany

I think you could easily guess, Katy.

Katy

Tea of some kind?

Tiffany

Yes. Black Indian tea. And then I have to have milk in it, so, yeah, I mean, like so many of us, I think it’s pretty universal. We all have our preferred morning drink, and I don’t know. I’m very, very attached to mine, and I don’t like things to be different. I don’t like. I like it the same way every morning. I mean, I might have, like, Assam tea instead of darjeeling. Like, that’s about as much as I’m going to mix it up. But. But I want that. I want that good. And, I mean, I’m happy with the. You know, I’m not a snob about it. I’m happy with a bag of twining’s english breakfast. If that’s all I’ve got, I’m happy with that. But it’s got to be black english tea of a decent quality, and there’s got to be milk in it.

Katy

Okay. Not the easiest thing when you’re traveling from hotel to hotel, quite honestly.

Tiffany

No. That’s why I travel with it. I always travel with it, with the teabags. At home I don’t use tea bags. I use loose tea. But like I said, I’m fine with the tea bags when I’m traveling. Whenever I go to the States, I bring enough just to get through those first few days. And then, of course, go to the supermarket. But, you know, when you’re traveling further afield or you’re going to a place where you don’t have family that you’re going to be staying with and a supermarket that you can stop by, you know, I definitely bring enough just in case.

Katy

Can I ask another question? Are you a person who brings things that are kind of. I mean, that’s a ritualistic thing that you enjoy every morning, but what about something that’s like, the vitamins you take every morning? Do you travel with things like that, too? Or do you think a week off of the vitamins? Who cares?

Tiffany

Yeah, I’m definitely a week off type of person.

Katy

Okay.

Tiffany

Definitely.

Katy

All right, all right. Just establishing the baseline here. Pleasure, not responsibility.

Tiffany

I forget to take my vitamins most days.

Katy

Okay, fair enough.

Tiffany

So, yeah, that’s really the only thing. I mean, obviously, I have my creature comforts. I have my things that I really love that, you know, I quote unquote, can’t live without, but absolutely can live without while I’m on vacation.

Katy

Sure.

Tiffany

But tea is kind of like, you know, non negotiable, or it has been up until recently. So I was watching this woman who I know on Instagram, and she was sort of saying the same thing, only that she’s in Italy because her husband is from here, they live in the States, and she was sort of showing her, like, very American, non authentic coffee ritual and what she puts into it, you know, and it’s very non Italian. And she, you know, she kind of said, I know everyone’s gonna yell at me in the comments and say, you’re in Italy, drink the Italian coffee. And I do, and I love it. But I also love, you know, this is a comfort thing for me, and I totally got it because that’s how I feel about my tea. But on the other hand, and I actually commented about this in a nice way. I only make nice comments. Almost only. I did say something like, you know, I always travel with english breakfast tea, but I’m about to go to Japan, and I’m gonna push myself to only drink Japanese tea when I’m there, and I don’t like it. That’s the hard part. It’s not like, oh, I’m like, Indian tea, Japanese tea. Sure. It’s all good. It’s all tea. I actually don’t like it. I don’t like Chinese tea either. But then again, there was a time when I didn’t like Indian tea. There was a time I didn’t like tea at all, and I developed such a taste for it. For it. I love it. Now that, you know, maybe the benefit of all this will be coming to love something new that I didn’t like.

Katy

True. True. And so you’re not going to put in one single english breakfast tea bag into your bag?

Tiffany

Well, that’s my goal.

Katy

I challenge you. Now I’m challenging not to.

Tiffany

Yeah. I mean, and if I did. If I did do it, the only. I tend to travel with a couple bags of decaffeinated tea for the airplane because I want to have that comfort of a nice cup of tea on the airplane, but I don’t want to be kept awake by it. But if I decide to do it, even if I bring one for the airplane, I will save it for the airplane. I’m not going to cheat.

Katy

I have a totally different side note, and then I’ll come back to the idea of how this ritual is actually comforting and how it could be a good thing to leave it behind. But since you’re such a big tea fan, I was, I wanted to ask you, and it’s probably not something you’ve experienced, but have you ever been what you would consider tea drunk before?

