What is Mindful Travel? Ten Travellers and bloggers offer their take on the evolution of travel
TRAVEL NEEDS TO CHANGE … and become more responsible, sustainable and mindful. Mindful travel is a phrase that is becoming increasingly common. It’s used to describe an approach to travel — and to life — that is more aware of the impact our travels and our decisions have on the environment and on local communities. Also called responsible travel, sustainable tourism, and ecotourism, mindful travel asks us to consider our travel decisions more carefully and ask ourselves some tough questions that can be uncomfortable, such as:
- Is the money we’re spending on our trip benefiting the local community?
- Are we having a positive impact on the local environment and community?
- Are we carefully choosing destinations and accommodations that practise sustainability?
- Do we carry a reusable water bottle and refrain from adding more plastic pollution to the planet?
- Are we respecting local people and animals, and not using them simply as props for our selfies and Instagram feed?
There is an entire section devoted to Responsible Travel on this site, but for me, the phrase mindful travel has an added connotation to it. To me, being mindful means being aware and encompasses the spiritual aspect of life. When you take a mindful approach to travel, you notice things. With a mindful approach, travel becomes a meditation … an experience of being alive in the world … instead of a consumer-oriented, commodified activity designed to maximize your pleasure and keep you distracted.
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Mindful travel has always been important to me, since I first started travelling in India in 2005. I never wanted to be “merely a tourist,” I wanted a more immersive experience of travel. And as a blogger and travel writer, I have always tried to learn as much as I can about India, and show respect for the culture in my writing. I wrote about My journey to mindful travel here, for my speech at the Himalayan Travel Mart. But of course I am always learning and growing and my definition of mindful, or responsible travel, keeps changing too.
In this collaborative post, I’ve asked 10 travellers to share their take on mindful travel, what it means to them, and tips.
The Magic Moment by Mariellen
People travel for different reasons. I travel for the Magic Moment.
What is the magic moment? Hard to explain, except through story. This is a perfect example, My first bus ride in India. Or my experience at the 2010 Kumbh Mela. Or going on a spiritual journey to Tiruvannamalai. Or visiting Varanasi for the first time. Or waking up in a remote Himalayan village.
It’s a moment of transcendence, when the beauty or truth of a situation or place suddenly hits you. And you feel connected, alive, lit up.
It’s like a whole new universe opens up within you, and with dawning realization you understand more about the place — and about yourself. This is the essence of transformative travel, letting a situation or place affect and change you.
It could be when a child hands you a candy on board a bus travelling through rural Rajasthan. Or the way the early morning sun filters through the trees of Kanha National Park, lighting up a veritable garden of eden. Maybe you’re feeling hungry and alone on a long train ride in India, and a family dressed in their shiny best clothes shares their elaborate lunch with you. Or you’re grieving an irreplaceable loss and you find solace in a sacred river. It could be the soaring sight of the mighty Himalayas in Kumaon or rituals at dusk in mystical Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh.
The magic moment can happen at anytime, and luckily it is in no way affected or influenced by how much money you spend. It may however be influenced by the amount of effort you put into the journey, or the openness of your heart. But the magic moment has nothing to do with money, luxury, or consumerism and this is why, for me, it’s an essential element of mindful travel.
When you are open, aware, and connecting with the local people and culture, you are practising what I call mindful travel. And this is exactly when the magic moment can occur. And, in the end, I believe it’s these experiences that are priceless …. and truly make our lives rich.
Mariellen Ward is the publisher of Breathedreamgo.
Making a commitment to mindful travel by Shivya
Much has changed since I set out on my first solo trip and began my journey as a travel writer / blogger in 2011. Travelling has become more accessible, flights are cheaper than ever before and Instagram has changed the way we see the world.
In the age of over-tourism and in the midst of a climate crisis, mindful travel is not just a pressing need to protect the natural and cultural heritage of our world. It is also the only way we can still find authentic experiences, engage meaningfully with locals and savour the pristine beauty (or what remains of it) on our planet.
Simply put, it is a commitment to travel choices (think getting there, where to stay, what to eat, what to do) that are mindful of the environment, inclusive of local communities, and bring about an inner transformation.
