How to Bring Mindfulness into Your Travels

Tips to truly savor the experience so that it isn’t a blur.

A 27-year-old woman recently made the news for being the first woman to visit all 196 sovereign nations, and she did so in record time: 18 months and 27 days. Most of the world was impressed, if not slightly envious of the epic adventure. While I was both impressed and slightly envious, I also questioned the whirlwind nature of this journey that broke records and made headlines.

In her epic mad-dash, could she really-truly be present in each place? What did she miss during her on-the-go, always-thinking-ahead adventure as she leapfrogged across nations? Was she able to truly connect with these destinations as she crossed them off the global to-do list? Will she spend the next three months catching up on sleep?

I’m not dismissing the accomplishment, as it’s an amazing feat of planning and endurance. It’s just not the approach I advocate for everyday people who wish to take a meaningful vacation. Yet her approach evokes (on a much more aggressive scale) the speedy, multi-destination journeys I see so many Americans taking, cramming as much as possible into as little time as possible.

“We only have a week? Let’s shoehorn seven destinations into that time! We can do it! Come on! We only have a week, and I want to see it all! It ALL!”

Travel companies even cater to this approach, stuffing an overwhelming amount of stops and activities into a short amount of time and selling it to tourists seeking a set itinerary. This type of itinerary, however, doesn’t sound like a vacation to me; it sounds exhausting, and if you’ve taken a trip like this, you’ve probably needed a week to recover.

Vacations give us an opportunity to unhinge from the modern rush-rush-rush and create a space to bring wonder and connection into our lives through unhurried exploration. Key word here: unhurried.

Approaching a vacation the same way we might approach a deadline-driven job certainly doesn’t foster this. You’re still living the same reality you may be hoping to put on hold, only you happen to be in a new environment.

Even if you only have a weekend to travel somewhere, there’s no need to race through the experience. By traveling more mindfully, thoughtfully and slowly, these journeys can become more transformative and memorable, rather than a blur of photos you don’t recall taking.

Here are some approaches I take to foster a more mindful way of traveling.

Spend a lot of time in one place.
Instead of trying to squeeze four cities in Italy into your itinerary, and probably spending half your time in transit as you zip from place to place, unpacking and repacking, choose one as your temporary home base and immerse yourself in that setting. Truly sink into a setting by picking one locale and get to know it well — so well, that by the end of your visit, you’ll feel like a local.

Engage with locals.
Get your nose out of the guide book and talk to people. Befriend those who live in the destination, versus sticking to recommendations from a concierge or tour leader, as they’ll provide color and insight that could make your experience. Restaurant and shop employees, even staff at hotels or B&Bs that don’t have “concierge” in their titles, are great resources. Say “hello,” in whichever language is appropriate, as you never know where that friendly phrase may lead.

Walk or take public transportation.
Skip the taxi or tour buses. When appropriate, take the same transportation the locals take to get from Point A to Point B. It enhances the experience by truly immersing yourself in the day-to-day of the destination. Or walk. This is the most intimate way to get to know a place.

Be quiet.
Remember to STOP talking. Make a point to consciously walk — silently through the streets, listening to the orchestra of sounds unique to the destination you’re visiting. Listen to the conversations around you, even if you don’t speak the language. Listen, as the audible experiences can be just as powerful as the visual ones.

Do one new thing each day.
Travel is a time that inherently fosters exploration. So do it — explore! Celebrate something new you learn each day. It could be sampling a new dish or learning a new skill unique to the destination. If you spot a tour to learn loom weaving or ancient reflexology, and you’ve never done it before … why not sign up?

Cut down on the activities.
Travel can make most of us feel like a kid in a candy store. It’s easy to want to try everything when you’re in a new place. But avoid the tendency to over-schedule your days. You’ll be short-changing yourself the opportunity to savor and process the impact of each experience. Less. Is. More.

Put technology out of sight, out of mind.
Please put the smartphone away. Be less concerned with documenting the experience, or texting with a friend who is miles away, and enjoy the place and the moment. You could miss something truly epic because you were looking down, and perhaps annoy any travel companion(s) with your distraction from the Now.

Look up.
Expand your vision. Sometimes the most amazing things — such as architectural details and life vignettes happening in open windows — are just above our eyesight.

Stay anchored in gratitude.
The world is a beautiful place, and you’re experiencing it. Give a silent “Thank You” when you become aware of a moment that inspires happiness. And even when things aren’t going your way — travel delays, missing out on a specific tour, getting sick — find gratitude within the scenario, as difficult as it might be at the time. (As it’s likely to transform into one helluva travel story down the line.)

Rely on your natural curiosity.
Curiosity is a great compass that can lead you to amazing things. Instead of mechanically ticking off “must do’s” because a travel guide book or a friend made the recommendation, step out into the destination without a plan for just one day. (I dare you.) Notice how the day unfolds by basing decisions on where your in-the-moment curiosity takes you. It could be THE day that stays with you, long after you’ve returned home.