How to Be a Mindful Traveler

If you know me well, you know I love animals more than most humans. With that said, I’ve been frustrated with the conversation regarding irresponsible tourism that’s been floating around the internet within the past few weeks.

Just last week, an endangered baby dolphin was killed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a throng of tourists took the little babe out of the water to pose with it in photographs. Is this really what humanity has boiled down to? Forgetting about the well-being of others for the sake of a selfie to share on social media?

While that story in particular garnered lots of sympathy, the masses generally seem to get in hysterics when animals act like…well, animals. Earlier this month a Scottish tourist was killed in Thailand by an angry elephant who turned on its handler. In June 2015, the media was buzzing over the fact that a renowned photographer was mauled by a lioness during a safari adventure after the big cat jumped in her vehicle’s open window.

Was the lion attempting to protect her young and viewed the photographer as a threat to her environment? We will never know. We do know that tourists are forbidden to open the windows at Lion Park in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where the incident took place. What people often fail to forget is that, just like us, animals have feelings too. They also act on instinct in a way humankind will never be able to comprehend.

Have you ever read about the terror that the elephants in Thailand endure during their training periods? Contrary to what any tourist trap owner will tell you, elephants’ spines are not made to carry heavy loads on their backs. In fact, Asian elephants in particular have protruding spines extremely vulnerable to pressure and weight. The results of the years of abuse have some pretty alarming long-term affects on these majestic and endangered creatures. In all honesty, I’m surprised more working elephants don’t turn on their captors.

While I certainly can’t save the world (though don’t we all want to in a way?) I want to ensure that I’m doing my part. In order to combat negligence and lackadaisical attitudes and strengthen positive mindsets on the road, I teamed up with some like-minded travelers who are offering their best advice as to how to be a mindful traveler. Some of them learned from their own mistakes while others stress the importance of researching first.

How to Be a Mindful Traveler

  • Dress appropriately

How to be a mindful traveler

One of the first things you should do before you travel is read up on the local customs. Particularly the dress code! Before you even pack your passport, do your research pack suitable outfits for your destination. While we’re all human and love looking fashionable on the road, we can often give fellow travelers a bad name by strutting about holy areas in our disco pants!

Back in 2012, I had just left university and was about to embark on my first big trip- volunteering in Kenya. A pretty ambitious destination for a girl who had never left Europe before! Recently, I looked through the pictures again and noticed that I was walking about Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa, wearing hot pants! I felt so ashamed at how ignorant and disrespectful I was. These days, I am always mindful to cover up where it is appropriate. I definitely learned my lesson all those years ago with all the unwanted attention I received.

How to be a mindful traveler: As clichéd as it sounds, you learn a lot from traveling, and sometimes it takes being in the wrong situation to realize the right thing to do. Remember, traveling isn’t all about looking good in photos and showing off your new bikini body! You are a guest in someone else’s town- don’t be intrusive and remember to always keep their customs in mind.

Nicole of Wee Gypsy Girl is currently living as an expat in South Korea and is preparing for her next adventure abroad. To find out more about this lovely Scottish gal’s future and current travels, find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

 

  • Trust in the universe

How to be a mindful traveler

Last summer, before attending a Field Day festival in London, my friend and I were threatened with a knife and our valuables (smartphones and money) were stolen from us after a night out.  It was the weekend before my five-week trip to South Africa.  I was distraught, phoneless, and broke.  

During my trip to South Africa, however, my lack of smartphone proved to be a blessing in disguise. In my hostel, I met some like-minded travellers who suggested a few activities to do during my stay in Cape Town.  We were able to converse without one of us constantly checking for notifications and pings. 

At my Workaway host’s abode, the phone signals and WiFi were weaker and poorer than I was used to back in the UK.  This did not matter at all, however.  Conversations were flowing, and energies and opinions were harmoniously exchanged and returned.  My host and their friends were brimming with positivity and vision; it was truly magnificent to see a group of people so passionate about animal welfare and the environment.  Simple, natural and organic things made them feel alive and motivated.  It was definitely refreshing to see people enjoying the finest things in life through simple living.  