Tiffany

I’ve definitely felt a couple of times like I’ve had too much tea today. Is that what you mean? Like, I’ve, I have too much tea in my belly right now.

Katy

Well, I have learned that this is an actual thing. So years ago, when I was responsible for producing a two hour daily morning show on NPR, we once did an entire hour about tea and brought in various tea experts that had certain expertise, the people who knew about the black teas, the people who were really into the Japanese and Chinese green teas. This whole panel of people, we got really in the weeds with it. And we drank so much tea during the course of this hour. And at the very end of it, they, I don’t even know how many cups of tea I’d had by that time. At the very end of it, one of the guys is like, well, let’s try a matcha, which, you know, is the green, really green one that they whip up with a whisk.

Tiffany

Yeah, that’s the kind Claudio likes. It’s good.

Katy

Well, it’s good. But, of course, this is what tipped me over the edge. I drank the matcha tea. The hour ends after the show. We would always have a meeting about what was happening the next day and what shows we needed to prepare for it in the weeks to come. And the host of the show is walking this panel of tea experts out, and I’m sitting there with the assistant producer of the show, both of us just having finished this matcha tea. And I realized, like, as I’m sitting there at the computer looking at everything, we need to talk about that. I feel like I’m drunk. Like drunk drunk. Like, I had a couple martinis, you know?

Tiffany

Really?

Katy

Yeah. Yeah. And I look at him, and he has kind of an odd look at his, on his face, too. And I said, do you feel like you’re drunk right now? And he said, I do, actually. And so I got up out of the chair and I ran after the panelists of te experts, and I said, I feel like I’m wasted. And the guy, one of the tea experts, laughs and says, oh, you’re tea drunk. Yeah, that happens. And I said, so you guys are sitting around these tea parlors drinking all this tea, and you’re not just sober? Like, this is something that can actually happen. And he’s like, yeah, it can happen, like, if you have too much. And I was just like, that is nuts. So then, of course, we were like, maybe instead of a meeting, we should go to lunch, because apparently we’ve drank too much tea to be in the office, which is just an absurd statement to make, I think we’ve drink too much tea to be in the office. We’re not gonna. Everyone’s gonna know we’re wasted. And so we. We left and went out for lunch, all of us together, feeling terribly weird. But, yeah, who knew that this is something that can happen if you take it just a little bit too far?

Tiffany

So I’ve never heard of that, and I’ve never experienced that. I thought. I guess I thought you meant, like, you know, just having had too much tea, I’ve definitely felt like, oh, my God, my stomach is, like, full of liquid right now, just, like, gurgling from how much tea I’ve drunk. But I’ve never noticed it have that effect. Not yet. I haven’t got.

Katy

Well, you know, maybe something to aspire to while you’re in Japan. So going back, though, to the idea of taking things that are ritualistic comfort with you when you travel or when you’re abroad. Sounds like your friend on Instagram is over in Italy for a while because her husband’s from there. And so bringing some of the creature comforts from home, if that’s something that you usually do, why this time, as you prepare to go to Japan, are you thinking that this time you will not do it?

Tiffany

Well, first of all, I haven’t been. I was just thinking about this recently. I don’t think that I have been out of Europe or North America in…. I don’t know. I can’t even remember the last time. I think it’s been, like, since before I met Claudio.

Katy

Okay.

Tiffany

I really don’t think.

Katy

And you met Claudio, like, what, 20 years ago?

