How to be a More Mindful Traveler

By : Elisha Donkin

I have a confession to make: on more than one occasion on my travels, I have had to stop and think long and hard about where I’ve actually been, and I don’t mean what countries I’ve been, but literally the town I was in yesterday or even that very morning. In India, every accommodation requires you to fill out the same information: passport and visa numbers, personal information and where you arrived from and where you’re going to next. I always seem to struggle with the last two. I’ve had to stop and think: Where did I just come from… where did I just spend the last few days? I’ll be the first to admit it sounds ridiculous, but sometimes in the fast-paced nature of travel, when you’re moving around so much, places begin to blur together. However, I’ve been on a conscious journey to try and sharpen my memories by traveling slower.

Once upon a time, I used to be the energetic type of traveler, wanting to see and do everything that I possibly could in the time that I had in a given place. My biggest weakness was the so-called fear of missing out (or FOMO, yes it even has an acronym). I would do all my research on a place before I arrived, I would have a list of places I wanted to see and as soon as I arrived in a country, I would start ticking them off.

Fast forward to today, and I just recently crossed the border from India to Nepal, without any clue of how long I wanted to stay, where I wanted to go or what I specifically wanted to do. I didn’t even know how much my visa would cost me and I only just scraped together enough cash using a combination of currencies for a three month visa.

The urge to see all these amazing places and have all these incredible experiences is influenced by our addiction to social media. The constant flood of images of people hiking to the top of mountains, standing on the steps of faraway temples at sunrise and sipping from coconuts on white sand beaches, encourages us to get out and see all that the world has to offer. It also means though, that it unrealistically urges us to go to these places and have all these “insta-worthy” moments every day.

We need to remind ourselves to slow down.

Slow travel and mindfulness can benefit not only ourselves but also the places that we visit. A rise in tourism has impacted countless places in recent years. The Peruvian government is reworking the ticketing system for Machu Picchu in an attempt to curb crowds and the Maya Beach in Thailand has been closed off indefinitely to tourists in an attempt to let the place rejuvenate. In the rush to see everything, we forget to ask ourselves life’s most important, fundamental questions:  Why am I here? Where am I going?

On your next journey, slow down. Dare to ask and dare to answer.

Write a Diary

With the arrival of blogging and Instagram, diaries and journaling have become long lost art forms that most travelers don’t bother with much anymore. However, the benefits of writing things down with pen to paper are numerous. Writing requires you to stop and think about what happened during the day, how you felt, what you saw and who you met. It’s a type of reflection that gets your eyes away from a screen and is also a great souvenir that you can look back on years later and laugh or cry about the ups and downs of your trip.

Reflect on a Daily Basis

Reflections don’t have to be written down and sometimes just taking five minutes in the late evening to think over the day can be enough, a sort of conscious meditation. Cast your mind back over the last 12 hours and think about the moments that stood out and why. It’s one of the best ways to appreciate the small encounters and feelings that we have whilst traveling that are often forgotten months later.

Put the Camera Down

With the boom of Instagram, photos have become everything and chasing the perfect shot for your filtered version of reality can become an obsession. However, sometimes spending too much time looking through a lens or at a screen means you miss a lot of things that are going on around you. Leaving your camera behind as you take a walk or visit a temple, allows you to forget about getting that perfect photo and actually soak in what you are seeing with your own eyes.

Put the Phone Down and Disconnect

A more obvious one is to take a break from your phone to be more present and in the moment. We can all admit to needing a digital detox in our everyday life, however, it’s perhaps even more important whilst traveling, as the constant need for communication often means you use your phone more when away from home. There was a time when people traveled without phones and the internet and although it seems almost impossible now, going off the grid for a few days can do you all the good in the world. It forces you to have more face to face communication with the people around you and these connections can turn out to be the highlight of any trip.

Quality Not Quantity

At first glance, there might seem to be a hundred things to see in a country and you might only have a few weeks to see them all. However, rushing around to explore three cities in five days might simply leave you exhausted and with blurry memories trying to distinguish one place from another. This is where quality rules over quantity and even if that means you have to miss out on seeing some things, at least you spent enough time to really see a few places rather than skim the surface of all of them. This means spending more time in each place, even once you’ve covered all the tourist sights take some time to soak up the vibe and the local culture. Sit in a café, people watch in the town square or get lost in the local market; places have much more to offer than the sights on the front of your guidebook.

About the author: Elisha Donkin is an Australian freelance writer who has traveled to over 35 countries on various solo adventures. From traveling in the far northeast corner of India, to living in a Maasai community in Southern Kenya and hiking in outback Australia, she prefers to go to places that are least explored and most rich in culture. She documents her adventures on her personal blog and for various publications and travel sites across the world.

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