Mindfulness and Enriching Your Travel Experience

A mindful discovery

For many, travel as an experience is a precious commodity, often guarded by time and budgetary constraints.  It seems clear, then, that it is an activity to treasure and to savour to the best of one’s ability.  But how might we look to do that; how might we look to enrich our time travelling in order to squeeze the most out of every second we have available?  With so many potential obstacles and distractions in our way, it boils down to one concept, mindfulness.  In short, mindfulness involves being wholly in the present moment; not in past thoughts or future worries, but just the here and now, from one breath to the next.  Let’s look at how we might use mindfulness techniques the next time we’re setting sail and jetting off to faraway lands.

Noticing the small and the big things

With the sensory overload that often occurs when exploring new destinations for the first time, it can become easy to lose sight of what is actually right in front of us; our minds might well be elsewhere and not fully in the present.  Actively practicing mindfulness, though, allows us to bring our attention to exactly what is unfolding right now in the present moment.  Instead of taking your surroundings for granted, ask yourself questions in order to bring your focus to the now; What can I see around me?  What colours do I notice?  What noises do I hear?  Are they loud or soft?  What is the texture of the road I am walking on?  Such questions all attempt to do the same thing, to bring your undivided attention to the here and now.  Through adopting this framework you’ll notice how you start to discover things that you might not have done beforehand and you’ll have a greater ability to recall the day’s events at a later time.  The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to do implement these mindful methods automatically in day to day life, without the need for cues and reminders.

Letting go of problems and annoyances

More often than not, travelling manages to throw up curveballs and issues which at the time can seem insurmountable; a lost credit card, a missed flight, a wrong turn taken, an altercation.  We’ve all been there.  But rather than reacting to such situations, and letting them drag you and your experience down, harness your mindfulness practice to realign your perspective.  Instead of the ‘what ifs’, the guilt, the worry, actively bringing your awareness to your breath and to the present moment can help to soften these anxieties.  Mindfulness is not necessarily about forgetting a problem but just having the capacity to view it objectively so that your attention can be brought back to the present.  Start to see your worry as a leaf on a stream, just gently passing by; you have the ability to watch it approach, recognise it for the thought that it is, and then let it pass.  You do not have to consumer yourself in the thought itself by jumping into the stream!

Challenging our preconceptions

The planning and the anticipation of travelling is unambiguously one of the most exciting parts of the whole process.  But due to our accessibility of information via the internet, we often paint a picture of our destination in our mind’s eye months before we've even arrived.  A friend of a friend who visited our destination last year told you about this neighbourhood that you most definitely want to avoid and on an online review site you saw one terrible review about some lodgings in and amongst all the good ones.  Whatever they are, we are constantly hit by this steady stream of messages which are all hitting the brain at a conscious and subconscious level and building up our preconceptions and ideas.  Though you may have these, start using your mindfulness practice when on the road in order to avoid surrendering to preconceived ideas all of the time.  Instead of bringing in past thoughts and idle hearsay when visiting somewhere, bring your own mind and body into the present moment and objectively view and experience exactly what is inside of you and in front of you.  This way, your experience will be pure and real to you, and not influenced by the thoughts of others and the wider mass culture.

Serendipitous discoveries

Start travelling mindfully and you’ll have the added advantage of spotting things that you wouldn't necessarily have done beforehand; the fog which descended on a disguised side street which led down to a bar that served the finest mimosas, the symmetry of the terracotta colours on the side of a church and how the sun pierced the middle of the pattern, the elderly frail lady selling bread where two roads met and how she smiled delightedly when a young boy came up to speak to her.  All fleeting precious moments in their own right, but so often missed when we do not slow down and make a conscious effort just to be here, now.