Shivya Nath is the founder of the award-winning travel blog – The Shooting Star and the author of a bestselling travel memoir. She is a passionate advocate for offbeat, responsible, slow and vegan travel. Her work has been featured on National Geographic Traveller, The Washington Post, BBC Travel and other leading publications. Connect with her on Instagram @shivya
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I vividly remember that night. I was living in Delhi then, back in 2011, slowly learning the ropes of solo travel and freelance writing. I had spent the past week or two in Himachal, overwhelmed by the beauty of its mountains, forests and rivers. Now as the overnight bus winded along, I was shaken awake by the broken roads and shocked to see entire hillsides engulfed in fire. Smoke covered what would’ve been starry skies. Orange flames danced across the dense forest. I could almost hear the trees shrieking, almost feel the burning heat of the fire. Yet as the bus rolled along, I could do nothing. I sat awake all night, catching signal here and there to google if this was normal and how long it would go on. That’s when the term “climate change” first *really* entered my radar. I had heard of global warming and rising temperatures, that Maldives might be underwater by 2020, that Himalayan glaciers were melting at record pace… but I had no idea that it was one intricate web. That excessive consumption by humans had led to the overuse of natural resources, oppression of native communities, exploitation of animals and destruction of native forests. As a result, the natural balance was out of order – and still is. Take forest fires in India for instance. 95% happen because of human activity – and fire seasons are nothing new. But the severity and frequency of wildfires, droughts and heat waves has been increasing not just here but globally due to climate change. In the past year alone, we’ve witnessed unprecedented fires in the Amazon, the Australian bush, California and several parts of India. It was on that night, as I watched the forest go up in flames and read, horrified, about a future ravaged by climate change, that I swore to walk down a different path. It was the beginning of my journey towards (advocating for) minimalism, responsible travel, veganism and sustainability – one that is still shaping up in unexpected ways. What about you, were there any triggers that made you more aware of the challenges facing our planet?
A journey with the Raika community by Philippa
For me, mindful travel isn’t just about getting off beat. There is no point in driving through offbeat destinations or just staying there for a night, clicking a couple of pictures of locals or rural life and then moving on to the next destination. With the selfie and Instagram travel culture, travel has become incredibly selfish and this needs to change. We need to think, not only about the impact the journey has on us, but also about the impact that we are having on the communities that we travel to. Off beat doesn’t automatically mean sustainable or responsible travel, we need to think less about being voyeuristic and more about being immersive, be inquisitive, yes but also be respectful, remember that the communities being visited may also like to know more about you, it is a two way street. Think, are you being positively impactful?
Take for example Pushkar Fair and the Raika community. The Pushkar Fair was originally a fair where the nomadic communities of India would come together to trade camels. 30+ years ago, a few tourists visited, overtime this became a big tourist attraction, predominantly for the photo opportunities but who there, actually gave a second thought to the Raika communities who were there to trade? They get a camera stuck in their face, no recompense and people move on to the next photo op.
Tens if not hundreds of travel companies send thousands of tourists every year to this fair, but my question is, do any of them bother to arrange any meaningful interactions with the Raika, to learn about their lives, their hardships and the perils they face? Do any of them contribute to them in any way? The answer is no. Without the Raika there would be no fair and yet they do not benefit at all. The lifestyle of the Raika is in danger, camel numbers over the last 30 years have dwindled and loss of grazing rights have meant that sustaining their traditional way of life is in danger.
Instead of this, we came up with a Raika Journey which was designed to be run by and for the Raika community. A small group of travellers spent 4N/5D living with this unique community. We learned about the camels, the medicinal plants they forage on, the benefits of camel milk, the gods that the Raika worship, what they eat, we spent a night camping out in the desert with them and spent a day with the ladies and children who are left behind for months at a time to discover how they cope. We had translators but not just for us, but so the Raika could also ask us questions about our lives, remember, this is a two way street. When had these communities had such an opportunity.
At the end of the journey we all left much more enriched for the experience and the money spent was directly donated to the Raika Camel Dairy in Sadri which is an initiative to help them to maintain their traditional ways.