Tiffany

No, not quite. 2008. So, yeah, I think I was in. I think I was in Asia in the year. The year that I met him. 2008. That was the last time. So that means I have not really been out of general western culture. Okay. So, you know, obviously, there is a big cultural difference between the United States and Europe, and obviously, within Europe, but the general sense of western Europe, I have not been out of western civilization, I have not been out of it in about 15 years. And so when you travel, like when you go to Austria, for example, or France. Yes, of course, in France, there’s a much stronger coffee culture than tea culture. But you can get tea in France, and tea is widely drunk. You know, Indian tea, classic black tea with milk, is widely drunk in France just like it is in Italy, even though it’s not an Italian thing, it’s not a french thing, but it is a very British thing, and it’s. We’re all part of, you know, it’s all part of the western civilization, whereas going somewhere that is so, so utterly foreign, like Japan, for me, I think that it. It makes less sense to chase after those aspects of my own culture when I’m on such a short trip. You know, I’m not going to die if I don’t have my english breakfast for two weeks. When you put it in perspective, it’s really not a big deal. But if I were to insist on having that tea every morning, I would be missing out, most likely on trying something that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to try, which is real, authentic Japanese tea in Japan. I mean, it’s the same reason why, you know, you shouldn’t go to McDonald’s every day when you’re in Italy. I mean, who would really? I can understand one time, but you have to eat, you know, at least a number of times, if not every single meal, the food culture of the place that you’re in. Otherwise, you’re missing out so much on so much of the aspect of that culture.

Katy

Mm hmm. That’s true. I mean, you’re not gonna be gone long enough that if you seriously regret it, you can’t survive through it.

Tiffany

First of all, I’m sure I. I’m sure in Tokyo I can find English Breakfast tea. It’s not like I’m going to the middle of nowhere. So, I mean, I’m sure. I’m sure I’ll be able to find it if I. If I’m dying. But the idea is I don’t. I don’t want to get to that point.

Katy

Yeah. For some reason, I was thinking about, you know, because how certain religions or certain. I mean, even just kind of trends sometimes encourage us to give up these things that we really enjoy. You know, we talk sometimes about the Catholic Church. You know, around Lent, a lot of catholic parishioners would try to give up something that they really enjoy for that period of time to feel like they’re living on lesser. It’s often like more of a sacrifice of give up something you really love. And then when you get it back, it’ll be all the more joyful. And I was remembering this young woman, Amina al Sadi, who used to work on the show I worked on, who would celebrate Ramadan. She loved her coffee so much, her love of coffee. Tiffany reminds me of your love of tea. Like it was, you know, the reason to get out of bed in the morning. It was one of her great passions. And of course, in Ramadan, because you fast all day and you can’t drink anything till the sun goes down, she would have these, this period of time where she couldn’t have that morning coffee. And I would think, if it were me, I always felt bad for her, especially when it happened when Ramadan hit during the long summer, because when it was the height of summer and it would be like you’d be fasting from four in the morning until after 09:00 p.m. and I would be just starving. I would think, gosh, you must miss food so much right now. And she’d be like, oh, no, no, it’s the coffee. It’s the headaches. Man, I love the coffee. But the caffeine headaches and the lack of the ritual, it’s the worst. That’s the hardest thing for me, to give up. So I always thought that was kind of interesting. And it’s probably a good ritualistic practice to break habits like that occasionally just to, like you said, try something new, but also not become so that you can’t live without something.

Tiffany

Yes, that’s always. It’s always good not to have things that you can’t live without.

Katy

But, I mean, I say that, like, you know, I’m certainly a person who’s very ritualized. And, I mean, I love that you bring up that. It can be inspiring. It might help you discover something new. I’ve been thinking a lot more about how a lot of the ritualistic things I do feel like they minimize life. You know, like, life gets more and more dull. Like, I work from home, you know, a lot of times I eat the same stuff for lunch, you know, a lot of times I’m kind of lazy. I don’t go further than my neighborhood to get takeout food. If I’m living large, you know, and decide to try do something different, then just, I don’t know, slicing up another apple and having another piece of peanut butter toast, like, whatever I find around the house all day long. And, I mean, it’s beautiful outside. It’s summer, you know, things are blooming. It feels like this is a time of possibility and renewal. And I should be like, you know, woo, I’m out in the world. You know, like you’re seeing the birds and the creatures doing like, they’re out there being like, woohoo, you know, let’s be in the sun. And I feel like here I am through much of the days doing the same stuff that I do in the winter because one, it’s my working life, but also it’s the same foods, it’s the same places. And I think that those rituals, even if it’s the same tea every day, those rituals can start to make the world smaller and smaller. The possibilities are so limited. And of course, I know that’s not true, but it’s like the momentum of trying to break the patterns. Some days you feel like, okay, yeah, I’m gonna get out there, I’m gonna break the patterns. And then other days you’re like, ugh, well, I don’t really want to break the patterns today.

