I remember embarking across Europe for the first time as a University graduate many years ago. I chased music festivals, sailed the Mediterranean Sea, tackled the biggies – London, Paris, Rome –, and did everything the guidebooks told me. While it was fun, destinations were not much more than faint memories and crossing lines off my bucket list. I was a naïve tourist. I visited, but rarely did I truly understand, participate or contribute. It was me pre-conscious. Over the years of globetrotting, I developed a need to travel with a real purpose having found myself today fuelled to see the world with different lenses. What if we want a more meaningful travel experience? You guessed it, be a conscious traveller.
Let’s take a step back for a second. What does it mean to be conscious? To be conscious is to be aware of your existence, sensations, thoughts and surroundings. You look at your current situation or what you’re presented with, challenge them, then take action according to your truth. It is to live intentionally.
Why conscious travel matters
To travel consciously is to travel curiously and considerately. With a raised collective consciousness, we become better as one. You’re also more likely to have happy travels when you make deliberate choices based on your values.
When travelling, you might be environmentally conscious or socially responsible by leaving the smallest of footprints and gaining the greatest of real connections. If it’s not immediate impacts to the world, it’s positive change within yourself by being a more mindful person. Ah, what was that saying? Be the change you want to see in the world!
Imagine if we didn’t care.
- Local communities would be exploited.
- There will be further societal corruption.
- We’d lose touch of our unique heritage and traditions.
- We forget why we’re travelling in the first place.
- All that’s left will be a past time memory for us, left in museums and history books for our children.
- The world would be a concrete jungle.
- You’d pay an expensive flight to X, then finding the place feels not so much different elsewhere.
Get my drift? We just need peace and world diversity.
The reality of conscious travel
The truth is: none of us can be 100% conscious all the time. 1) It’s impossible and exhausting (I mean, aware and questioning every single thing we encounter?) but you do get better at it and 2) We all have levels of ignorance in the basic sense of simply not knowing. However, what you can do is choose what you want to pay attention to and make better conscious decisions in your own comfortable capacity.
You also need to remember the more aware you become, the more you’re able to see the good, the bad and the ugly. This is totally necessary if we want to spark change. If this enlightenment is new to you, it’s important to learn to accept as is and never forget the world is a beautiful place. It’s dangerous and almost easy to get caught up in world crises and issues (yup, there’s a lot of it).
What the heck do I know about being conscious, anyway?
I understand how crucially important it is to live consciously. Ever since we were born, we’ve been told what to do but going about life consciously is stepping outside social constructs and thinking for yourself. When we are conscious, we are not simply existing but are actually being. Travelling was the #1 way I broadened my mind. To me, it isn’t an “escape” – I’m not “off” while away or at home, I’m just always “on”. Life is just one big conscious adventure and I choose to partake in living my life to the fullest.
In the last year, meditation has especially been a big part of my life. I make better conscious decisions as I’ve learned to see things as they really are. I related this art of living to travelling. While outside my comfort zone, I closely observed every part of my life, let go of unnecessary attachments (of both things and notions), and essentially just go with whatever my heart tells me. Now I remember my voyages vividly and have been fulfilled in unimaginable ways.
But hey, I’m no advanced yogi, neither am I an avid social worker or have a degree in humanitarian studies. I’m just like you and everybody else – you matter, and we’re able to make home a better place by being a conscious traveller.
Take action! 15 ways to be a conscious traveller
- Focus on quality, not quantity of experiences. Travelling isn’t about collecting passport stamps and photos. Don’t rush or try to squeeze too much in, you will have time to return later in life! Instead, travel slowly to dig deeper into the soul of a place.
- Be adventurous and take the path less travelled. Guidebooks can be great but you don’t need to always do the obvious, especially if it doesn’t interest you. Wander through the back alleys of town or journey into remote villages.
- Take off your earphones. Listen intently, focus on your senses and savour every single moment.
- Take the time to build real connections with real people instead of paying for a “traditional dance” aimed at tourists or giving tips to uniquely dressed locals for taking photographs. Debatable, I know. Some see this as a “donation” but I just couldn’t do it.
- Learn the language, habits and customs – and abide by the rules. Making an effort to communicate with locals and respecting their way of living even when you don’t align with it (e.g. no public display of affection, dress codes) will help you gain a more authentic connection.
- Find out what’s really going on behind the scenes. Researching the country and chatting to many locals to find different perspectives and challenges people face will go a long way. Paradise may not have always been paradise without pushing local beachside villages away for tourism operations.
- Practice compassion for all beings. I remember how angry I was when I was scammed in Bali. Don’t even get me started about my escapades in India. You just can’t let it get to you. Understand why people are the way they are, let things go, send everyone light and love, and make it a note to travel smarter.
- Embrace a lovely culture shock in trying something outside your norm. Like new foods or rituals. You move away from being a visitor and get on the same side as the locals. “You’re one of us now!”
- Sleep in a homestay, family-run guesthouse or boutique hotel. Your money is more likely to go towards the local community. I love using home rental website Airbnb to give me glimpses of how the locals really live. Get $45 off your first Airbnb experience using my referral link – yay!
- Shop from traditional artisans to help keep the crafts alive. Whether it’s food, textiles or any other form of art, there’s nothing more special about preserving culture if you choose local over imported goods.
- Choose tour operators who care about the community and environment. You might pay a little more for green experiences but what matters is the satisfaction in knowing you haven’t corrupted the land and its culture.
- Provide selfless service in the tiniest of actions. You don’t need to venture on a month-long volunteering trip to do good. Ask around – help the family-run guesthouse cook, build an island bungalow or partake in agricultural activities. It’s one of the best ways to learn about the people.
- Be careful with voluntourism. You need to understand that it’s still a business. When paying to be placed somewhere, ask yourself: Where is my money going? How exactly will it be spent? A transparent organisation is the best organisation.
- Don’t be seen as a stupid, rich tourist. Overpaying in developing countries does not help the community. Recognise the true value of things instead of breeding a culture taking advantage of tourism dollars that slowly loses sight of their own true heritage. Throwing fortunes at locals also teach them that the more they cheat us, the more they earn.
- Gather emotional memories, not ‘stuff’. Mass produced souvenirs at tourist destinations are inevitable. Keepsakes are beautiful, just make sure you’re not caught up in the high of completing an experience and making a purchase that’s going to end up in your miscellaneous box at home.
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