Happy New Year folks ! If there is one thing that 2018 had taught me , it is mindfulness. For a restless soul like me, who is always on the move, both on my feet and in my head , it took an entire year to understand the complete essence of mindfulness. My mother always used to say that as a child, I used to constantly have wheels on my feet. Even as a traveller, I was always hungrily looking for new experiences and discoveries . As one trip ended, I would be planning for the next, without savouring the memories of the first. And as travel became work, I started multitasking. I would post blogs on the go, write travel stories from airports, go live on facebook, share constantly on instagram and twitter, while hopping from one sight to another and posting selfies . However a few years ago, I eventually made the transition to slow travel. And as mindfulness slowly seeped in, the journey became a form of meditation. In a way travel and mindfulness became synonymous. So I thought I would start this year by talking about my mindful travel practises and the conscious decision to slow down.
What is mindfulness ?
Simply put, it is the art of staying “present” in the moment. You immerse yourself and focus entirely on the present experience, be it writing, reading, walking, eating or travelling. And while my therapist asked me to practise mindfulness to help me cope with anxiety, I realized that it also slowly changed the way I travelled as well. I was initially consumed by my travels. While “travelling ” from one jaunt to another, I would let the real essence of travel slip through my fingers. But slowly, mindful travel made me more aware of my immediate surroundings. My mind would be immersed in moments – be it a story, an experience, a walk, a view from the window, a conversation or just sipping a glass of wine or people watching. And I was absorbed in every experience.
Staying mindful I realized was not about changing my itinerary. It was about changing my attitude. Mindfulness is not a fad and it is not just about travel. It is a way of life and for me, personally it is about how I started observing it in my daily routines. And yet I realized that by being mindul, my travel experiences only became real and enriching. Here are some simple mindful travel practises that you can follow as well.
1, Take your time sinking into a new destination
While travelling can be a very exciting experience, it comes with a lot of anxious moments. From rushing to the airports to dealing with jetlag, the body and mind are still getting tuned to a new destination. Altered time zones can disrupt your sleep.And the rush of travel can make us forget that we need time to soothe the frayed nerves a bit.
There was a time when I used to be angsty until I left the hotel. But of late its been a conscious decision to focus on radical self care. I relax and ensure I have adequate rest before exploring a new shore. Long showers, a delicious meal, a little snooze and some meditation are important for me before I start my exploration. I usually keep my first day completely free and light without any itinerary. And that gives me the flexibility to do what I like, without any compulsions .
2. Travel is not about being on an auto pilot mode
Most itineraries turn us into robots. We are virtually on an auto pilot mode as we wake up, shower, have breakfast and wait in the lobby for the rest of the group so that we can start exploring. We are not paying attention as the guide tells us stories. We mindlessly take photographs of monuments without taking time to appreciate the architecture. We are constantly rushing from one sight to another, so that we can maximise as much as we can “see” in a day. A selfie is enough for us as we do not really have time to make memories.
But of late, I take time to just watch the sun streaming through my curtains when I wake up. I savour my breakfast, even if its just a bowl of fruits and cereals . I am in no hurry to cram as many experiences in a day and I will rather pause, slow down and be alive every moment than tick off a whole lot of sights from my bucket list.
3. Travel is a sensory experience
Travel is all about sights and sounds and it is important that all our five senses are heightened when we experience them.A mindful travel practise would help you engage all your senses when you are on the road. Whether I am in a market or watching a street performance, or walking around in a park or sitting in a cafe, I ensure that I am completely immersed in the experience. Travel is nothing but a string of moments stitched together and every moment is a priceless memory.
4. Slow travel
I may be in a destination for three days or 30 days but it does not matter. What really matters is that my itinerary suits my pace of travel. As a sustainable traveller, I will rather try and spend more days in a city so that I can travel slowly , at my will and this also helps the local community . But if the budget constraints do not allow me to spend more time , then I will rather focus on fewer experiences. I usually travel without an itinerary. I only book my hotels but decide on the sights and experiences on the go. But if you are one of the travellers who prefers a plan, I will recommend that you keep some down time where you can just wander away. You will never know where seredipity may take you !
5. Real conversations vs digital hellos
Sometimes I think I have forgotten how to converse with a stranger in person. But I have no awkwardness in tweeting a stranger. While digital media may have opened barriers, travel to me becomes real only with conversations with locals. As a blogger and digital indluencer, the smart phone is my ally and not my enemy . However I do not want the travel blogger in me to intrude upon the space of the traveller. So when I travel, I travel. I regulate my time on social media and ensure that it does not interrupt my travel experiences. And I also make a conscious effort to speak to more people while travelling.
6. Experience the joy of stillness
It is probably ironic as I speak about stillness while we are travelling. And yet being still gives a different perspective to our journeys. It is all about being present in the moment. By staying still and grounded, we consciously remind ourselves where we are .Pauses are so important in every journey. The mind is without chatter and is far more lively and open to new cultures, traditions and experiences. There is no question of FOMO as the mind is engrossed in the present experience.
I take every chance I get to breathe and meditate. I consciously have a few rest days in my itinerary, if am on the road for a long time. On the last day of our three week road trip in Europe, we checked in at an airport hotel in Milan as we had a late night flight. But we decided to spend the entire day lounging and relaxing as we had earned it. It was important for us to just savour the journey before heading back home.
There is nothing quite like journaling to help you be a mindful traveller. My moods, my thoughts, conversations and impressions are all penned down in my journal. Although time is a constraint here, I have consciously tried to maintain one during my trips. Sometimes I jot down notes on the smartphone but I realize that there is nothing quite like putting pen to paper. I have realized that journaling has helped me be a better writer as I am not mindlessly penning insipid listicles . It helps me capture the atmosphere and focus on the litte details, which I have missed in the pursuit of my plans.
8. Feeling a sense of gratitude.
Travel gives us a high as the passion takes us to new heights but as a mindful traveller, it has constantly awakened thoughts of gratitude in me – for the travel opportunity, the experiences, the good health, the wonderful weather, the stimulating conversations. But it is the little moments that I have learnt to appreciate the most.
Travel can sometimes be overwhelming. It is always about facing the unexpected. Plans may change at the last minute and not everything may well be under our control. And yet being mindful helps me to stay calm and focussed and deal with the altering landscapes. I am not thinking about where I am headed next or whether I am missing out on a better experience . I am instead soaking in the present moment. As travellers and bloggers, we are constantly consumed with planning the next trip , to showcase our best experiences, to share our latest trophies, upload more photos and get more likes. And while that may be part of the job, mindful travel goes beyond the itinerary. It transforms you and makes you into a better writer, a listener , a traveller,and a person.