Traveling is my therapy. It allows me to recharge creatively, mentally, to get away from our overwhelming fast-moving world.
I must confess, in my everyday life, I am (a bit) obsessed with trying to control the future. I need to organize and plan everything to detail and to have full control of my life. An illusion. And it takes me to the future, to a reality that does not exist but prevents me from living in the present. It’s a struggle, a daily fight.
Traveling forces me to live in the present, to connect with people and places. It forces me to contemplate, to deepen my observation and to heighten my awareness. By exposing myself to different realities it also makes me question who I am, where I come from, and ultimately, it helps me to get to know me and my culture. I accept there’s no planning to be done: when I’m in a foreign land, eating food I’ve never tasted, trying to make out words I’ve never heard before, getting lost in a place I’m not familiar with… there was no way I could have planned for that…so I accept it as it is.
In the end, traveling is about collecting experiences, and for that, one has to be mindful, open and flexible.
Put Your Phone Down
There’s nothing wrong with a picture here and there and some Instagram posts, but to truly live the moment while traveling, you should reduce the time you spend online. I see too many people actually feeling a pressure to always get the perfect photo in that perfect spot and pose. Forget all that. You don’t need to take a picture of every single place and every single meal. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t document every moment of your travels. Take a few pictures with your phone and take the rest with your mind. Next time you travel somewhere, pocket your phone and just watch, listen and experience the place without any distractions. Just take it all in. You’ll be happier and truly enjoy all the small details.
Talk to Local People
We are told not to talk to strangers from a young age, but the truth is that everybody is a stranger until we meet them. Meeting new people is probably the most rewarding part of traveling. If a stranger talks to you, be receptive, cultural aware and try to figure out who’s that person and what are his intentions. In lots of places where there not a lot of tourists, people are genuinely curious about foreigners and they will try to show you around their city and, as proud non-official ambassadors of their culture, they will do their best to offer you a local experience. There are so many things you can learn: you can find out about different cultures and customs, get familiar with different perspectives and even overcome some prejudices. These are the experiences that make you truly grow as a person you’ll find out that all people are essentially the same, driven by the same wishes and inspired by the same things.
Less is More
When I was a flight attendant, my layovers sometimes were too short so I had to be wise with my time if I wanted to explore the city. If you are limited in time (aren’t we always?) drop one tourist attraction off your list. Monuments are great but they need time to be fully appreciated and understood. Instead, use that time to sit with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and observe the people around you. Forget your phone, forget your fear of missing out and just pretend you live there, observe the locals, what they do, how they behave, try some local delicacies and make sure you enjoy your time.
There’s a silly game I used to do on my travels, especially industrial cities where there aren’t many monuments to visit. I would leave the hotel and start walking with no specific destination. The only rules would be to always keep walking and to never take the same street twice. To decide where to turn, for example, I would leave it to fate. Let’s say I reached a crosswalk, if it was green I would cross the street, if it was red, I would turn left or right, whatever looked more interesting. It sounds a bit crazy but I did this in lots of places and I found amazing cool places that aren’t in any guides. You don’t have to do this game of course, especially if you have a terrible sense of place. The truth is that you can’t remain in the moment if you always adhere to a strict schedule or plan. So, if you have time, let yourself wander for a while, forget the map and the goals and just leave it to fate. Say yes to your inner voice that urges you to enter the local market, to turn that side street, to sit on that garden bench, even if it wasn’t in your plans.
No experienced traveler will recommend going somewhere without a plan, but try not to be too rigid either. Maybe you’re just loving the sunset at the Sacré Coeur in Paris but you have a dinner reservation on the other side of the city and you have to leave. If your heart tells you to stay, just stay. Even if it means stepping out of your plan. Being flexible and maintaining an open mind toward whatever you encounter while traveling is key to staying in the moment. When you say yes to a 30-minute walk to the restaurant because you missed the bus, or to wake up at four in the morning for a sunrise hike with a new friend, you allow yourself to partake in new experiences.
Don’t Make Comparisons
Whether you travel often or only occasionally, it’s far too easy to compare your current situation to one from your past. If you really want to travel and be mindful forget all that and stop comparing. The reality is here and now and this is what you have. Places are different and we visit them and love to travel to experience those differences. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Just Sit and Relax
Traveling can be quite overwhelming at times and every new destination deserves at least a few minutes of your full attention. So, find a place to sit down and take in your surroundings. It will help you etch the place into your memory and create a deeper connection to the destination. Every time I visited London for example, after hours of walking and exploring the busy streets, I would always take some time to sit at the Hyde Park, before returning to the hotel. I would just sit there and watch the locals doing what they do: people jogging, kids playing, squirrels climbing trees. Always allow yourself some time to relax on your travel, taking in all that is around you. Don’t try to judge or make sense of what you’re seeing, but notice and appreciate the details, the once insignificant.
Let me know if you have any questions, in the comments below.
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