What is Mindful Travel?
Mindfulness has become something of a hot topic. It is a key component of meditation and a lot of Buddhist practices aimed at changing the way you perceive the world. Essentially it is an awareness you develop of your feelings and environment that allows you to be present in the moment and accept the thoughts you may have about what you are experiencing whether positive or negative. In this Harvard Business Review article a leading researcher describes it as being more "sensitive to context and perspective" allowing a person to be more engaged with life. Most notably, the practice of mindfulness in daily life has been shown to result in happier, less stressed-out individuals, something I think it is safe to say everyone would like to be!
Over the past five years I have been applying the principles of mindfulness to different aspects of my life, but it wasn't until recently that I began thinking of how it applies to the way I travel. On reflection I realize I have become more thoughtful of when I travel and my vacations have become more meaningful and memorable for me. I have learned more about the cultures I am exposed to, I have more personal interactions with the people I meet, and I learn more about myself and my values.
I like to think about mindful travel applies in two ways; the external - being mindful of the places you visit and your impact when you travel, and the internal - being mindful of your own experience and emotions.
Mindfulness of Place
Cultural consciousness is one aspect of "mindfulness of place." I think of it as simply being conscious of the customs and current events of the places I travel to. As a guest in another country (or even city!) I feel it is my responsibility to be respectful of the culture and aware of the political situations (#staywoke!). And not only is it courteous to the place and people hosting me but it benefits me if I a do a bit of research on my destination. I am able to be more alert of any risks and I'll have point of reference from which I can connect with locals.
In 2015 my partner and I visited Greece at the height of their debt crisis bailout referendum. After boning up on the economic and political issues we prepared ourselves for a variety of scenarios (like having enough cash on hand in case there was a currency shortage!) and knew to be considerate and open minded when speaking with locals about the situation. This helped us be more present and able to connect with and be compassionate with the Greeks we met and we were able to have open conversations with them about their opinions about it giving me a much deeper knowledge on EU politics!
Consciousness of place may also guide the types of activities you partake in. For instance shopping at small businesses and eating at local restaurants that benefit community instead of big commercial chains is a great way to immerse yourself in the true culture of a place and avoid tourist traps (and are usually cheaper and better quality too!) One thing I love to do is stay at airbnbs and get local recommendations from my hosts, they are always so knowledgeable and happy to help you have the most authentic experience. When being mindful of place you may even decide to partake in eco-tourism activities that pay attention to how they impact the environment thereby reducing your ecological impact (a topic I want to discuss more in a post of its own).
Mindfulness of Experience
The other side of mindfully traveling and creating more meaningful experiences is focusing on how you emotionally experience and process your trip. I personally have a tendency to pack my schedule and see soo much () while I can! But this can leave very little time for me to reflect on everything I experience each day. I like to plan what I call "slow activities" that are less stimulating than traditional sightseeing. This could be a long lunch people watching, a museum where I can linger, or a beautiful sunset. I also like to carry a notebook with me to jot down thoughts or interesting things I notice while exploring and I find sitting down to write a postcard home allows me to reflect more deeply and rewind through all of the new memories fresh in my mind. But truly the best way to take in every experience is to be present, put down the tech and keep my eyes open. Afterall, the point of mindfulness is to be present and experience your life (including your travels!)