“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” I’m sure you are familiar with that famous Mark Twain quote. But how true is it? What happens to those pre-conceived prejudices when you arrive in destination only to be met with anger, signs telling you to go home, shops that have two different price points, and a general feeling of being unwelcome. Tourism phobia, a term that was first used back in 2008 and it is a very real phenomena for these cities, heritage sites, coastal towns and islands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients return home to tell me, “It was beautiful, we had such a great time, but ugh, the locals are so rude.” It stings to hear that. As an advisor, I take it personally. First, I feel responsible for my clients having the time of their lives, but I also feel responsible for sending the best kinds of travellers out into the world to explore it, which means, travellers who have an open mind and are mindful of the impact that their presence may have on a particular community, especially one grappling with an over-influx of tourists. Travel is only prejudice to bigotry if you open your heart, learn not to take things personally, understand the local issues from a local’s perspective and consider being a more mindful traveller.
Okay, so what do I mean when I suggest that we need to become a more mindful traveller? According to Diana Windston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Centre, mindfulness is paying attention to our present-moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is. It is the capacity of our mind to not be lost in the past or future, but to be more present, to be less reactive.”
What is a Mindful Traveller?
A mindful traveller would be someone who is naturally, more respectful of the local culture, someone who is open and willing to observe the experience through a beginners eyes rather than someone who comes into a culture with a set of expectations, nor do they attempt to impose their own culture. Mindfulness is an excellent way to combat anxiety, something many of experience while we’re travelling. It fosters resistance to utilizing instincts (which you may think is counterproductive, especially when it pertains to your safety while travelling), but there is a time and a place for those instincts. Mindfulness requires you to regulate your emotions. For example: If you are taking a stroll through the alleyways of the old Medina in Marrakech, but suddenly, anxiety starts to creep in, and you start to worry that you’ll never find your Riad, the perceived result will be you sleeping out on the street with the small army of cats and stray dogs, following hot on your heels, you can recognize, it’s just a thought. It hasn’t happened yet. In that present moment, you are totally okay, you’re having an adventure. You can listen to the sound of your own footprints echoing off the ancient lime-plaster walls, return to the moment and enjoy it for what it is. That, is mindfulness.
Try Slow Travel
Another way to be mindful is to slow down. When we swoop into these destinations, over-run with tourists, list in hand, we hurry about, ticking off all the sites, snapping the all-important photo for the Gram, all the while, trying to carve out those “local” moments. Instead, skip travel during peak seasons. Get outside of the city centres, way outside. Pare down that list of must-see places, and consider lesser known places. Don’t rush through meals, savour them. Put your five senses to good use. Listen to language and dialect differences, observe local every day life, note how you feel about a space, a landscape, an exchange. And Tap into the power of scent, one of the underrated senses! I’m going to get a little scientific here: Our brain’s limbic system, which is home to the olfactory bulb, a neuro structure of the vertebrate forebrain, can identify and remember 10,000 different scents. These scents contribute to our moods, memory, behaviour and emotions.
One of my favourite ways to be more mindful is to bring a small journal to jot down notes. I know everyone likes to use their phone, but there’s too many distractions on your phone. Writing things down, keeps you in the moment. You can record observations to remember later, doodle or draw things that you see. The act of writing itself can force you to be in the moment. And that is really what mindfulness is all about. Being present. Giving space to others. And not letting unhealthy thoughts control your experience.