For many of us, postpandemic life will involve less travel to a smaller circle of places – at least for the foreseeable future. Given this, we’ll want to make the most of each precious adventure, no matter how small. But how?
For me, the answer lies in following my mindful travel manifesto: I will keep my suitcase light and my itinerary loose; the places I visit will be fewer, and my pace will be slower.
Mindfulness might sound complicated but it’s really the exact opposite. The simplest definition is to be fully present in the moment, vividly aware and actively engaged with what is happening now. Dialling up the five senses will help me see, hear, smell, taste and touch the heart of what makes a place unique. It’s a way of sinking deeper into each experience, leaving room for joyful discovery and the restorative power of life’s simple pleasures.
Here’s how to practise mindful travel yourself.
To be in the moment you need to fire up the five senses: Feel a fresh breeze as it raises tiny goose bumps on your forearms; listen to the sing-song sounds of children playing in an ancient piazza; let the scent of sizzling onions lead you to open-air food stalls. With your senses as your guide, you’ll connect viscerally to what is happening around you. Further deepen your experience by describing sensations as they rise and fall. In your mind, or even aloud, try to express what your senses are telling you. “Cool tiles under my feet.” “The burst of fresh blueberry waking my taste buds.” One chilly November day, I spent a leisurely lunchtime in a rural trattoria in Chianti. To this day, I can recall the pungent aroma rising from a steaming plate of pasta topped with shavings of freshly scavenged, rare white truffle. The memory never fails to transport me to the Italian countryside.
Let go of the need to see it all, do it all and bring it all. It might feel counter-intuitive, but by doing less you’ll get more from each trip. Resist the temptation to overload your itinerary and you won’t need to rush from one thing to the next. Instead, you’ll enjoy the few things you’ve decided to focus on at an unhurried, relaxed pace. An uncluttered agenda also sets you free to wander without any goal at all. Like the flâneurs of Paris, you can enjoy a stroll for its own sake, immersed in the sights and sounds of a new place. Once, when ambling around a market in Languedoc, I discovered a stall selling bright green local olives called lucques. Had I not allowed myself the pleasure of doing virtually nothing, I would have missed out on those tangy, crunchy olives that still make my taste buds sing.
Once you simplify travel, it’s easy to slow it down. At one extreme, you can come to a full stop in a single place, immersing yourself in the colours and textures of your destination. In lingering, you might experience what the Greeks called kairos time, where the elements align for a magical moment. Punctuate the moment with gratitude: “Right now, I get to watch the sky turn pink as the sun lifts itself over the horizon.” Slowing down makes it possible to appreciate each moment, as it happens. And there’s a bonus: When you stay still long enough, places and faces become familiar. You’ll start to feel welcome and perhaps even a bit like a local.
I like knowing that slow and simple travel is by nature more sustainable. The pandemic might make it greener still, by accelerating the shift away from air travel in favour of rail, road or water. Mindful travel reminds us that while getting from A to B is one thing, seeing what’s in between is just as good, and sometimes better.
Aren’t some of our best-loved travel stories about things that surprised us? Mindful travel leaves room for the unexpected. You can’t make serendipity happen, but you can increase the odds by layering a random quest into a trip. As you seek one thing, you’ll probably find something totally different – and wonderful. On a quest to find my favourite Sangiovese, I visited a small shop in Tuscany and from the corner of my eye I spied the top few steps of a spiral stone staircase. I descended and found myself in a labyrinth filled with thousands of bottles, encompassing vintages from around the globe. When I brought a couple of bottles back up to the shop, the proprietor offered to open one. I found myself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and visitors, sniffing and tasting wine while comparing impressions and happily passing an hour … or was it two? I’m grateful that serendipity took my hand and led me down those steps.
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