On the front of our homepage sits a small wooden cabin. Sat atop a long pile of wooden planks, surrounded by endless snow, big skies and boundless plains, this little cabin tells a story. Quiet, peaceful and still, it represents our favourite part of travel: the ability to get away; to have space; time to think; be ‘mindful’ (that word again); and to focus more fully on what is going on around us, rather than what is ticking over in our minds. These moments don’t just take place on top of a remote snowy mountain, but in the middle of chaotic cities, creaking trains and feverish tourist spots.
These happy and peaceful moments are what keep us travelling.
At the end of last year we were in Berlin. Beautiful, frenetic and cold Berlin. After a tiring day of walking around the East side of the city, I sat down on the freezing steps outside a supermarket. Ahead of me was the glittering river, criss-crossed with bridges, evening traffic and people heading home. It was a busy, noisy and boisterous part of the city. But as I sat still, quietly watching rush hour unfold, I felt happy. It was only ten minutes, but it was ten minutes that underpinned the next few days. My small moment of mindfulness and the very reason why I love travel.
We regularly read excellent articles on ‘must pack’ essentials for the regular traveller. Extra batteries, inventive little gadgets, laptops and adaptable chargers, always make the list. Whilst these are all essential items for anyone heading out on an adventure, we also wondered what people pack to fit with their style of travel. What do the thrill seekers pack? The culture vultures? The foodies?
As travellers always seeking those little moments of appreciation, we noticed that we regularly pack a few small things, to help coax out those instances of calm. Here are just a few, that help us pause, stop and take a moment to appreciate the adventure we are on.
1) A Journal of Positive and Lovely Things
Simple but effective, we always take a notebook and a pen when we travel, in order to write down the small things that made us smile that day. A little trinket in a shop; a view; that first sight of the sea; or soft hotel bed sheets, it is these small things that make up your day, your trip, and ultimately your entire experience of a place. We always try and make sure we do this after a particularly stressful or rubbish day. Delayed planes, food poisoning or an argument over directions, all plague even the best of holidays. However, focus on something small and positive, and it is much easier to let these things pass. We are currently using the amazing [easyazon_link identifier=”9198021508″ locale=”UK” tag=”twithatra-21″]Greatness Journals[/easyazon_link], which whilst demanding a lot of detail, are great at focusing us on happier things. Hurray for the small things!
2) Brain Vacation
Someone once asked us if we travel to escape. I’m sure we all travel to escape: escape our jobs, our routine, the rubbish British weather, a breakup. Yet regardless of whether you do escape to that golden Caribbean beach or isolated mountain in New Zealand, your brain still comes along for the ride. And your brain brings with it its own host of friends: worries. I remember walking through the palaces of Saint Petersburg, worrying about whether or not I had selected the right mortgage. I remember watching a choir sing in the White House in Washington, wondering whether or not I should end my then long-term relationship. Travel doesn’t let you escape those pesky worries. But it does afford you a little more time to sit back and give your brain a rest. For this reason, we are big fans of mindfulness apps. Our favourite, Headspace, is easy to use, lovely to look at and genuinely effective. Ten minutes, simply focusing on your breathing, the comfy sofa beneath you, or the sound of voices around you, gives your brain a breather. A genuine chance to escape when the stress of travel or worries from home, pop up to say ‘hello’.
3) Escaping Social Media
Remember when you used to go abroad and the only link you had with home was a battered phone card and a suspicious European phone box? Every holiday, we would religiously ring our Grandma, tell her the weather was nice (we were largely living it up in Tenerife) and then tell her we would speak to her in a week’s time. Those were the days. Without realising it, anyone prior to 1999 or 2000 was travelling and holidaying mindfully. Home was a distant and unreachable location, and the only choice you had was to fully enjoy your time in this new and exciting place.
Not anymore. Usually, within sixty seconds of arriving of your destination, phones are immediately turned on, texts are sent and Facebook statuses updated. Home is not so much a distant land, but a tiny, ever-present distraction, sitting irritatingly within your mobile phone. We fall victim to this as much as the next person. I once missed a dolphin sighting as I was staring vacantly at Twitter. To stop holidays slipping away unnoticed, eclipsed by the constant chatter of social media, when we travel we therefore always make sure we either pack a) a very old mobile phone, courtesy of our Dad or b) download the exploding number of social-media blocking apps. These apps allow you to set a time during which you don’t want to be bothered by social media. And if you try to access it during this time, you’ll be blocked from doing so. We’ve now started using these apps regularly when we travel, to ensure we are focusing fully on the adventure ahead of us, rather than on someone’s Facebook dramas. Apps we would certainly recommend downloading are ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘OurPact’ and ‘Anti-Social’.
Want to take it one step further? Snap up one of the increasingly ‘old school’ phones on the market, like the Punkt phone that only makes calls and sends texts.
4) Film Cameras
We live in a time of point-and-shoot cameras. See something pretty? Lift your camera or your phone, hit the button and marvel at the blurry results. Photography today is fast, instant and sometimes, a little mindless. This is definitely useful in many situations, when you don’t have the time to set up that weighty tripod, analyse the lighting situation and consult your camera manual. However, we found that the easier it became to get that photo, the less we appreciated what we were shooting. Composition, exposure and framing went out the window. Over the last year, we’ve therefore started regularly using older [easyazon_link identifier=”B00EPZEU70″ locale=”UK” tag=”twithatra-21″]film cameras[/easyazon_link]. A little creaky, cranky and unpredictable, these little cameras, filled with light-leaks and defects, have forced us to slow down and consider more carefully the scene in front of us. Taking the often frustrating amount of time to get the shutter speed or ISO right, forces you to concentrate, focus and fiddle around. A lot.
Photography this way is one of the most mindful and relaxing activities we do – forcing us to live through the view-finder and in the present moment.
This is less something that we ensure we pack and more a regular feature of our trips. By now, many people would have heard of ‘mindful eating’. The theory goes that if you slow down and appreciate the flavours and textures of your food, not only will you enjoy it more, but you will eat less. I once had an ill-fated go at ‘mindful’ eating whilst at a yoga workshop. We were each given one chocolate biscuit and told to eat it as slowly as we could. Sadly, my saliva glands didn’t get the memo and excitedly pumped my mouth full of saliva, awaiting the expected ten chocolate biscuits rather than just the lone one. My mindful eating experience ended up as a hand covered in dribble and a sad, soggy biscuit that I didn’t enjoy.
This aside, we’ve found that taking the time to sit down to a slow, relaxed and thoughtful meal, really does affect our experience of a trip. Food is as unique to a region or country as its language or history, and taking the time to truly sample it, rather than rushing to the cheapest and most convenient restaurant, is important. Some of our best memories are meals we’ve shared: tucking into melting cheeseburgers in New York; coconut rice in Thailand or enjoying the delights of boiled cabbage in Russia. Whilst eating you can take the time to sit back and focus on that small slice of a country surrounding you and in front of you. Mindful eating isn’t all about the dribble.
We realise that these small tips are neither novel nor ground-breaking. However, we hope that they at least give you cause to slow down a little on your journeys, remember where you are and just how brilliant travel is. The tortoise will always win the race.