How to practice mindfulness when traveling

In my opinion, when it comes to going to another country, there are two kinds of people: those who visit and then there are those who TRAVEL. Being a traveler (as opposed to just a visitor) can be achieved in a number of different ways, but at the very core of any true traveling experience is some form of mindful practice- whether intentional or not. In this post, I hope to share some of the knowledge and practices that have helped me to purposefully and mindfully travel and as such, fully experience the richness of travel.

Beautiful Cuban Street

Travel can be amazing when you keep an open mind.
(Image Credit: Alexander Kunze)

First up is preparing mentally. Now I know this might sound a bit odd considering that in general mindfulness seems to really be about living in the moment and appreciating life as it is, but realistically- coming from our everyday lives and the social, emotional attitudes, expectations and reactions we create- sometimes mental work is needed to undo rigid attitudes and ideas, and get us in place that’s more receptive to accepting things for what they are and living in the moment.

Travel can be wonderful, mind-opening, titillating… and also highly stressful if you’re not prepared mentally. Travelling often involves endless waiting and the occasional unpleasant surprise-these are just the facts.

Prepare yourself mentally by realizing that you can’t control everything and be prepared to wait. It’s not to say that you should expect bad things to happen, but if you’re in a mental place where you expect the unexpected, it helps you to feel a little less reactive and out of control if something unanticipated does happen, allowing you to find the positive or just ride it out.

Side notes: *I use the “Take a Break” app to help reduce anxiety and stress sometimes, it makes a great relaxation tool.  *Alternatively, you may want to walk with some calming music. *For peace of mind, things like scanning all your documents and storing them in the cloud in advance can save you major headaches. 

When applied, this one tip will greatly reduce your anxiety and stress when traveling as you purposefully get yourself into a flexible, adaptive and positive headspace. Travel is unpredictable and that’s OK.

 

Keep an open mind and embrace the experience. This tip may very well be the most important on this list as without this one tip, none of the other items on this list are possible. Look at things with an open curiosity, giving everything a chance and dismissing nothing out of hand. This way you can appreciate varying the cultures for what they are rather than judging them by your country’s standards. It’s important to realize when traveling that wherever you’re going to is NOT your country; it has a different history, different ideas, different food, societal norms, and practices. Though we’d hope that things like “being a nice person” is standard around the world, there are still social factors that influence how these things are practiced in various countries. Of course the ideal thing would be to know all social nuances of every single country in the world- but that’s a couple years’ worth of technological innovation away-  the most we can do right now is to approach each new experience in a foreign city or country with an open mind and give it a chance to be enjoyable in its own right. Chances are, you might discover that you love something that never even knew existed.

Stray off the beaten path. Don’t just do the things outlined in your tourist guide. Explore. Throw away the travel guide and find a local hang out with. Don’t know where to begin? Try this: think of an interest that you have, then check online forums or better yet, talk to a local and find places, groups or activities related to that. One useful tool for finding interesting things to do in a new city or country is the meetups.com app. It’s a really great way to find locals based on shared interest, which is what so lovely about it.

Explore local places

Don’t be shy to talk to locals and find new places to explore. 
(Image Credit: Steven Lewis on Unsplash)

Additionally, explore new activities/ places that pique your interest. Be curious. There is no point in going to a new place to simply do things that you normally do, staying at the same kind of hotels that you usually stay at in your city. Of course depending on the nature of the trip, sometimes some level of comfort, convenience and stability is preferred…however if you truly want an immersive experience, you should aim to find ways to step outside your comfort zone, whether it’s by opting for a local Bed & Breakfast over a Hotel, using public transportation or even trying the local street food. Hardwired expectations and an unwillingness to experiment often make it difficult to enjoy your travel in mindful and meaningful way.

 

 

Put down your camera and forget Instagram. Have you ever had an experience that you really really enjoyed? One where you got so caught up in it that you forgot to take pictures? Right. That’s what we’re going after- full immersion.

If you’re splitting your attention between ensuring that everything is picture perfect, capturing the perfect moment and actually living the moment, you’re then less able to get the most out of that moment and fully experience it. On the other hand, when you’re fully immersed in enjoying in the moment, the experience, you’ll often find that photos and status updates are the furthest thing from your mind. Turning off the phone or disabling the Internet when planning to do a new activity is a really great way to set yourself up for these types of experiences. It’s a mental preparation or sorts: getting into that emotional space, the energy and vibe of “I am here to live this experience for me, not for show”. Let that be enough. Let the validation of you having a good experience just be you experiencing it and not some online social proof. Immerse yourself, soak in the vibe of the new experience and culture, understand it, feel it, let it heal you as a person and help you to grow.

Fully enjoy the freedom of being in a new space. One of the most liberating things about traveling is that there are no defined rules for who you have to be, as nobody has any expectations of how you should be. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t respect the societal norms and culture of wherever you go. Especially as in some cases, locals may already have expectations based on stereotypes of your nationality.So what exactly am I going on about, then? Well, what I mean is this: When you meet someone new, who’s never heard of you before, you’re not “that girl who bites her nails and drinks 5 coffees”, you’re just a girl. You can be “that friendly girl” or “that girl who likes trying new food”. When you travel, you have a truly unique and beautiful opportunity to expand and connect the boundaries of who you are with who you want to be. Don’t box yourself into a mind-set that’s tied to any one place or situation. Allow yourself the freedom to explore, grow and create! Yes, even when it comes to your own personality. Understand that you are free to be and expand your ‘authentic self’ outside of all of the expectations and routines that you might’ve created in your day-to-day interactions and reactions to life your own city.

Find the lesson. The best way to learn is via experience and travel is like an intensive course. Each day you go out and interact in a new space you can learn something new about that space and about yourself. Try to find a quiet moment at the end of the day and reflect/ find the lesson. It may be something simple like “attempting to speak the native language makes the natives friendlier” or something deeper that you may learn about yourself in your interactions. Find it and acknowledge it. Be careful not to make it into ‘homework’ or a chore…but, if you can, take a moment to reflect on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of your day. Identify how you effect change in your environment and learn from it; let it help you to be more purposeful going forward.

The best thing about this and many of the other tips is that you don’t have to wait until traveling to try them. This is an exercise you can do every day to not only improve your productivity but also help yourself develop a habit of purposeful and mindful living. It helps you appreciate each day, and appreciation and gratitude cannot be oversold in regards to how vital they are to maintaining a positive, constructive outlook and in helping you to create a beautiful life.

 

I really hope that these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me! If you have any comments, questions or additional tips that you’ve used, I’d truly appreciate it if put them in the comments below. Thank you so much for reading.


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