For the heart-fuelled among us, travel is not merely an opportunity to escape the rat race and see the sites. It’s also a time to discover more about ourselves. To experience life with the volume turned up and the colour saturated. To live our wholehearted beliefs each day, no matter which part of the planet we happen to find ourselves in.
If you want to travel in a more mindful, meaningful way, here are some tried-and-true tips…
1. Don’t do things just because you’re ‘supposed to’.
“Oh, if you’re in New York, you simply MUST visit the Statue of Liberty!”
“Oh, if you’re in Rome, you HAVE to go to the Colosseum.”
Screw that. If climbing to the top of a crowded building with 5000 other tourists does not float your boat, don’t do it.
If you’re way more interested in modern art than ancient ruins, do that instead.
The world of travel is filled with lots of opinions and advice. But doing what everybody else does just because it’s the ‘done thing’ – especially when it doesn’t actually interest you a whole lot – is a recipe for boredom and frustration. If you’re much more interested in visiting a vineyard than a Van Gogh, own your passion and pursue it guilt free. Your experience will be a whole lot more meaningful to you, and that’s what matters most.
2. Look at your surroundings with a beginner’s mind.
There’s a flipside to the above point: don’t dismiss things out of hand because they don’t straight away seem like your cup of tea. Never been interested in sculpture before? Perhaps you’ve just never seen one that truly stirs your soul. A trip to the Accademia in Florence to see David in the (marble) flesh may just awaken something in you that you never realised was there.
Looking at the world with a beginner’s mind – free from preconceived notions, open to new ideas, and without judgement – will crack you open to amazing experiences you might otherwise have closed yourself off from.
3. Put down your camera.
Constantly trying to record your moments instead of experiencing them takes you out of the present and into your ego. Not exactly the best way to travel in a mindful, meaningful way. Stop using your camera or iPhone as a barrier to the present, or as a way of validating and ‘proving’ your experiences. Switch it off and just soak up what you’re seeing… You’ll never know what you’re missing when you’re always positioning yourself as the spectator on your travels.
4. Stop with the souvenirs.
The souvenir industry is massive. And so many of us – well-meaningly – feel the intense urge to buy a special something that will perfectly capture the feeling of a city and commemorate the trip. But that Balinese bowl or Turkish rug never seems quite as cool when you get it home, does it?
We also feel the need to pick up little trinkets for the people back home – magnets and coasters and figurines that are destined to collect dust in the backs of closets. We want to show our loved ones we haven’t forgotten them, while sharing a little of the wanderlust-magic we felt during our globetrotting.
And apart from the annoyance of having to schlep your souvenirs around with you for the rest of your trip, there’s also a lot of environmental waste as well (what happens to all those figurines, key chains and snow globes?!). All for a little doodad that will likely be forgotten within a week.
When it comes to souvenirs, here’s the truth: no curio will ever capture the vibe of a city. Seriously. And no object will ever evoke the magic of your trip more meaningfully than your own memories. So save yourself some money and clutter (and help the environment at the same time) by saying no to souvenirs.
5. Switch off from social media.
Posting photos on social media while on holiday – the old ‘tag and brag’ – has become the norm. It’s almost like your holiday isn’t ‘real’ unless your 563 Facebook friends know about it. But staying ‘wired’ forces you out of the moment. All of a sudden, instead of accepting what is, you become focused on how things appear – framing perfect (but posed) shots of your meal, your suite, your feet – and hoping that the annoying girl from high-school with the picture-perfect life is taking notice of your glamorous adventures.
Social media may be ubiquitous in our ‘normal’ lives, but it doesn’t have to be – and it especially doesn’t have to be during your travels. Immerse yourself in your new world, untether from your networks, and release the need to frame your life for the world.
6. Spend time ‘soaking’ as well as seeing.
Seeing the sites is a super-exciting part of travel – it’s a sensory smack in the face in the best possible way. But allowing yourself to simply be – whether in a park, a café, a random bench on the street – will allow you to soak in the feeling of a city and understand it and its inhabitants in a whole new, more meaningful, way.
Not to mention, a little downtime is super important to allow your brain to process and assimilate all the sparks of inspiration and newness it’s absorbing. Win-win.
7. Get good at waiting.
Travel involves a looooot of waiting – for planes, trains, hotel rooms, entrance tickets, sites, whatever. Many travellers rage and rail against waiting time – arguing with airline stewards, barking at staff, and generally spreading their angst all around the place.
But of course, this sort of attitude does not make the time go any faster (let’s face it: it only makes it more unpleasant – for everyone involved). Instead, choose to make peace with the waiting – use it as thinking time, journaling time, time to just be. Waiting is a part of travel, so get good at it.
8. Respect the locals.
Customs, guidelines and rules abound when you’re travelling.
Like, Indigenous Australians consider Ayres Rock sacred, and respectfully ask that tourists refrain from traipsing all over it.
Visitors to Vatican City are required to observe an appropriate dress code.
And the guides at Auschwitz ask that visitors maintain an appropriate demeanour and refrain from taking photos in certain areas.
Mindful travel means respecting the rights, customs and beliefs of the people whose land and culture you are visiting. Even if you don’t understand them or agree with them (in fact, especially when you don’t understand or agree). It comes down to basic respect and empathy – treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.
9. Let go of the need to control.
Part of the joy of travel is stepping outside our comfort zones – newness is everywhere. Yet the tension of uncertainty can also cause us to seize up and grip on tightly to the things we think we can influence, in order to have some semblance of normality or control. Which, in turn, leads to anxiety and aggravation. (Think: petty arguments, unreasonable reactions, over-attachment to outcomes.)
Instead of letting the uncertainty of travel rub you the wrong way, use it as an opportunity for self-growth and discovery. Unclench your grip, relax into the uncertainty, and really feel whatever comes up.
10. Release your expectations.
You’ve gone to Paris specifically to climb the Eiffel Tower… only it’s closed for maintenance.
You’ve travelled all the way to Milford Sound… only for an enormous storm to blow in and confine you to your camper-van.
You’ve gone to the Louvre to see your favourite artwork in the flesh… only to find it’s on loan to another gallery on the other side of the world.
Expectations are a real killer when it comes to enjoying your travel in a mindful, meaningful way. No matter how carefully you plot and plan, things will never turn out exactly how you want. And trying to force them to will just upset you and leave you wide open for disappointment.
Hold your expectations and your plans loosely in your mind. Allow room for flexibility and unforeseen occurrences. And accept the reality of what is without attachment or angst.
11. Don’t try to do everything (and ditch the FOMO).
Trying to jam-pack too much into your holiday is a recipe for overwhelm and unhappiness. It’s easy to want to do everything in the one trip – But this is the only chance I’ve got! But I only get 4 weeks a year! But I’ll never be back to Barcelona again!
But honeybunch, it’s simply not possible. And trying will not only exhaust you, it will lessen your enjoyment of the things you do manage to fit in.
Know that you’ll never see all there is to see in a city – even the born-and-bred natives don’t know all the secrets to their own city. That’s the beauty and pain of travel – and life. You’re always going to be missing out on something. But living your travels from a place of FOMO is a destructive way to experience the world (and your life as a whole!).
Instead, accept that you’ll see some things, and know that you’ll miss others. Choose to adopt an attitude that you’ll be back one day – this lessens the fear around missing out, and allows you to sit back and enjoy the moment.
And really, that’s what mindful travel is all about.
Have you got any tips for more mindful travel you’d like to add to the list?
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You might also dig this post about leaving a city when you’re traveling and how mindful travel helped me fall in love with Barcelona.