It was certainly contagious. One morning, I found myself filled with gratitude as I took a cold shower outdoors in the middle of the South African winter.  Back in the UK, a lukewarm shower would have sent me into a frenzy.  The people I met encouraged me to look at the bigger picture: thrive in the experience of a forest shower as I hear the monkeys  gather in nearby trees for their early morning explorations.  The five weeks spent in South Africa taught me to live more mindfully – both as a traveller, and at home.

How to be a mindful traveler: Living and travelling slowly and simply is the key – switch off and ditch the grid.  Happiness, positivity, and inspiration have all been fruits of the trip through looking at the finer details and focusing on the present; the moments shared were far greater than the number of my Instagram posts that summer.

Julia of Kalemoss.com writes about her experience traveling on a plant-based diet. Her Instagram feed is filled with colorfully delicious vegetarian food as well as tips for those interested in living a healthy, mindful lifestyle. If you’re keen, be sure to check her out on YouTube and Twitter as well!

 

  • Research where you’re allocating your money

How to be a mindful travelerThe longer you travel, the more you realize how little you actually know, and that’s totally okay. But it’s important to be flexible, open to new experiences, and most importantly, to be responsible while on the road.

When we were in Northern Thailand we saw this famous National Geographic photo of a girl from the Karen Hill Tribe. These are the women famous for wearing layers of gold bands around their necks. From the photo, we saw and an opportunity to experience a different culture and it piqued our interest, so we planned to visit until we actually did some research.

We were shocked to learn that the Karen people are actually Burmese refugees that can’t go back to Myanmar because of their uncertainty of safety from the Myanmar military. On top of that, Thailand won’t give the Karen citizenship or rights and exploit them as a tourist attraction. To make matters worse, if you visit their village, your money goes to the Thai business owners who will only pay the women who wear rings on their necks.

No one expects you to know everything about all the world’s problems while you are traveling. But when you do find out about some of these atrocities going on in the world you have to ask yourself if you getting a photo is really worth it.

How to be a mindful traveler: We may all feel like we are just one person who can’t make a difference. But you can speak with your wallet while traveling and decide do to what you think is right. So, we think being a mindful traveler involves doing a little extra research and asking yourself where your money is really going.”

For a more detailed description of why Megan and Scott of Bobo and Chichi chose to avoid the Karen tribe tourist trap as well as a few others in Chiang Mai, check out their post on discovering what to do in Chiang Mai. The duo are currently living and working in Seoul, Korea and saving up for their next adventure. To follow along with their travels be sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram!

 

  • Kick animal bullies in the butt

How to be a mindful travelerGoing to zoos in Asia is a toughie. Some of them are incredibly good and I have to applaud the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand especially, for making the world more aware of what happens to these beautiful creatures. Their approach is compassionate, mindful and gentle. They educate owners on how to treat their elephants better and earn an income in happier alternative ways.

Nonetheless, I’ve been to some terrible places and seeing animals clearly distressed and literally pulling their hair out brings the reality of these attractions to the forefront of mindful travelling. It’s a difficult debate. Some argue that these animals would be extinct if they weren’t in a zoo but come on guys, if you’re gonna put them in a zoo, at least do it right…right?

I was recently teaching English in Shanghai China and was asked to take my kids out for the day to the local zoo. I wasn’t expecting the ‘Ritz for Wildlife’ and hey, it certainly wasn’t but overall, it was OK. The visitors themselves however were an embarrassment. The Chinese have become increasingly famous in the media for being litter junkies. They love throwing stuff on the floor. I don’t see it as an action where they’re intentionally beating up Mother Earth; they just don’t have being an Eco Warrior high on their list. Some things just take the biscuit though. When I witnessed a local man throwing rocks at the animals to make them move, my usual ‘Stand Back, Deep Breaths It’s China’ mentality went right out the window. I shouted at that dude like a very stern disappointed mother. The last thing I wanted was for my students to think his actions were OK.

How to be a mindful traveler: Understand the culture you’re in, research the places you’re going to and kick stone-throwing animal bullies in the butt.

Alice of Teacake Travels is recently making headlines (and for good reason) for being a beacon of light in a sometimes daunting world. Alice became pregnant while traveling and had to figure out where to get an abortion…in South East Asia. To help those who may need this information in the future, Alice wrote Pregnant: Where to Get an Abortion in Asia. If you’re interested in learning more about this awesome chick, be sure to follow her on Facebook and Pinterest!

