When you travel mindfully, you shed your environment and social conditioning to get to know your true self. Pushing past your comfort zone gives you the confidence to change your daily life.
Have you ever come back from vacation and noticed how different your home looks? Maybe you spot a pair of mismatched pillow cases or the light streaming in from your balcony. New details that you didn’t notice before.
This feeling passes in a few days, but it shows the transformative power of travel. Even a short trip takes you out of your routine and gives you a fresh outlook. You notice what’s lacking in your life, or you’re inspired to make changes – to take up yoga after a trip to California, or start cooking after an Italian vacation.
It’s about how to be open and let go of control, and how you learn more about yourselves by letting go of your own culture and conditioned self. And it’s about how to bring these experiences home by staying curious and present in your daily life.
A Mindful Approach to Travel
When you travel mindfully, you’re aware of your surroundings and how you see the world. When you’re mindful, you’re curious about what you’re seeing – and your experiences deepen.
“Mindfulness happens effortlessly when we travel. When we take time to step away from our daily routines to enter new surroundings, we naturally become more present,” Samuel says. “We open up to the exciting and the unknown, forced to pay attention as our senses respond to new stimuli – be it witnessing unusual landscapes, tasting exotic foods or watching local people. As we effortlessly respond to the now, we also open up to different aspects of ourselves, expanding our appreciation of not just the world around us, but the world within us, and the joy of being alive.”
Leaving your homes and the known world behind for a new destination jolts you into the present moment and gives you perspective on life, Samuel says. If you’ve ever arrived in a foreign country you notice details – like the scent of fresh mango or the colors of a corner shop – more vividly than you would at home.
Your normal routine means you’re often on autopilot and may not notice details as you rush through your to-do lists.
“So many of our actions are fuelled by the desire to be achieving, to be growing, to be approved of, to be making money or to feel better than we are right now,” Samuel says. “When we can stop, and just be, we let go of these pressures.”
When you travel (and if you don’t just replace your to-do list for another list of must-see attractions), you’re still for long enough to appreciate the present moment and experience curiosity and joy.
And such curiosity springs from stillness and brings on self-understanding.
Mindfulness and travel
Samuel, who meditates regularly and has studied Buddhism in Asia, lists mindfulness exercises throughout the book that include short meditations and journaling prompts.
I love her prompt about prioritizing your curiosity: take a moment to ask yourself what you’re curious about (from the books you read or the films you watch), then write down what draws you. Then ask yourself how can these things inspire your next trip?
Mindful travel helps you realize what’s lacking in your life and what you’d love to get more of.
Set an intention
Traveling mindfully helps you gain perspective and discover more about what’s important. If you want a transformative trip, you should be clear on what you’d like to get from it.
Are you looking to relax or indulge your interest in art history? What can balance out your life, and what do you yearn for – connection, adventure, peace?
Setting an intention for your travels gives you purpose. And this helps you plan and focus your attention, Samuel says. Trips can bring rest and the space you’ve been craving, or adventure to pull you out of routine.
If you’re addicted to your smartphones, a new environment can be perfect to shut down your WiFi and build some new habits.
A journey of self-discovery
When you’re on the road, you discover who you really are – outside of your identity, routines, native environment and social conditioning.
“Tapping into what makes us excited about life, our secret dreams and ambitions, and then owning up to and questioning our fears about these – however stupid they may seem – is the first step in overcoming self-doubt and beginning our hero’s journey,” Samuel says.
By removing yourself from your known surroundings, you can leave behind your usual thoughts and beliefs.
Pushing past your comfort zones builds the confidence that lets you do what you previously thought impossible.
Embrace the experience
In Mindful Travelling, Samuel recommends wandering without a plan, then asking yourself how often you allow this freedom in your daily life. How much of your daily life is dictated by shoulds rather than joys?
Ditch the guidebook, Samuel advises. Or at least ask yourself why you want to visit a particular place. Are you inspired or do you feel obligated by a guide book?
You can develop new routines like yoga, walking, journaling or sketching, since you have more time on vacation, Samuel says. It’s also a great time to record your experiences and experiment with creative outlets like writing or sketching.
But mindfulness isn’t only meant to make us relaxed and happy, Samuel says. Awareness means confronting both the beauty and ugliness of life – like injustice and pain.
“Our planet can be a joyful and heartbreaking place all at once,” Samuel says. “Embracing the paradoxes in the world, and in ourselves, is integral to mindfulness.”
When you’re back home, practice gratitude as the antidote to monotony. Or take a day with no plans. Be bored and watch your creativity come alive, Samuel says.
“The journey we have taken may have given us amazing experiences, expanding our being and sense of what is possible, but it is only through being still that we can begin to integrate this into our everyday lives,” Samuel says. “For it is in stillness that we can reconnect with our new-found sense of freedom and possibility, and what we have learnt about who we are beyond our conditioning.”
Samuel’s exploration of mindful travel – if only 141 pages long – helped me crystalize some of my thoughts on slow travel. I also got some ideas I’ll be looking forward to trying on my next trip.
But towards the middle of the book, I found myself skimming. I didn’t relate to Samuel on a human level, and I thought the writing was too meandering for my tastes. With phrases like “it can be quite distressing to witness” and word choices like “whilst,” the book felt lofty and formal.
Mindful Travelling is thought-provoking, if wordy. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s curious about mindful travel for a quick and pleasant read.