I started writing about my travels as a way to hone my writing craft but I also wanted to share some of my adventures and inspire others to get out and see the world. This blog was the way to do it, so I had to let go of my yellow legal pads of scribbles (Okay, I still scribble on yellow legal pads) and delve into my little black Moleskins. It is amazing what you learn about yourself traveling abroad -- puts everything into perspective, and the more I traveled, the more I realized that I am not truly happy without a heavily stamped passport in my hand.
After traveling to over 25 countries I started developing my preferred method of travel. Not the actual planes, trains and automobiles of it all, but the research I put into each destination, the mindful attention to every detail that I could experience, and the importance of knowing that at any given time that I could be throwing out all those schedules and itineraries out the airplane window (if I could open it). Hence, my version of Mindful Travel.
Obviously, I don’t want you missing your plane and being so disorganized that you can’t find your boarding pass. You need to have some discipline when you travel; you need to know where you are, where the nearest bathroom is, do you have the right money and can you drink the water?
“You can’t be “aimless” for every part of your journey, but you can roll with the punches and bounce with the ups and downs. The key is to expect and accept the inevitable stress, and remind yourself that you are not, in fact, in a rush. You will get there when you get there.” - Barry Boyce, Mindful Magazine
In Malta, one of my first adventures abroad by way of a Mediterranean cruise ship, I had my first “Mindful Epiphany”, even though I really didn’t know what those two words meant. I was a snot nosed little punk (not really, I was always a thoughtful boy) and I was sitting on a broken wall looking down at the ancient dirt. Fellow cruisers that I had drinks with the night before, walked up and commented on how “old and dirty” Malta was. I looked at them, stunned. I didn’t see old and dirty, I saw the windswept boot prints of a Knight of Malta as he walked over to the same wall I was sitting on, knelt down to look over and survey the invading Turks, strategizing a way in how to defend this same pile of dirt that I was staring at.
Yes, part imagination but part just being mindful of your surroundings, of where you are standing, looking, and discovering who came before you and where you might fit into this crazy world.
“We generally think of mindfulness as counteracting our wandering mind, and it does, but it can be larger than that. It can include the practice of just noticing one thing after another as we let ourselves out to play.” - Barry Boyce
Boyce goes on with his Practical List for Mindful Travel (edited and including one more addition from me):
*SLOW down and take your time; experience the moment.
*FEEL those uneven cobblestones, sift through the prickly sand, and touch the mossy rocks.
*SAVOR the food, listen to the sounds, look at the sunset (don’t Instagram it, apply a filter, and tell everyone that it’s a sunset -- you’re not really looking).
*RELAX and put away those devices, tuck away your schedules, and drink it in.
*BOUNCE back if you get really lost (more so than usual), fight with your travel partners, devolve into a crappy mood. Remember, when you get down to it, it’s supposed to be fun.
*REPEAT all the above as necessary and go wander some more. (This was me!)
“One of the keys to wandering is to be driven by unending curiosity.”
- Barry Boyce
I have alluded to mindfulness before, ever since my very first post, Stepping Out, and it might conjure up thoughts on meditation in which mindfulness is a big part of that conversation; however, I know that that might freak people out by also adding, sometimes, a spiritual component.
“Meditation does not require a lot of the things people fear it might, you don’t have to sit in a funny position, light incense, chant, or believe in anything in particular. There’s nothing to join, no special outfits to wear.” - Dan Harris, ABC’s Nightline, Author of 10% Happier
Dan Harris is a proponent of meditation for everyone, even the skeptics. I know I was never one for the ritual of it all but I learned, it doesn't have to be. Harris suggests that you can just meditate for a minute. Stop, breathe in and out, feel the breath and then continue on your day. Dan is a busy guy and remembers when he had to run from story to story with no time to take a break. He learned that sometimes, a minute is all you need. His book goes further into his personal journey.
I took many things away from his book and talks, and I highly recommend; however, for now, it's the mindfulness aspect I focus on when traveling. In the simplest of terms, “mindfulness” is the practice of staying focused on the present moment.
I just want to reiterate that it is all about the experience you want out of your journey. What you put in will affect what you get out of it. Kind of an obvious statement but you do at times have to ask yourself: Why are you traveling? Why are you going there? What do you hope to experience? What if you don’t get the chance to do everything.
“2017 was a huge year for the travel industry, consumers these days often want ‘experiences, not things,’ and that, combined with some pretty crazy cheap flights, has meant that more people are traveling than ever before. But choosing an experience over a thing can still be just another form of consumption. It can still leave you feeling unsatisfied and empty inside.”
- Matt Hershberger, Matador Network
As a writer, I already had some of the talents for mindfulness. I love to sit at a cafe, watch the world go by and develop characters for any various stories I write. It takes imagination, sure, but if you can just take five minutes and look, listen and watch the world without getting in your own way, you might just see something you never experienced before. You can be from any profession or walk of life; it doesn’t matter.
I have this visual of Hemingway, Stein, Dali and Fitzgerald sitting together and conversing about the world before it became really complicated. Now imagine those same Expats in the present time sitting at a cafe while staring at their cellphones, twittering their latest genius thought drinking their Frappuccinos.
In this technological advanced age, the need to disconnect is ever more important. Technology enables us to share our journeys and to stay connected with amazing people all over the world. Heck, I am doing it now talking to you. I currently have friends from Bulgaria, Russia, Thailand and Bahrain and am so glad I can keep in touch with them because it is hard.
I saw this sign at a cafe somewhere in the world that advertised:
“No Wi-fi: Talk to each other, pretend it’s 1995”
Traveling in a mindful way opens you up to a much more enlightening experience. Down lonely alleyways or behind hidden gardens or inside mysterious shops, you just might just find something that inspires you. Maybe you strike up a conversation at a cafe and meet the love of your life (Yes, hopeless romantic here). Any of this can happen if only you slow it down on your travels and wander around Roman plazas, relax on the Spanish Steps, investigate antique bookstores in London, get involved in a spirited game of soccer in a Paris park, converse with locals over black market vodka in an underground Russian bar, get directions from a local Scottish man that you can’t seem to understand…
The possiblities are endless.
Now, Get Lost!