 

  • Appreciate your surroundings

How to be a mindful travelerTraveling with smart phones have made traveling infinitely easier but has created a culture of mindless voyaging with many too obsessed with sharing the moment instead of experiencing it. When visiting the World Expo in 2016, a mass of cultures were together to enjoy diversity, education, and food. However, when we all flocked to the Tree if Life, there they were……a sea of hands gripping their smartphone like torches, gazing into their tiny screens trying to capture the moment to share with others instead of experiencing it for themselves. Smart phones and social media, while connecting us to others, have made it too easy to not connect with our own travel experience.

How to be a mindful traveler: When traveling and taking photos or videos, I’ve made it my mission to become more mindful and ask myself some questions. Is taking a photo necessary? Are their better videos on YouTube that I can share? Am I truly present? Do I need to post right now? When I travel, I travel for the experience so I invite others to try to look at their next trip as an opportunity to experience for themselves and stay present….and off their phones.”

Melissa of Ignite Your Bliss spends her days living as mindfully as possible. As the founder of Ignite Your Bliss, the yoga instructor teamed up with her business partner Shelly to create unique experiences aimed to help people cultivate their passions. The inspirational duo are set to host a week-long yoga, food and wine retreat in the hills of Italy this October. Be sure to check them out on Facebook for more information!

 

  • Trust your instinct but keep an open mind

How to be a mindful travelerBeing a respectful and reverent global citizen is something that is extremely important to me and I believe it is our duty as humans to treat the planet as well as ourselves with respect. You see, not everyone has the means to travel which is why I think it’s not something that should be taken for granted.

If you’re interested in participating in something that might go against your morals, I suggest you research it first! Traveling to a country without realizing or caring about the implications you’re placing upon its inhabitants, culture or animals is irresponsible and thoughtless. The wonderful thing about being afforded the opportunity to travel in this day and age is the fact that we have loads of information at the tip of our fingers that can easily be accessed on the internet. 

To be frank, my travel mantra is simple: don’t be a dick. Pictures are worth a thousand words. The plants, animals and [a lot of] humans on our planet have been around far longer than Instagram or Facebook. Remember that. 

As someone who is about to step foot into several different countries over the next few months, I want to remember to always be aware of my global impact as well as my ability to control my personal environment. While I’m but a small speck of dust on this massive planet, I have a responsibility to do well for myself, others and my surroundings.

How to be a mindful traveler: Get to know the culture around you and gain an understanding of it. Are you a terrible traveler or person if you choose to ignore your potential for global impact? Probably not. In fact, I think most people who partake in hazardous tourism or don’t take the time to look into something aren’t even aware of it. If you encounter something that seems a bit off, don’t question that feeling in your stomach and move forward.

Do you have any stories of your own from the road? Do you have any tips for traveling responsibly? 

How to be a mindful traveler

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15 Comments

  1. February 22, 2016 / 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the collab on this post! I love what others had to say about being mindful. It’s important to learn from our mistakes, and it’s great to spread awareness on the issue so others won’t make the same mistakes as well. This post actually should be read by everyone, not just travelers. Each point from appreciating your surroundings to telling animal bullies to knock it off aren’t necessarily for travelers only. Just this past weekend we were at Everland and there are signs everywhere that state DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS, a local family with a young child kept giving the monkeys popcorn and it really upset me that they didn’t care that the popcorn could harm the animal and that they were teaching their child that this behavior was okay. I ended up telling them to stop, but they just shrugged it off. And again, time to time we need to put down our phones and smart devices and just take a moment to smell the roses. Thanks again!

  2. February 22, 2016 / 6:51 pm

    I am so glad to read this piece! We think of travel as something that’s supposed to expand our inner horizons, but too often we find ourselves too busy “collecting” experiences to really stop and think about what’s going on around us. It is inspiring to see you thinking about ethical and mindful travel.

    I’m really loving your entire blog. I’m an American expat who also teaches abroad and writes about a lot of the same stuff. Nice to e-meet a kindred spirit!

