Many of us will be traveling in the coming weeks, and while those days away can be a meaningful respite from the hectic pace of daily life, they can also be fraught with expectations, travel complications, long lines, crowds, and much more than simply an antidote to life’s daily stressors.
That’s where mindful travel comes in. Thinking about our travel time as a chance to slow down, to really slow down—taking in moments, savoring experiences, and embracing new surroundings—can be more of a stress release and mental energy boost then anything in its place. Here are a few ways to enrich your travels, creating a mindful journey for both mind and body.
Keep an Open Mind
Free yourself from preconceived ideas as you face your new surroundings. You may think the food looks gross, the traffic is dangerous, the sounds are overwhelming. Stay open to new ideas and beliefs, judge less, and embrace what is different rather than criticize what appears unfamiliar. Many people return from travels with a renewed perspective on things as big as life or love, and as small as a new food group or sports team. Anything can happen...if you let it.
Do One Thing at a Time
Sometimes we feel compelled to cover so much ground on holiday that we overload our itinerary. You may be touring a city, hopping on and off a bus, rushing in and out of shops and museums and by the end of the day it all morphs into a blur. Try doing one thing at a time and take it slow—it will enable you to do whichever activity it is with full attention, allowing for greater depth of experience and a more lasting souvenir.
Travel can be a gateway to new things, so why not try them all? Foods, languages, customs, dances, clothing—explore as much as you can, and say yes to trying things for the first time. Travel can expose you to all sorts of flavors and experiences you’d never otherwise taste and have, so embrace them while you can.
Mindfulness is being fully aware of what you are experiencing in each moment. A few years ago while on a trip to Greece with my family, we sat on a boat and were surrounded by the most incredibly blue Aegean sea. I asked my husband and children to look around and soak in the beauty that was before them. Every once in a while, years later, we still refer to that boat trip and all remember what we saw and how we felt. As you make your way through your travels, stop, take a deep breath, and be aware of what is going on around you and what you are feeling and thinking. New experiences and adventures will make a deeper impression if you stop to look, listen, and feel.
Focus on the Local
Whenever I travel to a new country, I seek out the locals. Of course I visit the tourist sights, but I'm equally interested in finding out where the locals eat, visiting the parks where they spend time, shopping in their markets, lounging on their beaches, etc. Part of getting to know a new place is by seeing it through the eyes of those who live there.
Take Time to Reflect
Sometimes when we travel, we forget to slow down and take stock of how we feel. Take a few moments during your day to pause and reflect, and perhaps write down your thoughts and reactions in a journal. It’s wonderful to look back later, remembering what your journey was like and how you felt about your experiences.
Travel can be dotted with disturbances—long lines, large crowds, hectic schedules, travel delays, language barriers and more. When you feel irritated, take a deep breath, and think about what’s going well on your journey. Maybe you’re spending quality time with your child, had time to finally finished your book, just ate an amazing meal, or hiked a scenic trail. When your day is over, try writing down three good things that happened during that day. It’ll remind you of the benefits of your time away and likely make you feel positive about tomorrow.
Waiting on line is a great time to watch people—and often on vacation we are doing just that at airports, shops, museums, sporting events and amusements parks. Even if you’re sitting on the beach or sipping a drink at a café, watch the people as they stroll by. What are they wearing? Do people here hold hands? Are they engaged with one another as they walk or rushing to their destination? You can learn a lot about a place just by observing its people.
Put Down Your Camera
While it’s wonderful to record moments during travel—and share them with the people back home—it’s also freeing to put down your camera and just be in the moment, seeing it through your eyes only. So take some breaks from the photos, selfies, Instagram and Facebook, and let your eyes create the imprint for some of your souvenirs.
Don’t Try to Do Everything
There’s always more you can do when visiting a new place. Rather than rush through your days to get to it all, have the attitude that you’ll be back again some day. This way, you’ll take your time to enjoy what you’re seeing now, and look forward to returning in the future to see the sights and have the experiences you haven’t gotten to this time.
Safe travels and remember to breathe…