Mindfulness has many definitions, means something slightly different to each of us, and can be practiced in many ways. The underlying principle, however, remains the same: experiencing the present moment exactly as it is, without resistance or judgment.
When practiced regularly, mindfulness can make us less reactive and more accepting of whatever’s happening in our current situation.
Your train is late? You couldn’t book the hotel room you wanted? You lost your sunglasses?
Mindfulness helps you look at these things objectively, without labeling them. They aren’t “bad” things that happened “to you.” They simply happened.
Mindfulness teaches us acceptance of what is.
For this reason, mindfulness is a powerful tool to keep in your arsenal while you travel. Creating mindful travel experiences is quite simple, but it may take some concerted effort at first, especially if mindfulness is a new concept to you.
Once you master this, though, I think you’ll find travel all the more enjoyable, and far more transformative. Instead of getting angry or frustrated when things don’t go the way you’d hoped, you can use these instances as lessons, learn from them, and move on.
Put another way:
“Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” -Sharon Salzberg
But for me, mindfulness has another important application when it comes to travel. I want to travel mindfully–or in other words, conscientiously–in a way that does minimal harm to myself, others, and my environment.
I want to connect with people, learn their stories, and consider their perspectives. I want to bring purpose and intention to every experience.
This requires a heightened awareness of the choices I’m making and any repercussions that may result from those choices.
So, my primary objectives when creating mindful travel experiences are:
- Paying attention to the present moment
- Minimizing my impact as a traveler
- Making meaningful connections with others
Here are just a few of the ways I create mindful travel experiences (and you can, too).
8 Simple Ways to Practice Mindful Travel
#1: Travel light, packing only what you need
Your specific packing needs will depend on the type of travel you’re doing and the duration of your trip, but I always try to minimize the weight I’m carrying by bringing with me only what I absolutely need.
You may have to put some extra care and consideration into the packing process in order to achieve this, but it’s worth it. You’ll spend less time worrying about your things so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.
With fewer clothes to choose from, you won’t waste time each morning trying to put together the perfect outfit. With minimal products like hair care and cosmetics, you’ll save precious space in your bag and create less waste.
With fewer valuables, you’ll spend less time worrying about the possibility of losing something that’s meaningful to you.
By adding less weight to the planes, buses, and trains you take while traveling, they’ll require less fuel. You’ll also be able to carry your bags more easily, which can allow you to take public transportation over taxis.
By traveling carry-on only, you stand to save yourself money in the form of checked bag fees, which more and more airlines are implementing these days.
Here are some tips to help you pack more mindfully for your next trip:
- Look for cosmetics with minimal packaging
- Opt for cruelty-free and biodegradable products where possible
- Bring versatile clothing items that can be worn on many different occasions
- Invest in high-quality items, like clothing and luggage, that are durable and made to last
- If you’re not willing to lose something, leave it at home
- Understand your airline’s carry-on restrictions and pack accordingly
A mindful travel experience starts before we ever leave home with what we choose to put in our bags.
#2: Bring your daily mindfulness practices with you
Do you have a mindfulness practice that helps you stay in the moment when you’re at home? Perhaps you spend a few minutes meditating each morning, or you write in a journal to help clear your head.
Maybe you’re an avid yogi and mindful movement is your medicine, or you find mantras to be particularly beneficial.
Whatever your chosen practice is, bring it with you when you travel! There’s no reason you can’t incorporate the same habits into a trip, and you’ll get more out of the experience if you do.
You may not have a consistent routine while you’re on the road, but the important part is making time for your practice wherever you can.
And it doesn’t need to take up too much of your time, either–a five-minute meditation each morning is better than none at all, and can have a significant impact on how you move through your day.
Meditation, after all, is the practice of allowing your thoughts to come and go without judgment–quite similar to our goal when we travel of letting things happen without judgment.
There’s a reason this is called “practice.” The more we use our mindfulness tools, the more likely it becomes that acceptance and non-judgment will be our default reaction when faced with adversity.
Try these free resources to practice mindfulness on the go:
- My favorite YouTube channel: Yoga With Adrienne
- Try guided meditation anywhere with the Headspace app
- Head to FreeMindfulness.org for more free guided meditations
#3: Learn a bit of the language and make a point of connecting with locals
We can’t very well travel mindfully without engaging with the people we encounter. In order to truly understand a place, we must get to know the men and women that inhabit it.
We must remain open and inquisitive so we can learn their perspectives and how they differ from our own. We must learn and abide by their cultural norms because we are guests in their home.
You wouldn’t go to a friend’s house and refuse to take off your shoes simply because you don’t do it in your own home, and it’s important we apply the same line of thinking to travel.
In France, for example, if you walk into a bakery and start making requests without so much as a simple “Bonjour!” you’re likely going to be met with indignant stares. It’s impolite not to greet someone in this situation; it’s a simple gesture that makes a world of difference in how you are perceived and thus treated in return.
There are a few basic phrases you’d be wise to know before your trip to a new country, and your efforts will not go unnoticed.
When you accept and adopt the locals’ way of doing things, this shows that you respect their culture and are interested in understanding it. This helps create opportunities for you to connect with–and learn from–the people you encounter.
