Summer and travel go together like peanut butter and jelly. Separately, they’re still great, but together, life just seems to make more sense. There are fabulous vacation destinations for any time of year, but there’s something about summer that makes the call of the open road and the friendly skies a little bit harder to resist. Maybe it’s our inner schoolkid who needs a “summer break” to round out the year and make Fall feel like a fresh start. Or, maybe it’s just the idea of warm sun on our skin after a year under the fluorescent lights of our cubicles and classrooms. But while our schools and offices may be mostly empty, the beaches, campgrounds, highways and airports are most definitely not. And most likely, as you move through this sea of equally frustrated humanity, neither is your mind.
Travel, especially during busy seasons, is the ultimate mindfulness challenge. Delays, traffic, diverted expectations, and, let’s face it, the emotional terrain of irritated strangers, can really pile up to throw your own mental baggage way over the weight limit. Time for a few deep breaths, maybe? They’re free, always available, easily accessible, and have a way of lightening the load just when it feels like it’s time to find an emotional valet. They can also help you have a better time once you get where you’re going, since these days, it seems that even once we get ourselves to a vacation, we don’t really let ourselves be there.
Have you ever come home from a vacation only to think or even say, “I need a vacation to recover from this vacation?” Maybe it was the stresses of travel, or just that you didn’t allow yourself to disconnect from your everyday life back home enough to really appreciate the opportunity to do so. Well, it won’t happen again, not on my watch. A few simple tips can help make your next trip more mindful, and as a result, more relaxing, refreshing and fun.
- Be flexible. There’s that great Woody Allen quote that “We plan and God laughs.” If you don’t believe this in everyday life, travel will make you reconsider your position. There will be at least one moment on your trip where they day you planned is not the day you have, possibly thanks to an airline, but possibly not. Know that this will happen, and when it does, breathe. There may be decisions you can make to adjust accordingly, but stewing in agitation does not need to be one of them. And you never know what may evolve as a result of your changed plans. So, on that note…
- Be open. If you’re lucky, your travel may take you out of your comfort zone. You may see, hear, smell and taste things that don’t appear in your normal life. Observe, pay attention, and take it in. Be surprised, delighted, even shocked. If something seems weird but not dangerous, try it. Have new experiences and notice how they make you feel. Despite what your mom said years ago, talk to strangers, and really listen when they respond. It’s a big world, and there’s a lot to see out there, if you’re open to checking it out.
- Be present. What’s the point of moving your body to a new destination if you’re going to leave your mind behind? Whether you’re canvassing a foreign land or lounging under a palm tree, pay attention. Appreciate the novelties of the scenery, and how differently your senses react to them that what you’re used to looking at every day. If you have traveling companions, connect with them. You’ve got nowhere else to be but right there, so let yourself really be there while you can.
- Be patient. This one lines right up with being flexible (see above). There are aspects of travel, whether they are traffic jams, airport delays, or simply the pace of another culture, that do not align with your personal preferences, but may also be outside of your control. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do about this?” (Yelling at the airline representative doesn’t count, and will probably actually be counterproductive, unless you like middle seats that don’t recline in the back of the plane.) If the answer is no, take a breath. It will pass. In the meantime, have a conversation, play a game, or listen to a song. There are worse things than a little extra free time on your hands.
- Be compassionate. You know that saying about how everyone else is fighting the same battle as you are? Travel is “Exhibit A” for that one. You are all in the same boat, perhaps even literally. Being present can help you see how that person who’s been talking your ear off for hours while you’re stuck on the tarmac is really just nervous, or excited, or distracting themselves from their own irritation. We’re all just trying to get where we’re trying to go, and our reasons are dramatically different and also deeply similar. Be kind, or at the very least, compassionate towards your fellow travelers.
- Be grateful. You get to travel. Whether it’s across town or around the world to parts unknown, you get to take a break from work, school, and the rhythms of your everyday life to see something new, to be a different version of yourself. You get to see with your own eyes how diverse the world really is. You get to acquire firsthand knowledge of how differently people – even in the same region – can do the same basic things, and how at their core, they reflect that we all truly want the same things. We want to see, learn, and experience, and then we want to go home to those we love, and be still until we have the chance do it all again.
The inconveniences of travel are temporary, and if you have the right mindset, they can be less of an annoyance and more of an occurrence. The gifts of travel, on the other hand, can be lasting, if your heart and mind are open, and if you are willing to pay attention.
Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo