This is the question I get asked the most. Most people equate mindfulness with meditation and think I’m always looking for the highest mountain I can climb where I could sit and chant my favourite mantra whilst sipping a wild ginger and walnut milk smoothie. But mindfulness doesn’t have to be so tedious and doesn’t need to involve meditation if that’s not your thing. Mindfulness is a way of life not a trend and can be practised anytime and anywhere.
To be mindful is to be present and completely aware of where we are and what we are doing, without any judgement or labels. It’s to be kind to ourselves and practice self-care. If you take this mindset and apply it to your travels, you will immerse yourself in every moment and place, experience everything with the curiosity of a child and see beauty in the ephemerality of life.
Here are some suggestions to help you become a mindful traveller.
Start your holiday at home:
If you’re like most people who juggle a busy work and home life, you probably work until the last minute before your holiday and pack 30 minutes before your leave your house. I used to be like that. I would work late on the eve of my holiday, go home, pack absentmindedly and carry on working until way past my bedtime, Sleep for a few hours and wake up riddled with anxiety about the tasks I’d already delegated to colleagues. I remember checking work emails and calling customers whilst waiting to board the plane. By the time I sit down I’m exhausted and sometimes too upset to even think about the next few days. If this is you then you must stop doing this. When I book a trip, whether it’s a local or international one, I always spend the first day at home to completely destress. I listen to my body and sleep more if I need to or go to the gym or the cinema, meet a friend, have a siesta, cook a meal or do whatever I feel like doing. The only thing I don’t do is work. I pack my things with a heart full of joy, making sure I don’t forget anything. Being in the right mindset is really key to having a good holiday. If you are short on days then do some clever planning ahead so you can leave work at least a few hours earlier on your last day. If you are a last-minute packer start a week or 2 earlier. Packing can be stressful especially if you are doing it for the whole family. Make a checklist of everything you need, leave your suitcase open and every day add a little bit to it, you will have plenty of time to find missing items, do the laundry and ensure you don’t overpack.
We all know that flying is bad for the environment and yet it is sometimes the only option available. Favour direct flights if possible to minimise your carbon footprint. If you are doing multiple day trips, look into taking the train or the bus instead of flying or taking the ferry.
Book your accommodation in a local independent hotel instead of going for the big chains. I love staying in boutique hotels and spa retreats run by small local families as they offer an authentic experience and people really treat you like a member of the family.
Go where the locals go for food. Not only you will spend less but you will learn about the local cuisine and sample authentic recipes. If you like to cook for yourself don’t shop from supermarkets, go to local markets and buy fresh produce. If you are into buying gifts skip the expensive airport shops and buy souvenirs from independent craft shops. Visit a local cooperative, an animal sanctuary or a food farm and learn about what they do and how you can support.
“Never Ending Footsteps”
Don’t set expectations:
This is a rule I live by in my day-to-day life and not just when I travel. Our expectations are rarely met or exceeded. This is called the “wanting mind” in Eastern philosophy and is driven by desire, anxiety and our need to have everything under control.
Eckhart Tolle, the author of book The Power of Now, links wanting with stress: he says, “Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there.”
How many times have you planned your holiday to the T only to have your plans shambled by a late or cancelled flight, a weather warning or sickness? As a photographer and content creator, I used to plan my shots of a place in my head prior to traveling only to be completely disappointed to find hordes of tourists or bad lighting due to the weather.
We are conditioned to perceive the unknown as a scary place and yet the unknown is where possibility exists. When you arrive in a new place with a preconceived belief and an already mapped itinerary, you are consciously killing the opportunity for spontaneity and surprise.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan your accommodation or your holiday budget. It’s perfectly reasonable to have standards but try to go with an open mind and treat it as an adventure. Ask yourself why you want to take that trip. Don’t believe everything you read or hear from other people, wait until you arrive to have your own opinion. Be prepared to fail and be kind to yourself if you did.
Don’t do too much:
We often feel the pressure to see and do everything on one trip so we cram as many sights as possible in a short time, often competing with dozens of other snappy tourists. We spend 5 minutes in each attraction, take a picture to prove we were there and move on to the next one. But is this really the purpose of traveling? If your goal is to take a selfie next to each tourist attraction and post it on Instagram, then you might as well use the help of photoshop and spare yourself the cost of a trip. I completely understand that some trips only come once in a lifetime because they are too costly, or the destination is far and you don’t know if you’ll have the chance to visit again but when I went to Argentina I didn’t manage to visit the Iguazu Falls because there was so much to see and do in Buenos Aires and I was having so much fun. I ended up visiting some places more than once, learning more each time. Did I miss out on a highlight? Yes, sure I did but I also have a ton of happy memories from my stress-free time in Buenos Aires plus I now have a valid reason to return to one of my favourite countries in the world.
yep, just be! allow yourself a daybreak from sightseeing, public transport, queuing etc and just be with yourself. Ask your partner to take the kids out whilst you have a “me day” and offer them the same thing the following day. Sit by the pool and read that book you bought 8 months ago. Book a spa day or a yoga class. Sit in a nice café terrace and just people watch. Go for a long mindful walk. Be a flaneur! Ask yourself “how are you, really?”, name your feelings and journal your thoughts down. It’s so important to check in with yourself and practice self-compassion. You will be amazed how serene and rejuvenated you will feel afterwards.
Traveling is a privilege denied to many. So next time you start to feel frustrated because you have to renew your passport or your favourite hotel is not available on your dates, stop and remember that so many people would dream of the opportunity to go to places and experience the world like you do. Take a moment and feel grateful every time you tick something in your bucketlist, enjoy a gorgeous sunset or meet someone who makes your journey more enjoyable. Feeling grateful increases contentment, positive emotions and helps fight the post-travel blues.
Mindful travel can seem like hard work but it leads to much richer experiences. Investing your energy into a place by learning about it, supporting local communities and being conscious of your actions gives your travel purpose and makes you a happier person.