According to Google Trends interest in Mindfulness reached its peak last January, hitting the highest score possible (100) when it only had one of 12 back in January 2004. Mindfulness is rapidly becoming one of the most valuable techniques in our daily lives.
In his TEDx Talk Want to be happier? Stay in the Moment, scientist Matt Killingsworth claims that our mind wanders on average 47% of the time and that mind wandering is a cause of unhappiness rather than its consequence. His data shows grooming and commuting as the activities during which our mind wanders the most, while having sex is by far when our mind loses its focus the least. General traveling, as well as walking, are high up in the mind-wandering scale, mostly because in his research he measured people’s daily lives rather than vacations and long-term journeys. His research supports what Buddhism has been saying for over 2,500 years: living in the present is key to achieving happiness.
While it might seem easier to be present while traveling far from home, mind-wandering can also be an obstacle for the traveler’s enjoyment. Hence, here are my suggestions to help you be mindful, and hence happy, during your travels.
When you arrive at a new place spend time absorbing all it has to offer: its general atmosphere, the street noise, the colours, the smells, how people walk and talk… Leave some time daily to just sit, watch and feel. Make sure to use all your senses as much as possible, in particular the one you have least developed (in my case, the smell). While in nature, make sure to touch it. Whenever possible, walk barefoot and swim naked. Try not to isolate yourself too much from your surroundings, particularly using your headphones.
Without discovery there’s hardly any excitement. New experiences are what will fill your emotions luggage. Find activities that fulfill your curiosity. It can be a taking up a cooking class, exploring a national park, swimming with dauphins or bungee jumping. Whatever is that excites you, DO IT! Take the opportunity your trip brings to do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
When speaking with locals, ask and listen more than talk. Learning as much as possible about their lives and culture will enhance your knowledge of the world, and hence of yourself.
Exploring least known areas and getting lost a bit is a great way of regaining the calmness needed to digest all the newness you’ll be experiencing during a long journey. Scape from the crowds and stay for at least a few days away from the beaten track. Use the time to write, read and meditate.
During my 18-month exploration of Asia, I did precisely this in places like, just to name a few: Bandipur (Nepal), Munnar (India), Ngwe Saung (Myanmar), Khao Yai National Park (Thailand), Luang Nam Tha (Laos), Battambang (Cambodia), Buon Ma Thuout (Vietnam) and Mentawai (Indonesia).
4- The Journey
Understanding this is very important. The journey is as important as the destination itself (if not more). Traveling shouldn’t be about ticking countries or sites seen, but about taking the necessary time to absorb each place visited so as to understand it at least a bit. The real joy is usually more in the doing itself rather than in the outcome.
The pace at which you travel is also crucial. I like taking my time in those places that capture my soul, where I feel enchanted the moment I set foot on them. The reasons can be different: a lively and interesting city like Saigon or Chiang Mai; a stunning remote village like Muang Ngoi Neua (Laos); an empty exotic beach like Ngwe Saung (Myanmar); or a charming friendly town like Bundi (Rajasthan, India) or Ubud (Bali, Indonesia). In all I stayed longer that I had anticipated. Be aware of the pace you travel at; if it doesn’t contribute to your enjoyment, change it.