How to Enjoy Your Vacation With Mindful Travel

An assortment of travel items on a map - camera, sunglasses, passport, and a woman's hand pointing at the map.

After a long and intense year, we can all agree that we could use a vacation. 

There’s nothing like the restorative power of sitting by the beach or taking a leisurely stroll through a new city or taking in all the sights and scenery. On vacation, we give ourselves permission to slow down, take things in, and become more mindfully aware of the present moment. 

While destination travel might not be on the horizon just yet, we can still bring the spirit of travel and adventure to our staycations and day trips (as long as it’s safe to do so!). And the key to making these short trips feel new and refreshing is to bring mindfulness to our days. 

Whether you’re interested in slowing down on your next staycation or looking forward to being more present on a future trip, here are some ways that you can practice mindful travel.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the state of being fully engaged in the present moment, without judgment or any distractions, and without dwelling on the past or the future.

Meditation is a popular way to achieve mindfulness, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, but it’s not the only way to become more mindful. In fact, lots of activities that we consider quite ordinary and mundane can help you achieve mindfulness. Washing the dishes, taking a walk, knitting, reading a book, coloring, doing water colors, or gardening--these are all different ways that you can practice mindfulness.

So why all the hype around mindfulness?

A mindful activity brings your focus to the present task at hand, which allows you to release any distracting thoughts and quiet your mind. You’re not thinking about the bills or deadlines or dwelling on a hurtful comment from the past. By concentrating on one small, repetitive action, you feel calm and relaxed, and almost as if life is slowing down. This is what it’s like to be present in the moment. 

That’s why mindfulness isn’t just an empty, new-agey, catchphrase. It actually has a range of emotional and physical benefits, and can help with anxiety, depression, and stress. 

Mindful travel for better vacations

So why bring mindfulness to our travel? Aren’t we already slowing down and being relaxed when we’re on vacation? 

Well, much like our overscheduled work days, we tend to overextend ourselves on our travels. We want to visit every museum or hot new restaurant, we stick our noses in our guidebooks, rely on Trip Advisor reviews to decide our meals and experiences, and capture travel experiences on our phone instead of enjoying the moment. 

No wonder so many people have often joked that they need a vacation from their vacation. 

But it’s easy to understand why we fall into this vacation pattern. Our vacation days are limited, and we feel compelled to cram a month’s itinerary into a short week. 

But instead of rushing through our itinerary, we can use mindfulness to ground us in our new surroundings and savor each moment.

In this New York Times interview with travel writer Sara Clemence, she says: “Mindful travel is about tuning into your destination. It’s about disconnecting from your devices and connecting to your surroundings, being aware of and attentive to the people and food and culture and scenery around you.”

In other words, less is more. If you truly want to enjoy the experience, try limiting the amount of things you do and see. Sure, you might not get to hit every landmark or buzzy restaurant, but you’ll get to fully immerse yourself in the things you choose to do.

Tips for mindful travel 

Here’s how you can fully engage and enjoy your vacation, whether it’s for exploring a new neighborhood or doing a day trip. 

Put devices away. We’ve all heard this before, but it doesn’t hurt to be intentional about putting your phone and camera away during your trip. Of course, you’ll want to record special moments, but don’t feel pressured to document every single activity or meal. Pick one full day, or a certain chunk of time each day, to be device-free.

Send postcards. On that same note, see if you can limit your email and text usage during your vacation days. You’ll feel like a new person when you’re not receiving notifications about new messages throughout the day. Consider sending postcards and cheerful greeting cards to your friends and loved ones. Let them you know you’re thinking of them and that you wish they were here. 

Ask people for recommendations. Instead of relying on Yelp or Trip Advisor for recommendations, try asking a local for advice. Maybe it can be your hotel concierge or someone you stop on the street. Or maybe just allow yourself to walk around and explore. Eat at the first, fun looking restaurant that you see or walk into a store that looks interesting. You don’t have to use this approach for the entire trip, but try letting your instincts run the show every now and then.

Limit your activities. So instead of feeling obligated to see all the sights in one day, maybe just do one or two of these things. You might not get to experience all the must-see spots, but you also won’t have to stress about hustling to the next destination. Give your vacation some breathing room and don’t feel obligated to schedule every hour or even every activity. 

Have breakfast. One of the perks of vacation and staying in a hotel is taking the time to eat breakfast. If you’re doing a staycation, recreate the hotel continental breakfast experience at home. Think croissants, muffins, fresh squeezed orange juice, a big pot of coffee, and your favorite magazine or newspaper.  

Take a long walk. One of the best ways to unwind is to take a long walk through different neighborhoods. Try to take note of all the different sights, sounds, and smells. If you’re in a new city, it can feel like sensory overload at first, so try to pick a corner or bench to take it in, slowly. If you’re staycationing, you might have the opposite experience where everything feels “same old, same old.” Try walking a different route to see your neighborhood through new eyes, or explore a new-to-you neighborhood. Take in the architecture, the community parks, the people, the local businesses--you’re likely to observe things you’ve never seen before.

Journal about your day. Take a minute to jot down some memorable details in your journal. Sometimes all the sights and sounds can be a lot to take in, so a good way to feel grounded is to record your observations. Don’t feel pressured to write vivid accounts of your day and start a travel journal. Even a few bullet points or sentences can be evocative, and will be enough to recall your favorite travel memories later down the line.
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