If you tend to get scared and confused when you encounter something you don’t understand (like me), you’ve probably asked yourself at least once in the past year, “Just what the heck’s all this mindfulness drivel?” But maybe unlike me, you haven’t decided to check out book after book on the subject from the library until the librarians know exactly what books you’re going to be handing them on your return.
After reading up on the subject, and experiencing a lot of exercises firsthand in therapy, I’ve come to the conclusion that mindfulness isn’t drivel! It isn’t even scary or confusing! Mindfulness helps improve all aspects of your life. But since I am a travel agent, this blog post includes tips to use mindfulness to help improve your enjoyment of your trips. Because you only get 2 weeks of vacation a year—which is, frankly, absurd, but now’s not the time or place for that rant--and you want to maximize the vacation’s healing benefits.
Tip #1: Lose the Phone
If you’re lucky, and you’re taking an international trip, your phone won’t even work at all! Yes, I said lucky, and I meant it! The average American checks their phone 46 times per day. (And that number increases if you’re under 34!) So why will ditching your phone on your trip benefit your mindfulness? It’s so simple, it almost goes without saying: if you’re looking at your phone, you’re not paying attention to your trip.
Oh, suuuure, you can multitask, suuuuuuure.
I hate to break it to you, but multitasking isn’t a thing, according to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller. (Feel free to read the whole article here.) If you’re switching from task to task (i.e. looking at your phone to paying attention on your trip), you’re overexhausting your brain. Overexhausting your brain should be saved for work (or preferably never), definitely not your vacation!
Tip #2: Take Fewer Pictures
I know, I know. What will you show off on Facebook? How will you get hearts on Instagram?
As I just mentioned, our brain isn’t hardwired to multitask. So while you’re taking a picture, you’re not actually seeing the object you’re photographing. You’re seeing a digital representation of that image. Mindfulness is about being fully present while experiencing things. But as this study about how Instagram affects your memory proves, if you’re snapping a photo, you’re not fully present.
Now, I’m not saying, “Swear off taking pictures altogether!" Just set yourself a limit. (Or better yet, get a film camera and only take one roll of pictures your entire trip!)
Tip #3: Practice Your Breathing
It seems like vacations are more prone to going awry than most things. Perhaps it’s because there are more variables, or perhaps it’s because vacations are generally newer, less familiar experiences than the daily grind (or that not enough people use travel agents!!), but for a lot of people traveling is just plain stressful. You’ll never get the amazing health benefits from travel if your body is betraying you by releasing stress hormones willy-nilly!
If you don’t currently have a meditation practice in place, starting a meditation routine on vacation might just add more stress, but what you can do instead is focus on your breathing. If your trip has started to get stressful (lost luggage, missed connection, hotel lost your reservation, you forgot to pack toothpaste), take a deep breath into your tummy, and then, for as long as you can—but no more than 10 minutes--focus on your breathing.
Think “In” on the inhales and “Out” on the exhales. Your mind will almost certainly wander—that’s what minds do. Just gently refocus yourself on your breathing, and the stress of your trip will slowly seep away. Like most exercises, the more you practice them, the more beneficial they are. You can practice breathing even when you’re not in a stressful situation just to make the breathing more beneficial when you are in a stressful situation.
Tip #4: Ground Yourself
This is also an exercise I picked up from therapy, and it’s generally used to calm a scattered mind or a panic attack, but I also think it’s great for you getting to notice your surroundings. It’s easy to remember because the pattern goes 5-4-3-2-1. You can do this in your head, or you can write it down (in a travel journal maybe?).
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
If you’re using the exercise because, like I said, travel is stressful, the first items you notice for each category will do. If you’re doing it to better appreciate your trip, pick some of the most unusual things you’re experiencing. Maybe you just saw a moose, or a rainbow, or snow in July—just something out of the ordinary. I promise it will make your trip that much better.
Tip #5: Eat Mindfully
Food is a precious part of our lives, but we rarely take the time to appreciate everything that goes into our meals. Vacations are a good time to eat more mindfully, because we feel less rushed, and we’re more likely to try food we’ve never had! I’ve seen this exercise around, and I really like it. If you’re feeling too lazy to click this link (I can’t blame you), here’s a summary.
If you are eating finger food, hold it in the palm of your hand. Feel the weight, size, and texture of it. If it’s not finger food, move on to the next step.
Look at your food. What are the colors, the textures, what is it made of? If you don’t know, what do you think it’s made of? Notice the light interacting with your food.
Think about your food. Where did it come from? What animals and/or plants had to be raised to bring this food to your plate? Who did raised those animals and/or plants? Who brought the food to the restaurant or store? Who prepared it?
Touch your food. Either with your fingers, or with your silverware. Feel the density. Does it feel squishy, crunchy, smooth?
Smell your food. Is the smell strong or weak? Pleasant or less pleasant? How is the rest of your body reacting to this smell?
Place the food in your mouth (but don’t chew). Notice how your body moves to accept this piece of food. Does your arm move all the way up to your mouth, or do you bend a little? Does your mouth open really wide, or are you a bit more demure in your eating? Feel the piece of food with your tongue.
Taste your food. Take two bites—no more—and focus on the flavors that have been released by your teeth. Don’t swallow yet, simply notice how the food has changed in your mouth, and how it continues to change. Then continue to chew.
Swallow your food. Before you swallow, see if you can notice your body getting ready to swallow your piece of food. Pay attention to how the food moves through your body as long as you can.
You may only have the patience to do this with your first bite of food, and that’s okay! Every little bit of mindfulness helps make your travel even better. Don’t wait until your trip to try these out—the more you practice mindfulness, the more beneficial it is!
Now get out there and go!