Traveling the world is supposed to be an adventure, an exhilarating break from our everyday lives that exposes us to some of the most wondrous locations and experiences the planet has to offer — so why is it often so stressful? There’s always a terminal to run to, a bus to catch, or another item that needs to be crossed off the itinerary. Although we love exploring new places, it’s difficult to not get caught-up in the minutiae of it all.
One way to avoid falling into a monotonous schedule when abroad is to practice mindful travel. With meditation apps and yoga retreats being all the rage these days, you might feel compelled write mindfulness off as just a trend, akin to drinking wheatgrass smoothies or microdosing with hallucinogens — but it’s much more than that.
Mindfulness is a way of life. And though it would take years of practice to master, at its core, it’s very simple. To be mindful is to be completely present and conscious of what is going on around you.
Don’t worry about where you need to be in 10 minutes.
Don’t worry about that landmark you haven’t gotten a photo of yet, or that restaurant you just need to try.
Just live in the present moment. Take a deep breath, ground yourself; notice and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of your current environment.
If you do that, you’ll be able to enjoy your journey without worrying about everything you haven’t done yet.
The benefits of mindfulness encompass far more than just decreased stress, however. By being mindful while traveling, you’ll learn to slow down and appreciate your destination. You’ll become a more responsible tourist and reduce your impact on the country you’re exploring. In short, your travel will become more sustainable.
In honor of Earth Week, here are five sustainable travel skills you can gain by practicing mindful travel.
We often think of travel as an escape — from work, from our routine back home, from whatever was stressing us out in our everyday lives. But, with mindful travel, we can learn to flip that formula on its head. We should look at travel not as a way to escape but as a way to engage. If you frame your adventure as a way to run away from something, you’re always going to look forward to what’s next instead of enjoying what’s going on around you.
Instead, appreciate whatever it is you’re currently doing and engage with your surroundings. As a traveler, this will reduce your footprint on the destination you’re exploring. Rather than hustling from one spot to the next with little regard for the people who call that place home, you’ll move slowly and deliberately and take the time to be kind and generous toward those you’re interacting with. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even strike up a conversation with a local and learn more about their land.
When traveling abroad, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of drive-by tourism: you parachute into a new city, stay at the big chain hotels, hire a tour company to show you all of the “important” sights, and then move on to the next destination. Rinse, repeat. This style of travel might help you efficiently check sights and experiences off of your to-do list, but it can often be devastating to local economies. If you’re only hitting the major spots, you’re most likely not engaging with local businesses, let alone interacting with local people. You’re not exploring your destination; you’re using it.
If you live mindfully, however, you won’t feel the pressure to just drive by. You’ll be able to take your time, explore beyond the major landmarks, and seek out local shops and companies that need your business to survive. Instead of simply passing through, you’ll learn to truly immerse yourself in every destination.
A journey abroad should result in more than just consumption. Yes, you’ll want to snap that one photo and acquire that one souvenir, but as your return flight takes off, you should feel that you contributed as much to your destination as you took.
As a mindful traveler, you’ll be able to contribute to the country or city you’re exploring. This doesn’t mean you need to come bearing gifts or tip your guide extra generously (though that is always a nice practice), but if you’re living mindfully, you’ll be free from the anxiety that the trip won’t mean anything if you don’t walk away with a certain number of mementos or trinkets. By remaining present, you’ll grow to understand the value of volunteering where you can, of appreciating your connection to your surroundings, and of eschewing the typical itinerary in favor of exploring an unexpected opportunity.
A key tenet of mindful travel is reflecting on your experiences. Before moving on to the next item on your agenda, take a moment to look back on what you just learned, to recognize how your actions had an affect on those around you and your resulting state of mind. It’s a lack of proper reflection that often leads travelers to disrespect the people and places they’re interacting with. They move from one spot to the next, forgetting to take in and appreciate what they experienced, and dooming themselves to repeat any mistakes they may have made. By taking a step back to reflect on your moments abroad, you’ll gain the perspective needed to improve yourself as a traveler and as a person.
Appreciation is the heart of mindfulness — appreciation for the sights and sounds you’re blessed to experience, for every breath you take, and for the beauty of your surroundings, wherever you may be. And, if you’re not going to appreciate the country or city you’re visiting, as well as the people who are gracious enough to accept you into their home, then why travel in the first place?
Through gratitude, you’ll develop a stronger sense of connection to the world around you. As a true citizen of the world, you’ll strengthen your bond with the people you meet and the places you explore. You won’t just jet off to the next tourist site — because you won’t want to. You’ll want to stay where you are, and continue to appreciate the joy of the present moment.
So, whenever you feel the nagging urge of an incoming deadline or an unfinished agenda, just take a step back, breathe in a bit of fresh air, and be grateful for the wonder of the world.