Lastly, support local businesses whenever possible. You won’t find any culture in a Mexico City Starbucks, but you will find it in the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, locally-owned boutiques, and family-run grocery stores.
#4: Make time to simply sit and observe
One of my absolute favorite ways to practice mindfulness while traveling is to find a spot to sit in a popular area (a central plaza, a cafe with sidewalk seating, or a park, for example), make myself comfortable, and watch life go by.
It keeps my mind in the present, because I’m focused on the excitement of what’s going on around me rather than worrying about other things.
I also find that I learn so much about the local culture and way of life by taking time to observe. I see what people are wearing, how they interact with one another, and how they spend their time.
It reminds me, too, that people are more or less the same no matter where they come from. We share many of the same needs, wants, and dreams.
We all need to eat, we all have people we love and who love us, we all like to relax and enjoy our free time. We work hard. We make mistakes. We are driven by the things we are passionate about. We laugh, cry, hug, kiss, and walk hand-in-hand.
#5: Take notes about your experiences in a journal
If you want to remember your observations vividly long after your travel experience is over, jot down the interesting details in a journal as you sit and observe.
This always helps me to really pay attention to the tiny details that I would never have noticed if I were just rushing by, in a hurry to get somewhere. It helps me to recall the experience more clearly when recounting it to friends and family.
It helps me create a stronger connection to the place I am in.
Instead of just looking at the things around you, you begin to really see them; you begin to appreciate their beauty and their imperfections.
If you’re not much of a writer, use your journal to create sketches of the things you see. Your sketches don’t have to be perfect, or even good! My drawings are no better than a five-year-old’s.
The goal is simply to immerse yourself in a moment that you will never experience in the same way again.
#6: Find ways to minimize your impact wherever possible
Let’s get real for a second, guys. We all know travel isn’t exactly a low-impact hobby. Most modes of transportation send a whole lotta CO2 into the atmosphere, international flights especially.
Heavily touristed places can become overcrowded, and our very presence can put a strain on locals, their resources, and their very way of life.
We may engage in habits that create unnecessary waste, even if we wouldn’t normally do the same at home–things like buying plastic water bottles, using plastic grocery bags, or using plastic cutlery and styrofoam takeaway containers.
These are just a few of the most obvious examples, but there are so many other ways we can wreak havoc on the environment while we travel.
Take some time prior to every trip to educate yourself on how to minimize your impact. Each destination will present new opportunities. There is always more to learn and more we can do.
Here are some simple changes you can make right now:
- Travel slowly, spending more time in fewer places
- Take fewer flights and opt for ground transportation like trains and buses when you can
- Walk or take public transportation instead of taking taxis
- If you are offered a straw in your drink, say no thank you
- Pick up trash whenever you see it and find a place to recycle it if possible
- Invest in reusable items that you can take with you on every trip
Most importantly, don’t underestimate the impact just one person’s choices can make. You can make a difference.
For more ideas on how to travel more sustainably, check out this comprehensive guide by Green Global Travel.
#7: Consider joining a mindfulness retreat
Mindful travel becomes all the more simple when you join a retreat that has mindfulness at its very core. You’ll surround yourself with people who practice mindfulness themselves, giving you guides and role models.
You will be instantly connected to people with perspectives that differ from yours, priming you for an experience that breeds tolerance and compassion.
You will engage daily in mindfulness practices relating to your physical fitness, nutrition, and appreciating nature.
I enjoyed my very first such retreat this last year when I joined Motive Yoga Co. for a yoga and rock climbing retreat in southern California.
For four days, we camped in Joshua Tree National Park where we took part in daily yoga (my favorite mindfulness exercise) and rock climbing (which I quickly learned was its own mindfulness practice–you can’t be anything BUT in the moment when you’re suspended above the ground by a rope).
Surrounded by nature and disconnected from technology, we gained a deep respect and admiration for the unforgiving yet stunningly beautiful desert landscape.
We shared quiet evenings eating meals fireside while exchanging stories and building friendships.
We gained physical strength and mental fortitude. We emerged on the other side of this experience as changed individuals, allowing us to live more mindful lives after the fact.
If you’re hoping to travel in a more mindful way in the future, I can’t recommend a retreat highly enough. Motive Yoga Co. offers a wide variety in enchanting destinations around the world.
#8: Limit the amount of time you spend looking at a screen
In today’s world, it’s easy to become attached and even addicted to our mobile devices and feel as though we’re connected to the world when in reality, we’re becoming more and more detached.
Real life doesn’t happen on a screen–it’s happening right in front of you.
Put the phone down. Power it off. Break the addiction.
This is especially important while traveling. You’ll miss out on countless opportunities and precious moments if you’re constantly peering into a screen. You’ll fail to connect with the people around you. You’ll fail to notice the delightful little details that make each city special.
In short, you’ll close yourself off from the magic of travel.
I know people aren’t going to stop using mobile phones, but we can wean ourselves off of them little by little.
Start by leaving it in another room while you sleep so it’s not the first thing you look at when you wake up in the morning. Leave it in your bag while you’re eating, especially if you’re sharing a meal with someone.
Don’t rely on Google Maps to help you navigate all the time–devote some time to getting lost and see what you discover along the way.
What are some of the ways you practice mindfulness while you travel?
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