Are you a mindful traveler? When we travel, we often get so caught up in where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do we miss what’s happening right in front of us. Remember the 1969 movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium, referring to the whirlwind nature of some European tour schedules?
Author and psychologist Dr. Francine Toder believes that by being more present or mindful in our travel adventures, we can sense the world more deeply verses the busy and often distracted patterns that characterize our 21st century lifestyle.
At our November GaGa Sisterhood meeting, Francine spoke about her new book, Inward Traveler: 51 Ways to Explore the World Mindfully. She shared some strategies to immerse yourself in a travel experience so you learn how to explore the world mindfully — not just in exotic locations but also right in your own neighborhood. Focusing on your inner experience to enhance the quality of life is the backbone of the Inward Traveler.
Francine got the idea for the Inward Traveler years ago while vacationing in Kauai, Hawaii where she’d returned year after year. While the sights were so familiar she could picture them with closed eyes, she realized there was more — not places, but ways to see, feel, and think about them. Over the next decade, she applied different mindfulness techniques as she traveled the world and found she enjoyed her travels much more. She wanted to share her experiences with other travelers so she wrote 51 short chapters that include maximizing travel before, during and after; focusing on your senses; managing risk and change; noticing how your emotions impact your travel; and identifying your unique travel style.
I asked Francine why switch from an outward focus to an inward focus? It’s not a matter of either/or, she explained. The inward experience begins with slow breathing, because it allows you to become fully present in your experience of anything. Looking inward guides your awareness toward what’s important so you can make mindful choices in an outward oriented world.
Benefits of Mindful Travel
While most people associate mindfulness with meditation, it can be as simple as catching yourself when you’re zoning out and redirecting your focus onto the here and now. When you’re mindful, you’re more receptive and curious; you’re willing to view your experience through a beginner’s eyes rather than coming into it with expectations.
Mindful travel involves being completely present for the experiences you’re having in a new place—without distracting yourself with thoughts about what might be happening back at the office or where you’re going to eat dinner later that day. By devoting your full attention to each travel experience as it happens, you appreciate the moment more.
It often happens naturally because being in a new place jolts you out of your ordinary routine and puts you into unfamiliar situations that require more focus and attention. Mindful travel helps us regulate our emotions—particularly emotions like anxiety that come up a lot when we travel like all those “what ifs.” When you’re mindful, you can recognize that it’s just a thought and you don’t have to take it so seriously. You can come back to the present moment and not get carried away by thoughts that can sabotage a good experience.
Tips for Mindful Travel
Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, recommends using the acronym “STOP” to remind yourself to be mindful. The S stands for “stop,” while T stands for “take a breath.” O stands for “observe,” which involves taking inventory of both your inner and outer experience, and P stands for “proceed with more mindfulness.” Though the whole process takes only a moment, it’s an easy way to get yourself out of your head and into the concrete reality of your present experience.
Here are more tips for enjoying inward travels:
- Slow down. Ask yourself: How can I hold this [experience] with awareness as opposed to with a jaded attitude? Take time to savor your meals too.
- Use your senses. Even though we’re most dependent on our visual sense, don’t miss out on smells — olfactory memories can be the most vivid.
- Keep a journal. The daily act of writing in a mindful travel journal helps you tune into your surroundings in a more meaningful way.
When the Mind and Emotions Impact Travel
As a clinical psychologist, Francine listened to people’s emotional challenges for over three decades and many included fear of travel. In the final chapter of her book, she addresses these issues with strategies to increase your confidence in baby steps, to overcome perceived and imagined fears, and to deal with the hardest part of travel — the trip home.
Whether you’re taking a walk in your neighborhood or trekking in the Himalayas, keep a mindful focus and the journey you create will be extraordinary and well worth the effort.