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Mindful Travel: Ten Travellers and Bloggers Review their Take on the Evolution of Travel

Travelling is almost always a fun and exciting experience that gives you the opportunity to learn new things, discover different cultures and explore the unknown. Travel is filled with surprises – some may disappoint you, but most of the time travel can be unexpectedly wonderful.

The best way to really enjoy your chosen travel destination is to live a mindful lifestyle. You can make the most of any experience with the right attitude. Savour the moment and be in awe of your surroundings by bringing mindfulness to your travels.

If you’re not sure how to start, keep reading for my top tips on how to become a more mindful traveller.

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. 

Are you a Mindful Traveller?

Learn how to make a positive impact when you travel and increase your chances of having magic moments.

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.

MW mindful travel magic moment
A magic moment: Releasing diyas into the Narmada River, Maheshwar

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.

Travel writer Shivya Nath, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Travel writer Shivya Nath, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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

Philippa with people in Rajasthan

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. 

Mindful traveller Gaurav in India
Gaurav Bhatnagar of The Folk Tales in Northeast India

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.

Mindful traveller Ansoo Gupta in Sri Lanka
Ansoo Gupta among the Buddhas in Sri Lanka.

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. 

Mindful traveller Shubham in Himalayan mountains in India
Shubham Mansingka in the Himalayas

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.  

Mindful traveller Ellie in Kabani India
Mindful traveller Ellie Cleary in Kabani, India

Experiencing the new by Ellie and Ravi

One of the biggest factors that has made us fall in love with travel and travelling is the change in perspective that it brings. When we travel, we are no longer surrounded by the things, people and places that help us to spend much of our daily lives on auto-pilot, instead we have the opportunity experience new places, surroundings and people from a place of newness and curiosity — without the usual judgement and filtering. Travel has the potential to take us to new perspectives as well as places. 

Mindful travel is about being open to those perspectives. As these last few months have reminded us, travel is certainly a privilege — whether through money or the value of your passport, travel is definitely not an option that is open to all of us. And so for those of us that can travel, our responsibility is to do so mindfully. To take in the experience, consider our impact and choices when we travel, and reflect on the fact that our lens of viewing places and people when we travel is not the only valid take. 

Mindful travel, for us, covers being aware of our environmental footprint, trying to cut down on the waste we generate through travel, supporting grassroots local tourism companies and community tourism initiatives, staying in hotels and accommodation that are locally owned and working on reducing their footprint, as well as buying from local handicraft makers and supporting cultural tourism. Mindful travel is not about thinking of everything in advance, but rather doing our bit and appreciating the differences as well as similarities between cultures that create a memorable travel experience. 

Ellie & Ravi are the founders of Soul Travel Blog and Soul Travel India. Based between the UK & India they help travellers to discover the best conscious travel options that deliver a more fulfilling travel experience all-round, whether you’re travelling near or far.
Mindful travellers Bret and Mary in Antarctica
Mindful travel pioneers Bret and Mary of Green Global Travel in Antarctica

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. 

Mindfulness must begin with an understanding that we humans are just one part of a complex ecosystem that encompasses everything– the grass, trees and flowers, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, the birds and the bees, the mammals and the reptiles, and of course all of the other humans who share our community, our town, our city, our country, our continent, our planet. To recognize the interconnectedness of all living things is to recognize that our choices matter, and have consequences for others. Here is where mindfulness hopefully leads to responsibility.

So what does mindful travel look like? In terms of nature and wildlife, it means considering the rights and needs of animals as we want others to consider our own. It means never putting our desire for selfies over the needs of the animal, and never forcing them to do things that are detrimental to their well-being for our amusement. But it also means being as respectful of their space and their natural habitat as we would want guests to be of our homes.

Whether it’s riding Elephants, posing with drugged tigers, swimming with captive dolphins, or getting too close to wild bison at Yellowstone National Park, every day travellers make irresponsible choices that often lead to tragic consequences. And 10 to 15 years ago, most people legitimately didn’t know that these things weren’t okay. 
But now that we know better, we can and must do better, and hopefully help to educate others around us how to do the same. Because without more mindful travel, some of these incredible animals may not be around for our children’s children to enjoy. 

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 ecotourismwildlife conservation, and green living.

Lauren in Sri Lanka contemplating mindful travel
Lauren at Pidurangala Rock in Sri Lanka contemplating mindful travel

A thoughtful approach to nature by Lauren

Mindful travel means being thoughtful and responsible as we see the world. It’s very important to be mindful of our impact on the planet, people, and animals, and to make a positive impact wherever we go. While it can be a very complex topic and there are always ways to improve, it’s all about progress over perfection. Being a mindful traveller means continually challenging ourselves to learn about ethical and sustainable ways to travel, choosing responsible tourism practices, and sharing what you’ve learned and experienced with others.

There are some really easy ways that you can incorporate the concept of mindful travel into your next holiday. First, I recommend choosing vegan meals over omnivorous dishes because it is better for you, animals, and the planet. A vegan lifestyle is a healthier choice, it’s more eco-friendly in a staggering amount of ways (uses less water, uses less land, creates less pollution, doesn’t contribute to rainforest destruction, and the list goes on), and it isn’t cruel to animals. Ditching animal products is the single biggest impact that a person can make to lead an eco-conscious lifestyle.

Next, I suggest choosing wildlife tourist attractions that are kind to animals. There are activities that are universally cruel to animals (elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, whales in captivity, aquariums with touch tanks, hugging sloths). Do your research ahead of time to make sure that you’re visiting responsible and reputable places that aren’t greenwashing. If you love animals, it’s best to view them from afar in their natural environment or you can visit a proper sanctuary for animals that can’t be released back into the wild after being rescued. You can also take it a step further like I do by combining your love for animals with giving back. You can travel and volunteer with responsible animal organizations around the world. These organizations have programs that help animals, mostly employ locals (but need some extra hands on deck with smaller tasks that volunteers can do), and have a long lasting positive impact.

Lauren Yakiwchuk is a travel blogger and content creator at Justin Plus Lauren, a travel website featuring outdoor adventures and kind travel, and Ontario Hiking, a hiking blog showcasing the best trails around her home province of Ontario, Canada. She loves discovering beautiful places in nature, uncovering the best finds in cities and small towns, and eating delicious vegan meals wherever she goes. 
Mindful traveller Jazzmine in Costa Rica
Jazzmine Raine in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

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. 

  1. Transportation – think local and shared transportation, and flying direct (stopovers use more fuel and release more emissions).
  2. 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!). 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 

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