I appreciate that this is an extreme example and not one that is available to everyone, but think, slow down, even in cities. Why rush through Jaipur or Cochin or Calcutta, tick off the main monuments and move on? Each of these destinations has so much to offer, a week could easily be spent in each one. Get to know more about the destination, shop at the local markets, buy chai from the street chaiwala, invest in the local communities, that way, you will have a more rewarding experience and the people benefit, not to mention the ecological benefits of a hotel not having to change the linen every 1-2 days! As I always say, “Monuments provide the backdrop, but people create the experiences.”
Philippa Kaye, founder of Indian Experiences and Author of Escape to India has specialised in travel to India since 1998. She has spent thirteen years living in and extensively exploring India and has always advocated getting off the beaten track, discovering India differently.
Opening up to new cultures … and new ideas by Gaurav
I have traveled and worked with rural communities for over a decade. In initial days, despite the good intentions of empowering the communities through responsible tourism, I sometimes put myself on an upper, more privileged pedestal. As travelers, we sometimes tend to do so when we travel to rural communities on culturally immersive holidays. I believe mindful travel is about experiencing and observing the communities and their beliefs the way they are without prejudice. Mindful travel is to put aside our own identity, our social and financial stature, and upbringing and belief system. If something does not fit our frame of beliefs or lifestyle, it does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with it.
We work with artisans in the north east who choose to live a simple life. But that does not necessarily imply that they aren’t earning a decent living for their family – thanks to their craft and their involvement in responsible tourism. We do immersive holidays with communities in Uttarakhand who are farmers, and basket and carpet weavers, yet they are learned, well travelled, and close to their roots. The matrilineal communities in Meghalaya track the lineage of their family through the mother’s side, not their father’s. We have been to the tribal communities in Rajasthan where it is normal for a young boy and girl to choose each other freely and live together before marriage. There is no right or wrong, and the best way to experience such diverse Indian cultures is to be mindful of such surprises.
Gaurav Bhatnagar is the founder of The Folk Tales, a tour company that helps travelers plan responsible holidays in India.
Everything starts with awareness by Ansoo
Five years back, when I founded OneShoe Trust for Responsible & Mindful Travels, a lot of people asked me what is ‘mindful travel’ and why did I feel it necessary to put it in my initiative’s name at the peril of making it too long. I did that for two reasons. One because I wanted people to get more aware and inquisitive about ‘mindful travel’ and second because being responsible about your travel choices is crucial but not enough. The foundation of this responsibility is mindfulness.
As is wont to happen in our circles, a term gets coined and the more it catches on, the quicker it loses its essence and is soon misconstrued in ways that it was never intended. Same is the case with ‘Mindfulness’. It’s not just about meditation, it’s not just about living in the present moment or about accepting one’s feelings etc. Yes, it is all this but first and foremost, it is about awareness. It is about being conscious. It is about the ability to feel and assess the environment around you and within you in an objective way, without getting influenced by gimmicks, societal constructs, fads, personal biases or individual gains. It is about connecting to the outside world in a way unique to you, which can only happen if you are connected with the world that resides within you — within your own mind. This is a hard practice. So for me, mindful travel is an adventure unique to me. It is tough, it is fraught with discomfort and even simple activities like wandering through a local wet market in a small village in an unfamiliar land become a spiritual travel experience. When a traveller starts feeling these deep connections with the destination, that’s what is mindful travel to me.
A mindful traveller doesn’t fall for bucket lists, top-ten, must-see, must-do or what’s trending on google. A mindful traveller is more attuned to history, geography , flora, fauna, local produce, local culture and also to local problems faced by the people of that place. A mindful traveller understands that travelling is not just about beautiful pictures and luxury ; that there’s no good answer to ‘when is the best time to go to X’ or ‘how many days is enough to see Y’.
A mindful traveller is a citizen of the world, deeply connected and concerned for the world, moving from one place to another strengthening these connections.