Tiffany

  1. Yeah, for sure. I definitely know the feeling of being like, oh, I’ll just do what I always do because that’s so much more comforting on days when you just can’t, you just don’t have a lot of energy. Those things, I think, bring extra comfort on those days. But I think that’s one of the reasons that we travel, is because that forces us to break those routines. And that’s another reason why I’m really convinced on doing this, is because why travel if you’re just going to bring your old routines with you?

We have our whole lives, we have the whole rest of our lives to do those old routines. I always say, you know, if you’re an expat, that’s a different story. If you are living a long time in a foreign culture, foreign place, of course it makes sense to bring along your comforts from home. But when you’re just on a one, two, three week trip, you really should push yourself. And I’m talking to myself more than anyone here, to explore the local culture, to explore the local food, to the ways of doing things that are different. If the country that you’re traveling to, they sleep on the floor. Sleep on the floor? Like, go for it. You might not want to just keep doing that when you go back home. That’s okay. It’s not like you have to adopt it as your new life habit. But it is so helpful to see the way other people do things.

Katy

Yeah, for sure.

Tiffany

Whether that’s in the country next door or the country on the other side of the globe.

Katy

Did I ever tell you the story about these people I met when I was traveling in Cambodia? And they were expats from. From the United States, I think. And they were not living there forever, but they were there with part of an organization that was called the servants of the poor. And so they. Whether or not they brought any creature comforts from home, I don’t know, but they moved into, like, a local village and into, like, some structure there. They never were in a hotel. They were never in anything.

Tiffany

Housing. Yeah.

Katy

Anything that I would do if I was traveling in Cambodia, they were living amongst the actual people that they were there to assist. Well, so we were talking to them about what it was like when they first arrived, and they were talking about how you come from the United States and you come with kind of this sense of privacy and what you think is your own personal dignity. And they said, and I, one of them said, and I tried to, like, maintain that for such a long time, you know, keep my own sense of dignity and privacy, keep some of the rituals up that I recognized from home. And then I got terrible food poisoning. The worst that they had ever thought could be possible. Were they up all night throwing up? Yeah, basically, just, like, stuff. I won’t get graphic, but stuff pouring out of both ends. And all the while, they’re just mortified because it’s in the middle of the night. It’s like, 03:00 a.m. they’re making these heaving sounds, these groaning sounds. And they know that where they’re living, the walls are paper thin because they can hear other people talking, you know, and they’re just, like, both terribly ill and absolutely mortified that everybody in the village is overhearing this right now. And they just said they woke up in the morning still laying on the ground of their hut or whatever, and thinking, oh, my gosh, how am I going to face everyone once I’m through this and then there was, like, a knock on the outside of the hut, and one of the women from next door was bringing over something that was like, here, this should help. This is like a remedy that we use. And then another neighbor came and they brought something else that was their own family’s remedy. And other people came bringing, like, clean clothes and clean water. And, you know, and all these people showed up trying to help be like, we’ve all been there before. This stuff is going to help you get you through. And they said that for them, it was a major turning point of, you know, that kind of separation that they tried to hold so strongly onto being an American, to realizing, like, that kind of vulnerability, invited everybody to come in and try to give them a hand. And that really changed the dynamic of how they related to the people who lived there, you know, because now it was more like you were one of them. They’d all gone through something horrible like that sometime, you know, I thought that was a really interesting story.

Tiffany

It is. It is.

Katy

And about how sometimes, like, in travel, like, I mean, you have to completely embarrass yourself to really, you know, make the locals laugh. I’m classic for doing that, especially in Asia.

Tiffany

So I remember your story of the shoes inside, and I gotta remember that. Gotta remember that story since I’m headed to the same country where that happened. Yeah.

