It’s often said that travel is a great teacher, but it’s easy to crisscross the globe without getting any wiser if we don’t engage with our surroundings. These days, we’re often more interested in ticking “unmissable” sights and experiences off a list than in taking time to really get to know a place. And the culture of smartphones and selfies means that we’re sometimes more concerned with how our travels look, than with how they feel.
To travel mindfully is to rediscover the old-fashioned joys of travel – to explore, to learn, to connect with others; to slow down and to focus on your own thoughts and emotions, as well as on the world around you. If you change your mindset, you’ll be rewarded with a more enjoyable and authentic holiday; and in the process, you’ll help reduce the negative impact on the destinations you visit, too. Here are some tips on how to do so:
1. Change the way you plan your travels.
Mindful travel doesn’t start when you board the plane: you can incorporate mindfulness into the way in which you choose and plan your travels. Rather than picking a destination based on the weather or it’s ‘hot list’ status, think about what you need to get out of your holiday. Is it important to have time to de-stress, to bond with your family, or even get out of a rut and have an adventure? If you focus on what you need rather than where you think you should go, your travels will be more fulfilling, and you won’t end up following the crowd; which is good both for you and for the many communities facing over-tourism.
2. Step away from the tech.
With smartphone-toting travelers and free Wi-Fi on tap, you’re more likely to see people gazing at their social media feeds than engaging with each other and their surroundings – a far cry from the days when home was only reachable by weekly calls from the local phone box. Yes, it’s comforting to be able to get in touch with friends and family if need be, but if you’re constantly looking at your screen, you end up cut off from local culture rather than absorbed in it. The simple answer? Put down your phone and your laptop, strike up conversations with local people, and use all your senses to soak up the sights and sounds and smells of your destination.
3. Go easy on the camera.
Too often travelers spend their time working out how to portray their travels rather than living in the moment – another one of the downsides of the proliferation of smartphones. If you’re seeing the world solely through a screen and are too concerned with taking the perfect selfie or an artful shot of your dinner to post on Instagram, you’re not living in the moment. Take a leaf out of a professional photographer’s book and have an idea of what you want to capture before you go out, then limit yourself to just a few shots. That way you’ll spend more time looking around you and less time trying to capture everything on film.
4. Cut down the itinerary.
If you try to pack too much in to your trip, it’s hard to take stock of the world around you. Let’s be honest: will your travels be any richer if you stand in front of yet another ‘must see’ along with crowds of snap-happy tourists? Leave some time for aimless wandering, doing nothing, and people watching. And while it’s tempting to look to maps and guidebooks as an anchor in an unfamiliar destination, ditching the advice for a while leaves more time for chance discoveries, such as stumbling upon an exciting new neighborhood or making a surprising personal connection. In short, your memories will be deeper and longer lasting if you take time to look, listen and feel.
5. Work mindfulness into your daily travel routine.
A daily mindfulness routine while you’re on the road can help you to be more present on your travels and to deal more effectively with the surprises and challenges that travel can throw at you. For example, taking time out as soon as you wake up to pause, reflect, and cleanse your mind will only take a few minutes but will set a positive tone for the rest of the day. Or, when eating the local cuisine, slowing down over your meal and focusing all your attention on the taste, smell, and texture of what you’re eating can greatly enhance the experience. You could even use mindfulness techniques while waiting for that bus or plane – focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body and accepting everything for what it is – whether it be a delayed flight or a bumpy ride.
6. Be aware of your impact on others and on the environment.
A lack of awareness of the negative impacts of travel leads to problems such as over-tourism, environmental degradation, and a disconnect from or even disregard for local people. As a responsible traveler, you need to be mindful of your behavior when visiting other countries, rather than just switching off or suspending normal moral values – after all, you’re a visitor in someone else’s home. If you treat communities, places, and wildlife fairly and respectfully, you’ll gain greater insight into the local way of life, leading to a more genuine travel experience, while also making sure that local people and environments benefit from your visit. There’s a really useful guide to how to travel responsibly here.