Mindful Traveler: 5 Tips on How to Be Present When Traveling

As travelers, we’re always chasing that ever-elusive feeling of awe and have high expectations for every adventure. We don’t want to merely see the iguanas on the Galápagos Islands or the iconic temple of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, we want to feel fully absorbed in these cherished moments to remember how incredible they felt.

The practice of mindfulness while traveling can help us feel more intensely immersed in the ephemeral. One of its essential elements is mindful meditation, the ancient Eastern tradition of sitting quietly while thoroughly and continually focusing on the moment for several minutes at a time. Mindful meditation during travel can help alleviate stress, and now doctors even prescribe it to patients suffering chronic pain. But it can also be utilized to enrich our travel experiences through the art of slow travel.

Put simply, practicing mindful meditation on vacation involves taking a few minutes out of your day to focus your attention on your breathing. Some people prefer guidance using a meditation app or another recording, but you can also do it on your own. Notice as your mind wanders, and instead of judging your thoughts, refocus each time on your breath. This helps clear any nagging thoughts or other clutter whirling within your mind, and many people find that it helps them reduce negative thoughts. According to researchers, some of the benefits of mindful meditation include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Reducing negative thoughts
  • Improving memory
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Sleeping better
  • Enjoying life more

Taking a moment to breathe helps dispel stress-inducing thoughts and is an easy way to improve your travel experience through meditation. But mindfulness is more than the formal practice of meditative breathing. As a concept, it’s about choosing where to focus your attention so you are entirely in the moment.

Travel as meditation
Ceramic tile interior, Dome of the Chain/Andrew Shiva

Whether you’re hiking through a fjord, eating delicious cuisine or admiring the beauty of the sea, mindfulness is an excellent traveling tool and can enrich your experiences. Sara Clemence, author of “Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel,”says mindfulness, meditation and travel are complementary and can help you get in tune with your destination. “It’s about truly enjoying your surroundings in a new way,” she tells Silversea.

Clemence offers five tips that will help you use mindful travel to enrich your next trip and immerse yourself in the moment while traveling:

Five tips for practicing mindful travel

1. Eat more mindfully

When we go on a foodie vacation, experiencing the tastes of other cultures is one of the great joys of traveling, but we often rush through eating.

“One way to slow down and pay more attention to what’s on your plate is to make eating more challenging,” Clemence says. She will often eat with her non-dominant hand because it forces her to slow down and notice every mouthful.

“Try to distinguish the individual ingredients in any particular bite,” she suggests. Chew thoughtfully, breathe slowly and be fully aware. Savoring your meal in this manner will prompt you to notice and appreciate subtle differences in flavors and textures. You’re guaranteed to enjoy your food more. It may also help you eat less if that’s a goal.

Travel as meditation - Marrakech, Morocco
Eating out in Marrakech, Morocco/Silversea Photo by Lucia Griggi

2. Don’t try to cure jet lag

“Jet lag is your body’s normal response to traveling faster than a human could on their own,” Clemence says. “Try thinking of it as a blessing and a chance to experience these times of day that you otherwise miss out on.”

She cites a trip to Shanghai with her family when she was younger. That first morning, she woke up long before dawn and took a book into the bathroom so she wouldn’t wake anyone else. The streets outside were dark, and there were only a few bicycle bells in the distance. As dawn broke and the sun came up, the bicycle bells in the distance turned into a cacophony of bells as the streets came alive.

“Without jet lag, I would have missed that magical moment that was so memorable,” she says.

3. Go old-school with photography

If you’re used to snapping pictures with your smartphone, consider going back to basics and carrying a camera with film. “There is a physicality to carrying a camera,” Clemence says. “Plus, with film, you don’t have unlimited storage, so you are more deliberate about the picture you take.”

Working with film forces you to consider the light more carefully, to ponder the angle and to frame shots. If you don’t want to go cold turkey with your digital camera, select one day to try the old-school approach to photography. See if it helps you pay more attention to the moment and the experience you’re having as you explore your surroundings.

4. Disconnect from devices

“Mindful travel is about disconnecting from your devices so that you can connect with your destination,” Clemence says. You don’t have to abandon all technology to be mindful (in fact, you may discover you love using a meditation app), but consider whether technology is making things too predictable.

“By using our phones too much, we take the element of surprise out of travel. We look up where to eat or what to see. It removes the element of chance,” Clemence says. Sometimes being present while traveling is easier in a moment that hasn’t been overplanned.

Travel as meditation - Treasury, Petra in Jordan
The Treasury at Petra from the Siq, Jordan/Andrew Shiva

5. Carry a sketch journal

Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, sketching can help you engage with your surroundings and pay closer attention to details you may have overlooked. “It’s a different way of thinking about and recording your experiences,” Clemence says.

On a roll? Embark on a culinary trail with Adam Sachs.