7 simple ways to become a mindful traveler
It's easy to be a more mindful traveler, wherever you go. Here are a few tips to bring mindfulness and meaning to your next journey.
Why travel? There are as many answers as there are travelers, but most of us would probably agree that traveling makes us feel more alive — more aware and mindful — than we do in our everyday lives.
After a decade of striving to be a mindful and ethical traveler, and integrating yogic, ecological and anthropological values with my nomadic lifestyle, I've discovered a few simple themes that I believe can help anyone travel mindfully.
*Image provided by Paititi Institute.
Here are 7 tried-and-true ways to be a mindful traveler:
1. Ask questions
I try to embrace a state of "beginner mind" and maintain a childlike sense of curiosity before, during, and after a trip.
Read about your host ecology and culture before you go, and ask questions of both travelers and locals in Facebook groups and travel forums. While on the ground, don't hesitate to ask for directions (it can turn into a good conversation or a new friendship), recommendations (you'll likely discover places not in any guidebook), and personal perspectives (there are as many versions of a place as people living there).
Remember that a journey doesn't end when you get back home. Take time to reflect back on your experiences after you leave, too, integrating what you've learned and how you've changed.
Never stop asking questions. Never stop learning. The unknown isn't scary; it's a thrilling invitation to grow into a new space of potential.
2. Go slow
The longer I travel, the slower I go. It used to be a race to get as many stamps in my passport as possible. Then I started to explore the spaciousness of a two- or three-month visit. Nowadays, I stay a year or two in order to really dig in.
Traveling slow is, in my opinion, one of the simplest ways to be a mindful traveler — saving money, reducing our carbon footprint, and facilitating a deeper connection to place and culture all at once.
Work-trades through organizations like Worldpackers and NuMundo make it easy and cheap to choose long term travel and stay somewhere for a nice long while. Residencies and co-working retreats like Momentom Collective, Roam and the NuLiving Experience enable digital nomads to work while they wander (you can have your travel cake and eat it too!).
3. Tread Lightly
"Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but sand."
It's a nice sentiment, but a lofty goal. I believe that being a mindful traveler is about being conscious — not a saint.
How can I ensure that the souvenirs I'm buying are funding sustainable, ethical enterprise? (See tip #1 — ask questions.) How can I minimize my impact on the environment? How can I bring respect and integrity to all of my words and actions as I explore new places?
The mindful traveler will ask these questions and more, and act accordingly. She will also continually reevaluate as new information comes to light. Maybe that juicy pineapple in Costa Rica is supporting an extractive monoculture. So we eat mango instead. Maybe those textiles were actually imported from China. So we seek out a weaving cooperative supporting fair trade and local industry.
The mindful traveler might also evaluate the positive and negative impact of a particular decision and decide that her desire to eat pineapple outweighs her disapproval of the pineapple industry. And that's okay too!
4. Connect with locals
Hostels and expat bars are a wonderful portal of entry into a foreign culture. Familiar enough to feel safe, but with a new setting, flavor, and rhythm. When I began traveling, they were my favorite places to meet new friends and hear exhilarating stories. However, I came to understand that they represent only a few pages of a much richer travelogue with a far more diverse cast of characters.
Venture beyond the easy circles of travelers who share your stories, bucket lists, backpacks, and values. Meet the people who make the place you're in... the place that it is.
I've found that the easiest way to do this is by seeking out the things I like — dance, music, nature, food — and then getting to know the people who also like those things. Climbing gyms, hiking trails, yoga studios, and dance classes have gifted me friends all over the world.
Not sure where to start? Websites like Meetup are basically "Tinder for making friends," as one friend put it.
5. Get out of the city
Cities — and capital cities especially — may be centers of cultural life and movement, but sometimes it is easier to find the soul of a place in its rivers, mountains, and farms. Work-trades on organic farms, retreats in remote, off-the-grid eco-villages, and slow wanders through hard-to-reach corners will show you a different face.
If you have a personal connection to a particular farm, mountain retreat, or intentional community, that's a good starting point. If not, platforms like WWOOF, NuMundo, Worldpackers, and the Foundation for Intentional Community can hook you up with thousands of permaculture farms, agroforestry projects, intentional communities and more that will open your mind to new ways of connecting with nature and community.
6. Set intentions
When my only intention for my travels was to move, that was pretty much all I did. It was perfect just like that, but there was potential for more. As I developed a clearer why — a clearer intention — around my lifestyle, I began to discover new levels of meaning in my nomadic adventures.
By naming the intention for your trip (eg. learning a language, transitioning into a new career or phase of life, recording fascinating stories, or simply growing as an individual) you get a stronger grasp on it. However, setting intentions is a deceptively simple path to meaningful travel. Meeting those intentions requires that the mindful traveler consciously walk in alignment with them — and in the pursuit of them — all the time.
But I can assure you, it is worth it.
7. Discover the extraordinary
I truly believe that we can find equal wonder in our own backyard as we can on the other side of the world. Nonetheless, there is something about traveling that smoothes the connection with our capacity for wonder — and wondrous transformation.
By shaking you out of your comfort zone and confronting you with a dozen new challenges a day, travel presents a unique opportunity for accelerated transformation.
If you're curious about the current trend toward "transformational travel," I highly recommend checking out NuMundo, a curated database of transformational experiences and regenerative living centers that could open up your travels to a whole new, extraordinary world.
But before any of these tips matter, you have to care. There is no cynicism in mindfulness. To be a mindful traveler, you must first believe that it is worth your time to bring more awareness to your wandering.
Careful, it's usually a one-way street. Once you start exploring the path toward mindful travel, it's hard to turn back.