Ansoo Gupta is the founder of OneShoe Trust which works at the cross-roads of sustainable travel, climate action and each individual’s responsibility towards the planet. She holds talks, workshops, webinars and large format travel shows to spread awareness about issues like over-tourism and how all of can become better travellers so that we all can be agents of positive change wherever we go. Having travelled to 80+ countries, she firmly believes that, if done consciously, travel is what can unite the whole world.
Choose a homestay and make friends for life by Shubham
Mindful travel, according to me, means making the best use of natural resources and enhancing the eco-system to better the environment. It includes (but is not limited to) eating local food, possibly staying in a local’s home, taking public transport, and a healthy cultural exchange so that both parties know and respect more about each other. Mindful travel, in a nutshell, would mean minimising the negative affect and leaving a positive impact on the destination that you visit. Ideally mindful travel would also mean community development, while respecting nature, culture, customs and traditions.
Homestays, for example. When you choose a homestay for your accommodation, it means you are directly benefiting the local economy — and it is very important for locals to benefit from tourism.
In the Upper Neahi Village, near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Great Himalayan National Park, there are eight or nine homes and one homestay in the village. Over the course of two or three years, I have visited this village so many times that the host family has become very close to me. Now I get invited to the village festivities and we exchange gifts, which is a great example of cultural exchange.
By choosing a homestay you have the opportunity to forge close relationships with the locals, eat the same food that they eat — locally grown in the fields — and learn about local crafts. All by simply choosing to stay at a homestay.
Shubham Mansingka is a professional travel blogger from India focusing on culture, trekking, food & heritage. His stories and photographs have been published in many reputed newspapers, magazines and online mediums. He chronicles his trips on his award winning travel blog TravelShoeBum.
Experiencing the new by Ellie and Ravi
Mindfulness and animal welfare by Bret and Mary
In these troubling times, when so many people have become self-focused and seemingly oblivious to the impact their actions have on others, the concept of mindful travel has become more vital than ever. Especially when we stop for a moment to consider how each of us can be the change we want to see in the world.
Bret Love & Mary Gabbett launched Green Global Travel in 2010 to share their deep love for ecotourism adventures, inspire people to travel and live more sustainably, and encourage everyone to do their part to make the world a better place. Check out their website for more stories about responsible ecotourism, wildlife conservation, and green living.
A thoughtful approach to nature by Lauren
5 tips to start your mindful travel journey by Jazzmine
There’s a lot of buzz words out there—sustainable, responsible, conscious, eco-travel—however, they all point to the same concept. Mindful travel is the act of making decisions in a destination that ensure you aren’t harming its local society, economy, and environments. This might sound big and scary at first, but breaking it down into 5 areas can help you start your mindful travel journey.
- Transportation – think local and shared transportation, and flying direct (stopovers use more fuel and release more emissions).
- Accommodation – think locally-run and locally-staffed, while paying fair wages to all. Eco-friendly and/or zero waste spaces are totally a plus (and they do exist! You just gotta look for them!).
- Food and Beverage – think local! Choosing Mom and Pop shops over global chains ensures the money spent on food and beverage stays within the community. Saying no to over packaged and plastic wrapped items is a must for minimizing your ecological footprint, as well as foods that are imported into the destination.
- Activities and Tours – when exploring a destination, be sure to choose tour operators and activities that do not put people, animals, or the planet in harm’s way.
- Shopping – how can your choice of purchasing goods within the community ensure that money spent in the destination stays in the destination (and supports vulnerable communities)? Remember, tourism leakage in developing countries can be as high as 60%, meaning for every 100USD spent, only 40USD remains in the local economy.
Before you choose to travel, do your research about your chosen destination. Learn to respect their local customs, languages, cultures, and traditions, and find options in the above mentioned categories that cultivate a mindful experience that puts people, animals, and the planet first.
Come home with a suitcase full of memories, not imported souvenirs.
Jazzmine Raine is a social entrepreneur and content creator living in Chandigarh, India. She is the Director and Founder of Hara World, an experiential education and impact travel organization for youth, made famous for their zero waste guesthouse, Hara House. She also leads impact projects such as Causeartist, Curated Consciously, and Sustainable Travel Network.
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