Katy

You remember to take your shoes off in those situations. And if everyone’s laughing at you and also with you, you know, it’s better if you try to laugh with them rather than just.

Tiffany

Yeah.

Katy

Like, mortified. How could I?

Tiffany

And traveling. Traveling keeps you humble. You know, that’s another reason to travel, for sure. It really does. It really does keep you humble.

Katy

Yeah.

Tiffany

Yeah. It kind of reminds me. Not exactly the same, but I wrote an article once for. I think it was for the Wall Street Journal travel blog, which no longer exists, called there’s no such word as privacy in Italian because they don’t. They use the word privacy in English because they don’t have a word for it. And I wrote that when I had a newborn baby. And I was just thinking about when I was postpartum those first few days and my mother in law coming over and taking care of me. And what I remember more than anything else was her washing the sheets again, not to be too graphic, but, you know, you lose a lot of blood after you have a baby. And I was not expecting it. I knew I’d lose some blood, but I didn’t realize how much. And it’s constant. Like, it lasts for a long time. And so I just felt I was, like, so embarrassed constantly, you know, just like, every single morning, feeling like, you know, the teenage girl who, you know, stained the sheets, you know, but it was like every frigging day, and she’d.

Katy

Be like, don’t worry, let me change.

Tiffany

The sheets for you. Let me go take care of this. And I just thought, you know what? I can’t be embarrassed by this, because, a, it happens to every woman who has a baby, and b, she doesn’t care. It just doesn’t. I would have been probably more embarrassed with my own mom, believe it or not. But in Italy, I think there’s less of, like, in Cambodia. Cambodia’s probably even more of an extreme, but Italy compared to America is already, I think, a culture that doesn’t value privacy as much.

Katy

Yeah. I mean, do you have a sense of why there is no word for privacy? I mean, that seems kind of interesting.

Tiffany

Because they’re not very private people, I guess. I mean, there’s a word. There’s a word riservatezza, but that means really reserve. That’s different from privacy. It’s not. It’s not the same thing. So. No, I don’t know. But they’re not, like I said, they’re not very private people. They’re much less likely to lock the door when they’re in the bathroom, you know, or they’re much more likely, I feel, to talk about, like, even this, even. This is so simple. When I was growing up, if you had to go to the bathroom, you would say, even as a little child, I was taught this, I have to go to the bathroom. That’s what you say. You say, I have to go to the bathroom. In Italy, you say, I have to go pp. Like, even grown ups say this, you.

Katy

Have to go PP.

Tiffany

And it’s like, I walked into my. I was at my in laws a couple days ago, and I just rushed in to grab something or to pick up a rally or something, and my father in law was sitting there, and I was like, oh, hang on 1 second. I have to go pee pee. And I. I mean, I said it in Italian. It sounds better in Italian. And I was sitting there, and I was like, I can’t believe I just said that to my fault. I mean, it’s just like, it’s just different. It’s not a big deal. It’s not, it’s not embarrassing in the way that in America, I feel like these bodily functions are almost unmentionable, you know?

Katy

Well, maybe to end, since you just said it sounds better in Italian. Let’s hear it in Italian.

Tiffany

Devo fare la pipi.

Katy

Oh, that does sound better. That sounds way better.

Tiffany

Here’s what I want to end with, if I can find it. I really had to write a little text. He’s finished third grade now, but one of the things they started doing this year was they started writing little mini—what would you call that?—not an essay, like a theme, like a little. Couple paragraphs of text on some subject. He’s got these various subjects that he has to write about. And one of the subjects was he had to write about his mom.

 

Katy

Okay. Yes.

Tiffany

So I’ll read this. I’ll do an instantaneous translation. So.

Katy

Okay.

Tiffany

Mia madre è una scrittrice. Si chiama Tiffany. My mother is a writer. Her name is Tiffany. Adora il tè e i libri. She loves tea and books.

Katy

I understood that one with my terrible Italian.

Tiffany

Ama Caravaggio, andare ai musei, bere il te, e leggere libri. You want to go.

