It seems like just yesterday I was wandering around Paris with my €20 burner phone, paper map and digital camera in hand, soaking in every detail of the historic streets and the Parisian culture so I could write about it on my blog or in my journal when I got home.
Today, there is much more to contend with. If you didn’t Snapchat, Facebook, Boomerang, Instagram or Instastory it, did it really happen?
In the past few weeks, I’ve been on two trips—one to the Berkshires and one to London—but you probably didn’t know that since I didn’t publicize them too much.
Call me old-fashioned, but I cannot possibly enjoy or fully appreciate a location if I’m focused on my phone and how many things I can Instastory in a day. I believe that travel should be something you do when you’re fully present. It should be walking around taking in everything and everyone you come across. In short, I believe in mindful travel.
What is mindful travel?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, mindfulness itself is “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment.”
What, then, is mindful travel? It is simply practicing mindfulness while traveling.
There is no official definition of mindful travel. In fact, I’m not even sure I can sum it up in words. To me, mindful travel is slower travel. It is stopping to observe, taking time to really feel and listen and see what is around you. Mindful travel is letting yourself get immersed in a location, no matter how short or long your stay is. It is paying attention to your surroundings and reflecting on them. It is turning your devices off and your mind on.
Unfortunately in this day in age, it is hard to practice mindfulness with social media distractions everywhere in addition to the need to visit the most instagrammable and “cool” places. For some, who travel for a living, it is almost impossible. (This is also probably why I could never be a successful travel blogger.)
Next time you’re on vacation, try to be mindful. Try some of the below tips for mindful travel and see if they affect your time off in any way.
Tips for mindful travel
This is something I think we all struggle with given how phones are used for everything, but give it a try! Keep your phone in your purse or pocket and instead of focusing on what you’ll add to your next instastory, focus on everything around you. Think about how your surroundings make you think and feel.
If you do need to work on social media during your time off, set aside a certain time of day to check and update your accounts instead of checking them at random times throughout the day.
Sit and observe + people watch
When traveling to new places, I feel like most everyone, including myself, is all go, go, go, trying to see as much as possible. Unless you’re in a small town (and even then), you’re not going to see everything in a destination unless you live there. Once you’ve hit a wall, find a bench or a restaurant or a cafe and just sit and observe. Whare are locals doing? What are tourists doing? What’s the weather like? Sitting and observing, even if it just for 10 or 15 minutes will give you a different perspective on the place you’re visiting and give your mind a chance to catch up with your body.
Be open-minded and open to change or setbacks
Another hard one for me—historically I’m not flexible and I’m prone to break down at small travel setbacks. Missed train? Day is ruined. Bad morning? Bad rest of the day. That was the old Alex! I think living in New York has made me learn to be more flexible with setbacks and even learn to embrace them. Maybe a missed train will allow you to see a new part of town or mixed up plans will let you stay longer in one place than you thought you had. Being open-minded to travel setbacks can bring about completely new travel experiences.
map GPS away
Whether you use Google Maps on airplane mode (lifesaver) or keep your eyes glued to an old-fashioned paper map, hear me out. If you’re too focused on the exact street to turn on, you’re missing all that’s going on around you. Find out where your destination is and, if you’re not pressed for time, just head off in that general direction. You’ll stumble upon some amazing places and learn a lot more about the place you’re visiting.
Don’t feel pressured to visit certain places just because you’re “supposed to”
“Oh, you’re in Paris! You must go to these 10 most Instagrammable locations!” “You’re in NYC? You need to visit Times Square and the Statue of Liberty!”
When people tell me to do something I tend to want to do the opposite, so I have no problem saying no to the supposed to’s. But it can be difficult. When you plan a trip, choose the things that will bring you (and the people you’re traveling with) the most happiness. Maybe that’s spending a lot of time in parks. Maybe it’s wandering aimlessly around the city with no destination in mind. Maybe it actually is visiting Times Square (it shouldn’t). Whatever it is, make it something you choose.
Don’t try to do everything
One of my vices is trying to see too much when I travel. I don’t like missing out on things, especially if it’s in one of my favourite places or when I don’t have that much time to explore. But, after traveling through several countries and cities, I’ve learnt that the more you rush through a city to check off stuff to see, the less you appreciate and enjoy a trip.
Would you rather be grumpy and tired after a long day of shuffling from one tourist destination to another? Or, would you rather feel refreshed and revived after a day walking around a certain neighborhood? I’d opt for the latter.
Given the title of this blog, you don’t have to tell me this twice. I am the queen of wandering and, much to my mom’s chagrin, I can wander all day without stopping for more than an occasional bathroom and pastry break. I love the things I discover when wandering around a destination, whether it’s a hidden street or a famous store or a gorgeous park. I’m almost always caught by surprise by what I discover and find that I am focused much more on my surroundings and immediate present than on some sort of travel checklist.
Travel is great. Seeing new places is special. But what’s the point of it all if you don’t reflect on your experiences? You don’t have to have a proper journal, but sit down at night and reflect on how your day affected your mood, mental state or perhaps even life. Maybe you write about it, blog or vlog about it, maybe you don’t.
I’m no mindfulness expert and I certainly still have difficulty practicing these mindful travel tips whenever I visit a new place. However, I find that whenever I consciously practice mindfulness during my travels, I am in a better mood and get more out of my days.