It was cold – the kind of cold where you can see your breath in the bedroom. But I wasn’t in a room; I was in a yurt, in the middle of the Gobi Desert, in landlocked Mongolia. Our small wood fire had burnt out hours ago, and so as I pulled on my thermal layers and laced up my shoes, I monitored my breathing through puffs of condensation. The sun was just coming up, casting a pink light over the rippled sand. There was not a sound as I set off running across the dunes, with no particular destination in mind.
That was 10 years ago, and I can’t count the number of flights, road trips, cruises and train journeys I have been on since. But I still remember how happy I felt in that early morning moment. It was only 15 minutes, but it was 15 minutes that underpinned the next few days. A small moment of mindfulness and the very reason why I love travel.
For most people, travel is a precious commodity full of activities and experiences to savour. But travel can also bring obstacles and distractions. So how do we remain wholly present in the now? Here, a few tips for staying mindful when you’re on the road.
1 NOTICE THE SMALL THINGS
Visiting a destination, whether for the first time or the 10th, can bring sensory overload, making it easy to lose sight of what is actually in front of us. By asking yourself simple questions, you can bring awareness to your surroundings: What can I see around me? What colours do I notice? What noises do I hear? What’s that delicious smell? What is the texture of the road I am walking on? You’ll start to discover things that you may not have noticed before, and you’ll also create a memory imprint that will help you remember your experience later.
2 MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
Mindfulness has the power to turn the seemingly ordinary into the extraordinary, by causing us to pay closer attention to the details. Get rid of preconceptions of places and things, and appreciate them for what they really are, and what they offer in the moment. You’ll start to feel more comfortable in your current location, rather than worrying about what you might be missing out on.
3 CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
Often when you travel, you’re surrounded by people who are not as privileged as you. Remember where you are and where you have come from, and be grateful for the journey. At the end of each day, take five minutes to note down things for which you are grateful. By gathering these thoughts, you’ll not only show respect to locals, but will appreciate your surroundings much more.
4 ALLOW DOWNTIME
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of travel, but by trying to do everything, you miss more than you think. Plan your day, then cut out a few of the experiences so that there is some time for the wonderfully unexpected to happen.
5 TAKE A BRAIN VACATION
It doesn’t matter where you go, your brain comes with you, and it brings with it a host of worries. The Headspace app is created to give you moments of guided meditation and mindfulness wherever you are – even if you only have 10 minutes to spare. Try it the next time your brain starts to get busy and full of unnecessary distractions.