Improve your travel experience through mindfulness
Travel is amazing, right? New countries, new cultures, new languages and new customs – we love exploring and learning more about the world. But the most important thing is pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones to experience all that is available to us.
Sometimes though, pushing ourselves outside of these comfort zones can cause us to feel fear, anxiety or discomfort, but this all builds a multi-sensory experience which lingers long in our memory and is easily recalled by a noise, a smell, a taste or a sound. Appreciating and fully experiencing each moment can be difficult at times – we cannot always be ‘switched on’ in a state of heightened emotion.
Conversely, there are times when it can be difficult to step out of a heightened emotional state, particularly when things go wrong or a process becomes overwhelming (such as a difficult border crossing or an argument with your partner).
There is, however, something you can do to prepare yourself for these two opposing experiences of life on road. And it’s all about mindfulness.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is something that has been practised in Eastern traditions for generations, but has only increased in popularity in Western culture in the last decade or two. Mindfulness is really just as it sounds – acting, thinking, responding and behaving with care and thought (mindfully).
I first studied mindfulness when I was working with clients who were experiencing emotional or psychological distress. My intention was to see how I could teach my clients to use mindfulness to ease stress, but I quickly discovered that mindfulness is a practice for everyone, every day.
For me, mindfulness is summed up most beautifully by the phrase ‘I eat when I eat and I sleep when I sleep’ – a Buddhist saying depicting an intention to be fully present in each individual moment and activity.
Being in the present moment
We are all used to a busy mind. A mind which whizzes along, planning, remembering, judging and feeling much more than what is happening in the current moment. It is this busyness of mind that distracts us from our experiences. How many times have you finished an activity with little recollection of having done it, or eaten a meal and not savoured a single flavour?
First and foremost, mindfulness teaches us that encouraging our busy mind to focus allows us to be present and experience moments as they happen. A less distracted mind allows us to immerse ourselves fully into every unique adventuring experience, which is important to most travellers.
Imagine the impact this could have on your adventure experiences? Especially those times that you are participating in a once in a lifetime opportunity but are distracted from the moment.
This is an important point for modern day travellers. How many times have you been distracted from fully participating in an experience because you are observing it through the lens of a camera or the screen of your device? This is not to say that you shouldn’t document your adventures. In fact, these recordings become a source of a great enjoyment into the future and assist you to recreate the moment in your mind.
What is important, however, is having the presence of mind to know when to put the camera down and be still in the moment, focusing on your senses, the emotions and how your body is physically responding to the experience. This will be different for each person, but once you become more skillful with mindfulness, you will begin to easily recognise when an experience is creating a special response for you.
It is these moments that you must take for yourself – these are the moments that you allow your mind to be still. To feel the breath entering and leaving your body, to absorb the moment and soak in every sense – what do you feel, smell, see and hear. These are the moments that will become your most cherished memories and will spontaneously be recalled with a flood of emotion at a re-creation of a sound or smell.
Consciousness of thought
Being in the present moment and not distracted by our thoughts helps us to be more conscious of our thoughts and allows us to identify thought patterns which do not positively serve us. One of these patterns that many people experience is the negative ‘self-talk’. The chatter inside your head which tells you that are not enough – pretty enough, good enough, strong enough, tough enough, kind enough. For some, this can be debilitating. And the mind is just like a muscle – the thought patterns that you indulge and strengthen are the thought patterns will become your strongest.
Increasing your awareness and acknowledging any negative thought patterns allows you to deal with these patterns – and changing up negative patterns for positive patterns is a strategy for building self-reliance and resilience. Improving self-reliance and resilience will help you to deal with stressful and emotional events whilst travelling.
Once you have identified any negative patterns, you can devise a positive mantra to counteract the thought. For example, if your mind often indulges the thought that you are not good enough to do something on your own, you might counteract that by thinking ‘I am safe, I am happy, I am strong’. The mantra needs to mean something to you and be in your words. It needs to be in strong, active language and be positive.
Practising mindfulness will allow you to become more aware of your thoughts and you will be able to quickly identify when your mind starts the negative chatter. You can immediately interrupt the thought and repeat your positive mantra, thereby strengthening your positive mantra rather than your negative thoughts. Over time, you will notice less negative thought patterns if you put in the work to become more mindful of your thinking patterns.
