Just beneath the exciting, exhausting and sometimes over-stimulating surface of travel lies simplicity, renewal, self-discovery and meaningful connection.
As in life, when you tune in to what truly matters to you instead of unconsciously consuming, following the crowd or simply checking off a to-do list, your journey becomes more fulfilling, inspiring and maybe even life-changing.
Travel with these eight points in mind to get the most out of your vacation—beyond the attractions, photos, and souvenirs.
1. Plan enough, but not too much
Are you an over-planner or an under-planner? After all my travels I’ve come to learn that the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
When you’re researching your trip, keep a running list of everything you want to do and see. Then organize those activities in priority order and group by location. Plan each day around 1-2 priorities, sticking to the same area if possible. Then leave the rest of the day open for spontaneity and exploration.
2. Think holistically
Instead of focusing solely on relaxation (easy to do when you’re burnt out) or the thrill of new experiences (if you’ve got a wanderlusty soul), focus on balancing your days in the six areas of what I like to call “holistic travel.”
Creating space for each of these areas on your trip will help you forge stronger connections, expand your horizons, and ultimately, have more fulfilling travels.
Personal: What habits, preconceptions, or self-care do you need to focus on?
Cultural: How can you try new foods, practice speaking the language or otherwise immerse yourself into local life?
Comfort zone: What’s something that will make you slightly uncomfortable (though always be safe!)?
Reflection: Where, when and how long you will journal each day?
Connection: How can you grow closer to your travel mates, yourself and the local people?
Adventure: What can you do to get the adrenaline pumping? Anything from a nearby hike to skydiving!
3. Choose your travel partners wisely
Venturing into the unknown brings out the best and the worst in people. Traveling with friends and family can draw you closer together, or in some cases, tear you apart.
Think about why you’re going on this trip. What’s the ultimate purpose? Choose travel partners that will support that goal. Don’t be afraid to travel alone if you can’t find the right fit.
4. Pack lightly
Nothing will put a damper on your journey faster than being weighed down by clumsy bags or losing your luggage. The only time I ever check in a bag is when I’m bringing home something I can’t take through security (like a bottle of wine). Otherwise, it’s carry-on only. There’s rarely a need to pack more than that regardless of the length of your trip.
Pack lightly by sticking to one neutral clothing shade punctuated with clothes in a color palette that’s easy to mix and match. Look for multitasking beauty and toiletry items. And remember, unless you’re traveling to a remote third-world country, you can usually pick up anything you forgot at your destination.
5. Leverage the before, during and after travel stages
To help ramp up the happiness-factor of travel, and ease post-vacation depression, think about your trip in five stages:
Anticipation stage: Read a book or watch a movie set in your destination. Search for Instagram photos in the area. Make a packing list. Load your phone with playlists. Use the anticipation period to bask in excitement for your trip.
Adjustment stage: Don’t overdo it on the first day in your destination. Use it as a time to get acclimated to your new environment, get settled in your accommodation and get some much-needed rest.
Active stage: After a day or two of acclimation (depending on how many time zones you crossed) it’s time to start exploring. This is when you’ll want to book your tours, sightsee and do all your adventuring.
Rest stage: It’s easy to skip this stage for the sake of checking off more must-sees on your bucket list, but I’ve realized it’s crucial to dedicate time at the end of a trip to slow down, rest, and reflect. Just like savasana in yoga, this deep rest period is meant to help you absorb all the amazing experiences you’ve had and prepare you for the next stage.
Re-entry stage: Back home the post-travel blues can set in hard. Instead of mourning your vacation as you go about real life, use this time to reevaluate your day-to-day based on what you loved about your trip.
6. Explore inwards
As much as travel is an external journey, it’s even more of an internal one. Use your travels to take a big-picture view of your life and set personal intentions. Try recording anything that comes up for you through travel journaling. It’s a powerful tool for creating better memories and exploring your inner world during your trip.
7. Travel mindfully always, slowly when possible
When you travel mindfully, you notice the details, open your mind and are fully present. Stop thinking about what’s next on the itinerary, posting your next photo or what awaits you when you get home. Wherever you are, be fully there.
If possible, savor travel slowly and go local. Linger longer in one place, stay in an Airbnb or rent an apartment, go to the grocery store, discover local hangouts, and make yourself a short-term home.
[clickToTweet tweet=”In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. -Pico Iyer” quote=”“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” -Pico Iyer”]
8. Stay grounded
Ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? Staying grounded amidst the excitement and chaos of travel will help you feel rejuvenated and recentered so you can return with a heart full of happy memories. Make time for meditation, journaling and exercise while away. Keeping some sort of morning and evening routine will also help keep you grounded and ready to fully experience the day’s explorations.
Jane M says
From one mindful traveller to another, I love this post!! So many people rush through their travels, never really immersing themselves in the places they visit. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and be intentional.
I especially love number 5, which I often forget to do, not enjoying the planning stages or the re-entry into “normal” life nearly enough!
Katie Leavitt says
Thanks so much, Jane. It’s so great to come across other mindful travelers! Re-entry is certainly challenging but there’s so much we can learn from it. It’s something I’m trying to be more aware of when I feel those post-travel blues kick in. 🙂
Monica R. says
I am a mindful traveler myself and I love this post and am a big fan of your blog! I naturally do most of these things when I travel so it’s nice to know that there are other like-minded travelers out there 🙂 I especially love #s 5 through 8 as they are so very important to the lasting impact that a single trip may have on one’s everyday life.
Would love to connect and collaborate in the future!
Katie Leavitt says
Thank you so much, Monica! I’m a big fan of what you’re doing over at Bird + Anchor too. It’s so great to connect with other like-minded souls. 🙂 We should definitely chat. I’ll shoot you an email next week.
Vivianne W says
I just discovered your blog tonight! After just reading a few of your posts and going through your travel essentials checklists, I know I will be coming back for more and more! I am planning for a longer trip (4 -6 months? maybe longer? haha who knows!) in the coming months and want to make the experience as enriching as possible. I am SO excited I found your blog!
Katie Leavitt says
Thanks so much! Your comment made my day! Congrats on taking an extended trip—that’s SO exciting. Glad I could help so far, and if there’s ever anything specific you want to know, feel free to reach out to me. 🙂