Katy

You want to try Caravaggio?

Tiffany

She loves…

Katy

She loves Caravaggio. Museums. I didn’t catch the other. What was she loves part?

Tiffany

Caravaggio. Going to museums, drinking tea and reading books.

Katy

Okay. Yes, yes.

Tiffany

And then, so he has here written on the margin, sort of what he’s supposed to talk about. So that was the presentation. Now, this is the physical aspect. Non alta né bassa ma è snella e atletica. I love this line. This makes me happy. She’s neither tall nor short, but she is slender and athletic.

Katy

Very nice.

Tiffany

Ha i capelli castani biondi, gli occhi azzurri, la bocca piccola, il naso carino, e le orecchie piccole. She has light brown blonde hair, blue eyes, a little mouth, a cute nose, and small ears. Now, here’s the character. Mia madre ha il carattere dolce, affettuoso. e scherzoso. My mom has a sweet, affectionate and joking character. È piena di imaginazione. She’s full of imagination. Si arrabbia poco ed è sempre felice. This is my second favorite line. She gets mad rarely, and she is always happy. And then we’re back to hobbies, which the presentation was basically hobbies as well. Mia madre beve il tè, legge libri, e scrive sul computer. My mother drinks tea, reads books, and writes on the computer. Ogni sera lege a me prima che vado a letto. Every evening she reads to me before I go to bed. Si compra miliardi di libri. She buys billions. Is that millions or billions? That’s billions. Billions of books. And then there’s an asterisk. Papa si arrabbia. Papa gets mad. And then, Katy, I’m going to show you the picture that he drew of me standing on a pile of books with two other piles of books with a teapot somewhere and drinking a cup of tea and holding a book. So besides the fact that this is just adorable and sweet, he’s not wrong about the tea. He sees me and he teases me and he makes fun of me about how much I drink tea and how. And every time I say, you know, I think I’m going to make a, you know, pot of tea, he’ll be like, what a surprise.

Katy

So you’ll have to tell him, Aurelio, we’re going to Japan and we’re not bringing any tea, and then see what his reaction is.

Tiffany

But he doesn’t, he doesn’t get that there’s, like, a difference between the indian teas and the Japanese teas.

Katy

That’s true.

Tiffany

To him, it’s like tea is tea. So he’s not gonna. He’s not gonna understand what a sacrifice I’m making. But hopefully it won’t be that much of a sacrifice. Hopefully, I’ll love it. Yeah.

Katy

Hopefully you’ll find that it wasn’t a sacrifice at all. You’ll just find. You’ll find yourself with a little bag of loose leaf tea that you’re putting into your bag as you fly back to Italy.

Tiffany

Yeah. And wouldn’t that be fun to, like, be able to, to mix it up and to be able to enjoy that as much as I enjoy the indian tea? I would love that, because then, you know, I wouldn’t get into that routine rut that you were talking about.

Katy

Mm hmm. Love it. All right, well, we should leave it there. You’ll have to report back, of course, how it goes. And until next time, this is the bittersweet life. I’m Katy Sewall.

Tiffany

I’m Tiffany Parks.

Katy

Talk to you next week. Bye.

Listener Testimonial

Hi there. This is Scott from Broomfield, Colorado. Full disclosure. Also, first cousin to Katy, half of The Bittersweet Life. But I have been a voracious listener of the bittersweet life pretty much since it started. It’s a really great podcast. I know it started out as kind of a travel oriented podcast, but I love what it’s evolved into and how it’s a lot more about just life and culture and just so many other topics. I love Katy’s journalism background and the amazing questions she asked and her curiosity. And then of course Tiffany, with her just outstanding knowledge of not just Rome and Italy, but just European culture, is such a good combination of people to listen to. Really great podcast for a Sunday afternoon meal prep session where it feels like these two were just having a conversation with you, sitting on the counter prepping meals with you. Really great. Can’t recommend prepping meals with them enough. Huge fan. I hope everyone is giving them money every month. That would be great. And yeah, I hope that its podcast goes on forever. Bye.