Often, when we travel – particularly as Australians – we fling ourselves across the seas. We visit Asia, Europe, and the Americas in search of new experiences, and to sink our teeth into the culture of a foreign land. Mindfulness plays an important role in travel, but often, still, we end up on autopilot.
Mountains of Mindlessness
I travelled a lot growing up. It didn’t feel like much at the time, but I covered a considerable portion of the country. Often my dad and I would drive down from Brisbane, through central New South Wales, stopping at motels along the way, all the way to the Victorian boarder, and the foothills of Mount Kosciuszko. Our destination was a small town near the Snowy Mountains. We ventured down a handful of times to visit my Dad’s closest friend, who lived on his own in a small cottage, surrounded by beautiful flowers, shrubs, and native fauna.
The town was lovely. The house was pretty. The drive was breathtaking. But I didn’t appreciate any of it. There are few stand-out memories involved with the trip, and I completed it several times. I don’t remember what I was doing, but if I had to guess it was playing some kind of game in the passenger seat, or reading a book and listening to music.
I wasn’t present for the most part.
Like most adolescents, I didn’t really value being present. I saw the road trips as a burden, worthy of the usual pleasure-seeking and boredom-dodging. I always wanted some kind of stimulus: a game, a pair of headphones, anything to keep me occupied.
This trend continued for me all through my travels in Europe as an adult, just to a lesser extent. I did indeed travel with headphones, though I only ever wore them when I was alone. I also took my iPad, which has a number of games and apps for keeping me distracted.
Looking back, I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt for all the missed opportunities for mindful appreciation during my travels. I didn’t know any better at the time, and was only trying to do what I felt was best (more often than not involving switching off and tuning out).
Since my ‘mindful awakening’ (see my first post) I have had an interesting realization about the importance of travel, and the impact travel has had on my outlook.
Travelling with Eyes Wide Open
Travel can open us up. Wider than we would ever open up sitting in front of the television. There is an element of excitement, exploration, and even danger in travelling abroad.
Travel also exposes us to new cultures, new tastes and sights and smells that we would never have otherwise fathomed. The lesson I have learned about travel has nothing to do with bucket lists or thrill seeking. Nothing about shopping or vacations or party buses.
Truth be told, it’s far more complicated and nuanced – and yet, paradoxically, so simple.
Travel is important because it deepens our perceptions of how vast the world really is, connects us together in common humanity, and has the capacity to thrust us into ourselves in the present moment. Travel can even help us discover our calling, and ignite our passion for life. Now that I am awake within my own life, I feel a certain responsibility to myself to travel mindfully. We all owe it to ourselves to slow down when we travel, and to literally stop and smell the roses (or whichever native flower you find!).
In my opinion, travel is one of the most important learning experiences we can engage with, and I won’t be switching autopilot on again any time soon. I’ve made a conscious decision to be present for each and every journey.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.