How to travel mindfully

Travel hacks


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Ahead of the #InternationalDayofHappiness, we’re here to tell you about ways to travel mindfully, the benefits of traveling mindfully, and why mindful travel equals happy travel

March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, and we’re marking the occasion by reflecting on the ways in which travel makes people happy. But how can you make sure that you get the absolute most out of your trip, by way of a meaningful experience? Mindful travel is a trend that utilizes mindfulness, a discipline with its origins in Dharmic religions, to promote complete mental and emotional satisfaction in seeing the world.

Never heard of mindful travel? Eager to learn more? Read on for more details on what it is, and for 10 ways to travel mindfully that’ll make your adventures happier than ever.

What is mindful travel?

The general practice of mindfulness involves being mentally present at a given moment, and conscious and aware of your surroundings. Mindfulness is supposed to help alleviate anxiety by curbing your thoughts about the future, as well as your reaction or evaluation of anything that just happened. Put simply, mindfulness be considered a mindset focused on the here and now, which, if you assume for traveling, gives way to an incredibly fulfilling, happy experience of visiting somewhere.

There’s a second way to think of mindful travel, which is more about the effect on your environment than that on yourself. Being considerate is at the core of this second concept, to make sure that your adventures are as responsible and sustainable as can be. For this reason, this idea of mindful travel is often equated with ecotourism.

Why travel mindfully?

For your own benefit, mindful travel means that you’re slowing down to appreciate the finer details of what’s going on around you. You’re not charging from one city to the next with the sole intention of ticking more places off your list. Instead, you’re savoring your travel experience, which leads to further curiosity about your destination, and the happiness that comes with discovering somewhere new is perpetuated seemingly effortlessly. You return home feeling happy, relaxed, and more fulfilled, having learned meaningful things about yourself and the world.

When considering the environment, traveling mindfully encompasses mitigating your carbon footprint, doing your bit against commodification and consumerism, supporting ordinary people, and keeping nature beautiful. It means:

  • spending money in a way that benefits the local community
  • being respectful of local laws, customs, infrastructure, people and animals
  • learning basic phrases in the local language
  • using public transport
  • conserving water and energy, and
  • ditching single-use plastics. In other words, invest in a good reusable water bottle!

Now you’ve got the gist, read on to find out how traveling can make you truly happy; these are the 10 best ways to practice mindful travel.

1: Try mindfulness ahead of your trip

Person walking in park in fall — Getty ImagesMindfulness can start with a simple walk in the park — Getty Images

If you’ve never practiced mindfulness before, you should make the effort to get to know what it feels like before you take your vacation. Take a walk in the park, or visit a place near to where you live that you haven’t been to before, and try to take in everything around you — sights, sounds and smells. When you’re having a conversation with someone, make sure you’re concentrating fully on what they’re saying and don’t let yourself be distracted. Think of mindfulness as a muscle that needs to be trained, and if you exercise it at home, it’s more likely to work to your advantage when you’re traveling and out of your comfort zone.

2: Pack light, and well in advance

Person sat on bed packing backpack — Getty ImagesRefrain from packing things that aren’t essential — Getty Images

Pack only the bare essentials. Physical baggage equals mental baggage; the less stuff you take away with you on your trip, the freer you’ll feel, and the fewer worries you’ll have about losing valuable possessions. When you’re trying to exercise your senses to focus on the little things in your environment, you’ll realize just how little you actually need by way of material things. It’s a good opportunity to dress down, stop being as preoccupied with the way you look, and relinquish the gadgets that distract you so much in your day-to-day life.

Moreover, get yourself organized ahead of your holiday — sort out your documents, cash, cabin liquids, and practical clothes — to avoid beginning your journey by stressing out. The process of air travel itself is also a good time to practice mindfulness, from sitting in the airport and wondering where passers-by are headed, to looking out of the airplane window at the busy world below.

3: Let go of your expectations

Tourists take photos of Brandenburg Gate — Getty ImagesIn reality, a lot of sights are going to be crowded with tourists. It pays to stray from the beaten track — Getty Images

We’ve all seen those Insta-perfect photos of famous sights at popular destinations that look paradoxically thin-on-the-ground with tourists, and maybe this is even the kind of material that inspired you to take your trip. Be aware that the surroundings of that building, monument, square — whatever it may be — probably won’t be like that in reality. In other words, don’t arrive with high expectations and try not to force a euphoric travel experience; this sort of feeling is more likely to come naturally with mindfulness.

It’s also a better idea not to draw up a detailed plan of everything you want to see and when. You’ll only concern yourself with getting through the itinerary, rather than stopping to appreciate your surroundings. Losing track of time means you’re doing mindful travel right.

4: Put your phone on silent mode

Close-up of person holding phone outside — Getty Images Make sure that your phone won’t get in the way of your experiences — Getty Images

As mentioned above, we really don’t recommend taking any gadgets that you don’t absolutely need with you on your mindful travels. But it’s understandable that you’ll take your phone, at least to be able to know the time, navigate, and contact someone in an emergency. Make an effort to switch off from the usual digital distractions you have at home — incessant messaging, social media, et cetera — and putting your phone on silent will help with this. Remember, now you’re in your own little world.