  3. February 24, 2016 / 6:31 am

    Such a wonderful idea for a post – it is really nice to see that not only are you a mindful traveler, but you want to spread the word and to open up our minds a bit as well. Of course, my favorite part – Don’t be a dick ^^ That pretty much sums it up perfectly! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. February 24, 2016 / 6:50 am

    I think this collaboration post covered ALL the bases! I couldn’t have said it better myself. There is a huge necessity to educate travelers on how to be more mindful on the road and I will post this as a reference for my future readers because this is like, a one-stop guide to getting it. I especially love Megan’s comment on “Research where you’re allocating your money.” That’s always the hardest thing to stomach knowing that you may be endorsing something that’s harmful to not only the people and wildlife, but even to the country itself! One people start to bear all these things in the mind, they not only become more responsible travelers, but have more meaningful journeys too <3 Bravo Laura on this faaaaantastic post!

  5. February 25, 2016 / 2:24 am

    This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I hope that all travelers can find the courage to truly get to know the places they visit like you have!

  6. February 25, 2016 / 2:40 am

    So many great suggestions! Being present and in the moment, instead of taking endless photos, has always been a struggle of mine – even back before the invention of the cell phone. I now travel with my kids so they force me to stay present much more often. Great post!

  7. February 25, 2016 / 4:49 pm

    Great post, and good on you for putting it out there. I don’t know why people need to consistently be reminded to not do stupid things like pose with a baby dolphin with a selfie. But we need more posts like this circulating the internet.

  8. February 25, 2016 / 4:49 pm

    Very thoughtful post. I agree with you that sometime I am so much keen to take photos all the time I am looking through lens and not experiencing the surroundings really.

  9. February 26, 2016 / 8:02 am

    Thanks for this post! I feel like travel, as a process, makes you more mindful, but reaching mindfulness can take some time. I was also somewhat nieve when I embarked on my first big trip as a solo traveler. I made mistakes and I cringe looking back, but as long as we can learn from those mistakes, then I think they can be excused 🙂

  10. February 26, 2016 / 11:13 am

    This sense of responsibility is entirely up to us! And depending on whether we are alone or with people, our behaviour changes. Staying mindful irrespective of the circumstance is definitely a desirable trait. Thanks for sharing and sensitising!

  11. February 26, 2016 / 12:34 pm

    I totally agree with all the advice given in this post and I hope many people will read it and realise how to travel. The point about cruelty to animals is particularly dear to my heart: sometimes I feel people put their ‘right to a selfie on an elephant’ above the basic concept that the elephant is a living being with feelings, needs and rights. So I am totally with you: throw the phone out, be mindful and really connect with what’s around you 🙂

  12. February 29, 2016 / 12:52 am

    Fantastic post. Yes, girl! Speaking of animals, I really can’t bear to do any kind of animal=centred tourism. I was offered the chance to take an elephant ride and a camel ride while I was in India last month but I honestly can’t tolerate it. I don’t care how well the animals are treated, I really don’t believe they’re meant to be ridden. Maybe I’m heartless but when I hear of wild animals attacking tourists or their trainers/owners, I have no sympathy for the people involved. It’s a wild animal – what do you expect?

  13. Chelsea
    February 29, 2016 / 1:13 pm

    I LOVED THIS POST! Not only is the content great, but the collaboration is so creative! I especially liked the piece on “appreciate your surroundings”, as it is so hard to not be glued to your phone and update your instagram feed. We do need to take a moment to actually BE in the moment, and not be consumed by social media. I feel like in today’s age, specifically for the millennials, we see travel as an opportunity to, for lack of a better word, “brag” on social media. Because, you didn’t actually go somewhere unless you post a picture, right? Great post! Sharing!

  14. February 29, 2016 / 1:22 pm

    Great post! I totally agree! I remember traveling in Egypt and doing a tour of Cairo. The guides told us beforehand not to wear shorts but to dress modest. However, some girls didn’t listen and dressed way too sexy. They were looked at and talked about. They didn’t get hurt or anything but still, they kinda disrespected the people in the country. And yeah, don’t support animal abuse!

  15. February 29, 2016 / 4:33 pm

    The situation of the Karen people is just bad! But how could you have known, right?

    I am guilty of the smartphone. There was a time my husband had to tell me my camera is not allowed so i could just savor the moment and the scenery. I agree but I can’t resist:-).

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