When you ask Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott of Uncornered Market which of their many journeys was their favorite, the husband-and-wife travel team will answer, “all of them.” But, unlike most travelers who provide the same seemingly cop-out answer, Daniel and Audrey truly mean it.
In the 17 years since they left their comfortable lives in San Francisco with six suitcases and two one-way tickets to Prague, the duo has visited over 90 countries. They’ve hiked through the Hani terraced rice fields in China, explored pre-Incan ruins in Peru, and marveled at the many churches of Ethiopia. They’ve conquered long-distance treks such as the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, and the Markha Valley Trek in India. They’ve sampled street food in Argentina, Greece, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, and countless other nations.
But the more they reflect upon their journeys, the more they find that each is equally meaningful. Their past experiences are continually re-entering their consciousness, allowing them to live those moments over again and continue to learn from them.
The mindset that makes this possible is one of constant presence and regular reflection. Dan and Audrey have committed to traveling — and living — mindfully and, in doing so, they’ve allowed themselves to gain more from every moment, both as it’s happening and when they look back upon it.
Think of mindful travel as a deep immersion in the present moment. Often, when we embark on a journey to a new country, there’s a temptation to move quickly, to hit every sight, every major attraction. In a world where everyone’s most exciting moments are displayed on Instagram feeds and in Facebook albums, there’s an increased pressure to create memories during our travels. We want to make sure we do it all, or else what was the point of traveling in the first place?
Dan and Audrey point out that, ironically, the best way to create lasting memories is often to do less. When we’re busy trying to make memories, we are inherently engaged in a future-oriented practice. We’re worrying about making it to the next destination in time, pondering all of the unchecked boxes on our to-do list. What are we not thinking about? The present — what we’re doing right here, right now. And if we’re not noticing it now, we’re most likely not going to remember much about it when we’re looking back on this trip a year in the future.
So how can one practice mindfulness when they travel? There’s no quick-fix trick or automatic technique, but one place to start is to recognize that it’s okay to sit and be still for a moment. Forget about where you need to be in 20 minutes. Forget about the photos you want to take and when you’ll be able to post them online. Forget about the list of “Top 20 Must-Sees” you read before you left. Just find a spot to sit down, take a deep breath, and observe.
If you’re in a park, maybe this is in a field or the cool shade of a tree. If you’re in a more urban area, perhaps there’s a bench or a wall you can lean against. Wherever you choose, learn to simply observe what’s going on around you, using all of your senses. If you’re out in nature, feel the breeze against your skin. If you’re at a street market, listen to the buzz in the air and breathe in the spicy aromas of food cooking at the nearby stand. Don’t judge; just notice, like a fly on the wall. Be curious and let your open mind guide you.
By learning to live presently and curiously, Dan and Audrey have begun approaching their travels with a beginner’s mindset, accepting that the world is a massive place and that there are certain things that they won’t ever know. They ask questions of themselves and of others, and wherever they go, they ditch the “should’s” and stay open to whatever comes their way.
“What if you miss a couple of the 10 ‘must-see’ sights next time you visit Paris, but you have an unforgettable, unexpected conversation in a café one long afternoon?” they ask. “Isn’t it worth skipping the Mona Lisa?”
As mindful travelers, Dan and Audrey are more than just drive-by tourists. Their aim is not to escape, but to embrace new experiences and engage with other people. They want to participate, not to consume. They travel not broadly, but deeply.
They take the time to push through their confusions and misunderstandings, learning from every journey; in this way, they’ve become more connected to the world and their place within it. They understand that every individual has a story to share and a lesson to teach — through the exchange of ideas and perspectives, we can live life with a greater understanding and a sense of purpose.
One of the few things Dan and Audrey refuse to share with others is their bucket list of future destinations. Maybe it’s filled with exhilarating treks through the Himalayas or a food tour across Mediterranean Europe. Maybe it includes a journey to the North Pole or a drive across the Australian outback. Maybe it involves hang gliding in Switzerland or riding camels across the Sahara Desert.
Maybe. Or maybe not. Why worry about it? That’s all in the future, after all.
Photos by Mindful Travel