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Why you need an attitude of mindfulness for travel

Travel presents an opportunity to be fully present, and maintain a certain distance from one’s own work

What’s experienced as beauty is evoked by our personal experience.
What’s experienced as beauty is evoked by our personal experience. (iStockphoto)

A 33-year-old tells me during a therapy session: “My husband and I have been fighting a lot. We can’t even decide where to go for a holiday. This revenge tourism is draining me. I am exhausted with work and I want to rest, and he wants an elaborate trip.”

The world has changed since March 2020, and so has the idea of travel. With the world opening up, there is a rise in what has come to be called “revenge tourism”. This is based on the belief that we need to compensate for lost opportunities by getting back to tourism with a vengeance. Over the last few weeks, the impact of revenge tourism—in the context of the dissatisfaction people are feeling about their own lives, the fear of missing out on international or domestic travel opportunities, and comparisons due to social media—have begun to emerge as a theme across sessions.

This is something I would notice during the summer or festive months even before the pandemic—that certain sadness or restlessness as people passively watched the travel pictures of others. Revenge tourism, however, is exacerbating eco-anxiety, a larger dialogue about sustainability and fears that this trend may end up impacting the environment even further.

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What gets missed out is an attitude of mindfulness when it comes to travel. This involves asking ourselves important questions and making travel plans that align with our needs and values. It involves an attitude of thoughtfulness, an ability to choose realistically based on one’s finances and an awareness about sustainability and responsibility towards the environment too. In my understanding, the purpose travel serves is very personal. That’s why an attitude of mindfulness rather than social comparison would entail making choices about the travel destination or the nature of experiences one is seeking based on the needs/values one associates with it.

When I ask clients and friends about what they associate with travel, these are some of the words they commonly share: rest, stillness, exploration, family time, exposure to food and art, ability to connect with nature, a sense of wonder and awe, fun and enjoyment, shopping, adventure, and connection. The reality is that all these are true for most of us. However, it’s important to recognise which of these feels most urgent at the stage of life you are in. This would be the first step towards mindful travel.

If we skip this step and base our decision on popular destinations without paying attention to our own needs, we are bound to be disappointed and even unhappy with our travel, no matter which destination we choose.

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Each destination, and the way it’s experienced, reflects the traveller’s past experiences and own inner quest. It’s not the sights, but the meaning and beauty we can see in them, that makes it gorgeous. In a world where we have too much information and an overexposure to curated holiday pictures, we forget that what’s experienced as beauty is evoked by our personal experience.

Travel at its core presents all of us an opportunity to be fully present, a wonderful ability to maintain a certain distance from one’s own work, identity, and a window to savour and admire the beauty that surrounds us. After two difficult years, travel offers a chance at time away from screens, micro-interactions with locals, contributing to local communities—and a chance to understand how we have, or haven’t, changed.

The client I mentioned earlier talked to her husband about what travel at this stage means to her and asked him about his needs. Through their shared values and different needs, they are thoughtfully beginning to figure it out.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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