Another year is drawing to a close, and of course with this comes the inevitable desire to reflect and plan ahead. My own year thus far has been very special, I was able to have a once in a lifetime kind of adventure where thanks to a couple of years of saving, planning and anticipating, I was fortunate enough to step the soles of my feet onto the soil of three continent, nine countries and dozens of cities. Along the way, I crossed paths with three forgiving snakes, swam with a group of rescued elephants and dipped my toes in many parts of our planets warm turquoise seas. The journey was diverse to say the least; one month saw me hiking through handfuls of exotic national parks while the next had me immersing myself in ancient Roman history. I crossed paths with countless other souls too, from my time meditating with Buddhist monks to shaking hands with African villagers who’d never before seen blonde hair.
It has been a privilege. An amazing experience I will be remain forever grateful for. Every plant, animal, place and person has a story to tell. Everyone encounter has a hidden lesson within. And after some time on the road, you just can’t help but hear the stories and learn the lessons. This is why I would recommend travelling to everyone. Not just the cozy all-inclusive resort style travel but one that takes you out of your comfort zone and straight into the unknown that will inevitable test your limits and, as cliché as it sounds, expand your horizons.
I would recommend travelling and responsibly exploring our majestic planet without hesitation but I’m called to write today not to share my specific experiences but to attempt and draw more attention to travelling consciously. My feelings on the road were constantly divided between awe and heartbreak. Yes, I saw some wonders but I also saw inexcusable behaviour from many fellow travellers. We wouldn’t think of causing any harm to our neighbour or destroying our backyard; going to another country shouldn’t be any different. Travelling mindfully will make the trip much more meaningful too. Imagine how good it will feel to return home from a trip knowing that you tried your best to offset your carbon emissions and minimise your ecological impact. Knowing that you truly supported the local economy of your destination, got to know another culture and made genuine connections. Your heartwarming memories will just be the icing on the cake! This is all not only possible, but once you’ve developed the awareness, very easy to accomplish.
Eight Ways to More Mindful Travel
1) Research. Try to find out if the hotels and restaurants you choose to give your business to are actually locally owned or ran by some big faceless corporation? Sometimes the answers aren’t obvious and we have to dig deeper but surely it’s worth the effort. And at other times, big name hotels provide much needed employment to locals even if they’re corporation owned so the answer is not always straight forward but just considering these aspects will give you an edge in making more informed choices.
2) Responsible Waste Disposal. Of course we should minimize producing waste whenever possible but when that is unavoidable; it should be thrown out responsibly. For example, when we travel to remote corners of the world we need to carefully consider what we leave behind. Undeveloped parts of the world don’t have the facilities we do for recycling broken electronics or batteries so it’s imperative we take them home instead of leaving them behind to indefinitely damage the fragile ecosystems of our destination.
3) Connection. We are social creatures and need to feel connected to life happening around us for an optimal sense of wellbeing. Staying connected while travelling can be uncomfortable sometimes but it doesn’t need to be anything overwhelming; little interpersonal interactions can go a long way. Simply making eye contact with everyone you pass and greeting them with a smile, or taking a few minutes to ask how your hosts or waiters day is going don’t take much effort but still manage to instill us with sense of that wider world community we are a part of.
4) Patience. Travelling is guaranteed to test your patience. Seemingly endless waiting times, flight delays, misunderstanding, traffic jams and just plain rudeness from other travellers are only a handful of examples of what can go wrong. Be prepared and take it in stride. Time overseas is too precious to be spent worrying about mundane inconveniences we can’t control. Download meditations, repeat mantras, do impromptu breathing exercises, journal – whatever activates that parasympathetic nervous of yours under stressful circumstances best and fastest.
5) Sustainability. Find ways to minimize your carbon emissions. For example, can you share a ride, or take the train instead of flying? Ditch unnecessary single use plastic by getting reusable cutlery, containers and bags. Investigate if your potential purchases are made using threatened natural resources such as rosewood or ebony. If they are, how are they sourced? By a family for whom it’s the only source of income or a larger manufacturer? Like everything else in life, being sustainable is a balancing act but awareness of your footprint on natural resources is paramount.
6) Generosity. Express your gratitude whenever it’s appropriate. Leave a tip if you’ve received good service. Don’t forget about the behind the scenes staff who make up your room or prep your nourishing meal. Treat a local to a cup off tea. Generosity can be applied to time too so spending some playing a game of basketball with a group of local teenagers will certainly be appreciated as well.
7) Time Management. To me, managing your time while travelling means just being intentional about how you spend it. For example, if you have a few free hours in transit, use it wisely. Of course it’s fine to just relax and wait if that’s what you need but maybe you can use the time to call a friend or family member who you haven’t had the time to speak to in while too. A bit of mindful planning can save you from aimlessly wondering around the duty free shops for hours.
8) Respect. Perhaps the most important element of responsible travelling and one that gives us travellers a bad name in many places around the world. We must be more considerate of other people and their ways of life. Awareness of the local culture and customs is just nonnegotiable especially if we are visiting sacred sites or more conservative countries than our own.