Traveling typically puts us in the mindset of hyper-planning, over researching, and the act of "doing" rather than just being. In other words, travel can make it difficult to be present. When we get into the mode of plan-plan-plan and go-go-go, it is easy to get caught up in what is happening next, rather than truly immersing yourself in what is happening now. With a few tweaks in the way you travel, you can easily be a more mindful traveler.
The way my husband and I have always traveled is kind of like wayward wanderers. We are not backpackers going to hostels or couch surfing, but we are not the type to have a jam packed itinerary either. We have found that it helps to set an intention for our travels and remind ourselves of that intention when it seems we are getting wrapped up in the planning and doing. Our travel intention is to experience new things (mostly food), be in the moment, do something unexpected and spontaneous, and experience an adventure together.
- Travel on the non-plan plan. Traveling on the non-plan plan is actually pretty easy. We find it easiest to pick only a base from where we will stay and let the rest occur as naturally as possible. It is always a great idea to have one or two activities that you want to do in order to narrow down your base locations. Other than that, what we do on a day-to-day basis is dictated by how we feel and what looks interesting.
Have you ever been in a position while traveling where you have everything booked for the day only to not want to do it when the day comes? There is such a thing as over planning! Instead check-in with yourself at the beginning of the day and throughout. When you feel tired, stop and have a break with some local snacks while soaking in the culture of your surroundings.
Scared to try this method of travel? That's okay, I have a middle ground proposition for you. Schedule yourself a “break” day while traveling. Wherever you are, allow yourself one full day with nothing planned. This will allow you to experience a little bit of spontaneity in your travels without foregoing the whole plan. Ease yourself into it by asking what you feel like doing on this break day. Walk or drive around allowing yourself to go where the wind takes you.
- Avoid over-researching. Nowadays, we crowdsource recommendations, read a thousand reviews before making a choice, and Google everything. The downfall of over-researching is that the awe of certain places can be lost when we have first seen them on a screen, especially when we have seen thousands of photos before seeing the real thing. Once we see something over and over, we can become desensitized to it.
I know it is nearly impossible not to see a landmark, monument or place before traveling there. What I recommend is not looking too much. Allow yourself to fully enjoy the beauty of your destination once you get there: be awestruck, be amazed, be present. If you need more convincing, check out this article on why allowing ourselves to experience those "awe moments" are great for all things in our lives.
- Live as the locals do. To travel mindfully, it is important to allow for flexible scheduling. If a certain street looks interesting, walk down it. If there is an unexpected market that you stumble upon, check it out. Spontaneity while traveling is one of the best ways to give yourself and whoever you may be traveling with an incredible experience. Take a chance and reach out to someone new (bonus points if it is in the local language). Some of the best recommendations we have gotten while traveling have been from the locals or fellow travelers.
Because traveling naturally takes us out of our comfort zone, it is best to embrace it. Living like a local may mean trying a different type of food, attending a local event or striking up a conversation with a stranger. By taking a risk, you will be creating new memories by having these novel experiences. You will also be immersing yourself in local culture and traditions which is part of what travel is all about anyways.
My biggest recommendation, no matter the style, is to be present while traveling. Travel based on how you feel, rather than what you feel you "should" be doing. Experience new things with an open mind and truly soak it all in by living in the moment. Wishing you mindful travels!