Going on vacation or exploring a new culture is exciting, but let's be honest: It can cause stress, too. That's where these mindfulness tips come in.
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Traveling to an unfamiliar country, no matter how well-seasoned an adventurer you are, can be intimidating. A new culture to learn, new places to explore, and possibly a new language to decipher—it's easy to see how it all can become overwhelming, fast.
That's why meditation can be even more important when you're traveling than it is in your day-to-day, says Megan Jones Bell, Psy.D., chief science officer at Headspace. "The experience of travel itself can be stress-inducing: the hurry-up-and-wait at an airport, the bewilderment of trying to navigate a new place, the crowds and close quarters of many forms of travel," she explains.
"Meditation practice can support you in bringing mindfulness into the choices you make, such as eating with greater awareness, bringing your full attention to new experiences, and having more compassion for your fellow travelers." (Related: Meditation Can Also Help You Get in the Workout Zone)
Plus, experts say there are immediate health benefits you can score from taking a few minutes to meditate. "Science is just now proving what some spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years; that a consistent meditation practice will lower your stress levels, make you more productive and efficient, normalize your sleep, and boost your immune system—all good things for when you are stressed and traveling," says Lodro Rinzler, co-founder of MNDFL meditation studio in New York City and author of the upcoming book How to Be Decent: A Mindful Guide to a Messed-Up World.
It's also particularly helpful for keeping your emotions in check. "When you think about traveling, the things that probably upset us the most are those that are out of our control: The flight is delayed an hour, there is a screaming baby in the row ahead of you, or the airline lost your luggage," says Jones Bell. "All of these are an exercise in patience, resilience, and emotional regulation. A consistent meditation practice can help teach you [these] important skills so that when you are in a situation out of your control, you are still in control of how you react." (Related: How to Travel with Your Significant Other Without Breaking Up By the End of the Trip)
Below are prime times to either take a few minutes to meditate or simply add more mindfulness to your routine. From your arrival at the airport to the time you touch down, here's how to introduce more zen to your journey into the unknown.
Step 1: When You're Planning
Okay, you don't have to meditate while booking the trip, but one of the first decisions you make is where you'll go—so why not choose a destination that has meditation built right into the itinerary? Some cultures encourage tuning inward to find that inner sense of calm, like in Japan, Thailand, or even Hawaii if you're looking to stay stateside. (Related: Active Things to Do In Honolulu All Year Round)
If you're not sure how to plan your itinerary so it doesn't feel overwhelming, look for adventure-based brands that can help (many have made itinerary-making an art form so no one is too stressed out). REI Adventures, for example, recently launched an 11-day hiking trip through Japan that stops at meditative hot spots like the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, quiet mountain towns along the Nakasendo Trail, and the UNESCO World Heritage Hongu Grand Shrine. And Intrepid Travel offers a nine-day Beautiful Bali expedition, where you'll enjoy moments of peace at the Hindu-Buddhist lake temple Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, at the summit of Mt. Batur at sunrise, and in the hillside village of Sideman. (Related: How to Plan a Staycation Wellness Retreat at Home)
Step 2: On the Way to the Airport
It's not easy to meditate in the frazzled, rush-through-it moments of security, so prepare yourself for one of the most stress-inducing parts of travel beforehand. During your trip to the airport—whether in a car or via public transit—take a few minutes to notice your breath, listen to the sounds around you, and take in your environment, suggests Jones Bell. "The important thing is to be aware of the breath and slow it down," she says. "Focus on the exhale. As you become more aware you will be able to start slowing down the distracting thoughts that often control your mind."
Step 3: At the Airport
Skip stress-eating at the gate or speedily grabbing the first thing you see in the food market, says Jones Bell. Instead, peruse for healthy eating options and practice mindful eating—tuning in to why you are eating. "Eating should be an enjoyable experience for fuel and satiety," she says. "If you can't remember what you ate or how it tasted, you probably could use more mindfulness in your meals." (Here's how flight attendants eat healthy at the airport.)
First, ask yourself a few questions to slow any racing thoughts (and in turn lower stress) and determine your actual hunger level. Are you eating for hunger? Or because of boredom and anxiety? What are you in the mood for? Are you actually thirsty? Once you settle on an option, Jones Bell says to try to be aware of all your senses—how the food smells, tastes, etc., with each bite. Doing so can also help you tune into your "I'm full" cues to prevent overeating. (Keep an eye out for these foods that can help fight stress.)
Step 4: On the Plane
Once you're seated, it's easy to focus on the annoyances of travelers around you, like how someone actually thought it was a good idea to bring Chinese food into an enclosed space. Rather than succumb to the negativity, choose a guided meditation that's tailored specifically for a travel issue you often struggle with (Headspace has specific meditations for those with a fear of flying, for example).
Depending on which airline you've chosen, there may be options right on your back-of-the-seat entertainment console, too. JetBlue, for example, offers more than 20 different meditations on select aircrafts, ranging from two to 10 minutes, for various types of travel experiences (it also includes helpful info for how to sleep sitting upright, calming exercises for kids, and tips for tackling jet lag). Hawaiian Airlines also has a series of in-flight wellness videos that include in-flight and post-flight stretches and healthy tips. (Speaking of Hawaii, make sure you try these Polynesian-inspired workouts while you're there.) Sure, stretching isn't meditation per se, but the gentle movement can be calming.
Pair it with this meditation practice from Rinzler to help you feel chill from 10,000 feet: With your feet flat on the floor, sit in your chair and feel the weight of your body on the seat. Gently lift upward through your spine. Let your gaze settle on a point on the ground three to four feet in front of you (in a relaxed fashion, laser focus not required). Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. Tune into the breath like a radio signal, sensing each one as a unique act. When your mind wanders (as it will), return to the physical sensation of the breath.
Step 5: Once You're There
After your feet are back on solid ground, cue up one of your favorite guided meditations to help you get in the right frame of mind before venturing into the unknown. It doesn't have to be long—even 10 minutes can be effective, says Jones Bell.
Preparing for potentially stressful situations can help, too. Are you someone who likes to have a plan for each day of your vacation? Pick up a guidebook in advance, so you can find out which must-see activities are close together and schedule accordingly. Worried no one will understand you? Download Google Translate, which lets you type phrases to read or speak aloud, and can even decipher menus. (Related: These Essential Oils Can Help with Stress Relief)
As you explore, try to be mindful in your movement, suggests Jones Bell. "Pay attention to your posture, and notice if you are slouched or hunched over," she says. "Simply standing up straight can provide you with the right frame [of mind]. Take time to feel your feet on the floor as they take each step. This brings more awareness to your movement and can change your experience."