You can see how re-affirming the positive thoughts can help you deal with everything you might be confronted with when travelling – from meeting new people to crossing country borders and dealing with fear and anxiety.
How do you start to practice mindfulness?
Practising mindfulness takes some effort. Most people find it takes some time to begin to focus the mind, and some more time to be able to do this constantly. There are many great websites and apps dedicated to teaching mindfulness and it can be useful for beginners to use these resources for guided mindfulness meditations. Starting with a guided practice can be a great way to build skill and understand the practice. You can try the Headspace: Guided Meditation app (free from your app store).
I recommend starting in a quiet environment without distraction. As your skill improves, you will be able to implement the practice anywhere. A good starting point is 5 or 10 minutes and I highly recommend that you set aside time each morning and each evening. I like to do this when I first wake up to set the tone for the day and again right before going to sleep.
- Get yourself in a comfortable position in a room where with no stimuli or distractions. If you choose to lay down, lay on your back and allow your hands to rest comfortably by your side (palms up) and allow your feet to fall out to the side. If you sit on a chair, keep both feet on the ground and place your hands comfortably in your lap; or If you sit on the ground, take a cross legged position, propping a pillow or cushion under you if this is more comfortable. Place your hands on your knees, palms either up or down on your knees or in your lap.
- Shift your focus to your breath. Focus on how your breath enters and leaves your body. Relax your body and allow your breath to flow naturally – don’t try to control the breath, just observe the breath. Notice how the breath flows in, the rise of the abdomen, the physical sensations of inhaling. Rest in the pause of the breath – the stillness of the moment between inhaling and exhaling. Notice the exhale – the fall of abdomen, the gentle push of the breath as it releases from your body and back into air. Spend some time becoming familiar with how your breath flows.
- Leaving some of your attention watching your breath, turn the rest of your focus inward. Begin to notice the thoughts and the internal chatter. Do not judge yourself for these thoughts, but simply acknowledge them and allow them to float away, placing no attachment to the value of the thought. It can be helpful to visualise yourself letting go of these thoughts – some popular visualisations are viewing your thoughts as clouds that gently drift across the sky, coming into your attention and leaving your attention without a trace. Another option is to visualise yourself placing your thought on a leaf and watching it disappear from view on a gently flowing river. The point here is not to control your mind so thoughts do not exist, but to allow your thoughts to come and go without judgement and attachment. That is just to be fully present in the moment.
- At any time, you can return your full focus to the breath. If you begin to feel frustrated or distracted, just return to the breath and allow yourself to rest.
Each day, you can extend the time you practice mindfulness. You can start with any number of minutes that feels right for you and then build from there.
My good night practice
- After your night time routine and you are in bed, with the lights off, find yourself in a comfortable lying position. I like to do this on my back, before I turn to my side to sleep.
- Begin the practice in the same manner as the morning practice. Notice your breath. Watch the slowing of your breath as your body relaxes. Notice the inhale and the exhale. Feel your abdomen rising and falling. Rest in the stillness between the inhale and the exhale. Spend just a few minutes just focusing on this.
- Maintaining some attention on your breath, turn the rest of your focus inward. What do you feel gratitude for? I like to list three things from during the day. Some days are more profound and others – you might be grateful for simple things, like a coffee or hot shower you enjoyed that day, or, you might be grateful for something much bigger – a newly formed friendship, a kind moment with a stranger, or a romantic gesture from your partner.
- Once you have reflected on your three daily gratitude, return your focus to the breath for a moment or two.
This night practice does not need to be a long practice. Just a few minutes to thoughtfully and purposefully end the day with positivity and gratitude.
So, what are you waiting for?
There are numerous other ways to practice mindfulness – such as spending a few minutes on one activity when you notice every single sensory detail (a good example is brushing your teeth, getting dressed, eating a meal or drinking your favourite beverage).
Mindfulness can help not only with your travel experiences, but with your relationships with others. As you become more skillful, your ability to look inward at your emotions and motivations will improve, resulting in a more considerate approach to stressful situations.
Get on the mindfulness wagon and commit to a regular practice for a month and see what a difference this simple activity can make in your travel and relationship experiences.
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Interested to learn more about managing your emotional well being while on the road? Check out Finding Alone Time When Adventuring Together
Would you like to connect with me about this article? Email me at email@example.com