5: Find mindful activities to do

People engaging in Japanese tea ceremony experience — Getty ImagesImmerse yourself in a workshop that’ll give you a taste of the local culture — Getty Images

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new environment is to find things to do that aren’t necessarily geared towards tourists that will open your eyes and mind to your host culture. This is doubly great when it comes to mindful travel as you’re also probably going to be benefiting the local community in some way. What’s more, you might even meet some really interesting people! Here are some opportunities to look out for:

  • Choosing a homestay for accommodation
  • Volunteering for a local charity
  • Attending a workshop teaching a local craft or skill
  • Visiting a place of worship (just remember to act respectfully)
  • Seeing a wildlife conservation site
  • Eating local food at an independent café or restaurant

6: Be curious and grateful

Woman among vineyards in Italy — Getty ImagesCuriosity and gratitude lead to happiness — Getty Images

It’s pointless trying to gain a deeper understanding of the world if you don’t have the curiosity about it to begin with. Being mindful and being curious kind of go hand-in-hand, so it’s simply a case of putting that curiosity into practice to come out of your shell. Don’t be shy, ask lots of questions, try new things, and give in to that immersive experience.

Another virtue worth dusting off is gratitude. There have been studies suggesting that active gratitude has a positive effect on one’s well-being, and you’ll be able to spot evidence of this in practicing mindful travel. We’re not just talking about saying “thank you” to the locals; rather, it’s also about taking moments to think about all the good things in your life, particularly, again, those little details in your immediate vicinity. Be grateful for every experience in the present, and for the overarching fact that you’re on your trip, meanwhile, others aren’t as fortunate to be able to travel.

7: Take fewer photos

Tourist with disposable camera — Getty ImagesIf you feel you need to take photos, opt for a disposable camera — Getty Images

The best moments in life happen without a camera, as do the best moments on vacation. Or, to say the least, photo-taking doesn’t add anything of value to the here and now. Allow yourself to be consumed by happiness, curiosity, gratitude, and all the other good stuff we’ve talked about here, without trying constantly to snap the best picture.

If you really do want some photos to look back on, a disposable camera makes a good compromise. Get the pictures developed once you get back home — it’ll be a nice surprise to see how they turned out! Okay, they might not be the most hashtag-aesthetic things you’ve ever produced, but they’ll be rawer, more real, more representative of how you experienced those very moments.

8: Write a journal

Woman sat by peaceful lake writing in journal — Getty ImagesJust think how fun and wholesome it’d be to read your travel journal back in years to come — Getty Images

Instead of taking photos, why not write down everything you learn on your trip? Document your thoughts and feelings on the places you visit, the things you do, the people you meet, and how it’s all making you grow as an individual. Compared with photos, you can be a lot more expressive of your inner self with words, and it’s likely that you’ll make more sense of those words when you come to reading back on your trip in the future. Don’t feel the need to write in your travel journal every day (the sense of obligation isn’t mindfulness’s best friend) — just as you see fit, for you.

9: Meditate

Woman with closed eyes doing breathwork against city backdrop — Getty ImagesYou don’t need a great deal of your own space, or a lot of experience, to make use of meditative techniques — Getty Images

Being in a relaxed state of mind will make you more receptive to what’s going on around you in the present, and it renders you incredibly likely to take a happy, optimistic approach to your travels. Don’t worry if you’re not used to meditating or if you won’t have the physical space for it when you’re traveling; at least half of meditation is about simply focusing on your breathing. Try taking these short steps just a couple of times a day for a couple of minutes:

  1. Stand or sit comfortably.
  2. Start breathing slowly, in through your nose for three seconds, and out through your mouth for three seconds.
  3. Focus on maintaining this breath cycle, turning your attention to how the air feels physically as it passes through you.
  4. Let go of as many thoughts and emotions as you can as you breathe out.

Think of the process as hitting ‘restart’ on yourself. Now you’re ready to take in the world again.

10: Offset your carbon footprint

Planting seedling tree — Getty ImagesBe mindful about your carbon footprint and you can help make an impact for the good of the planet — Getty Images

At, we hand-on-heart believe that traveling makes people happy. More than this — traveling is one of the things in life that can make people happiest. We’re never going to stop telling you about all the incredible things to see and experience around the world, and the fact of the matter is: you wouldn’t be able to reach many of them without jumping on a plane.

So, in the interest of mindful travel for the good of the planet, if you take a flight to your destination, it’s a good idea to offset your carbon footprint. This means calculating your own CO2 usage and donating the equivalent value to projects that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Projects like these are varied, with ultimate goals such as reforestation, landfill management, and building renewable energy production. But don’t worry, you don’t have to calculate your carbon footprint and choose a project all on your own — here’s a useful, up-to-date list of great carbon offset programs.

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