At Buddha Travel, we talk a lot about mindful experiences through Conscious Travel. Usually, the first question we get from people we talk to is, “What exactly IS Conscious Travel?”
We believe that becoming a more conscious traveler really comes down to four basic considerations when you travel – whether it’s to the farthest corners of the world, or within your own community. These are education, awareness, a sense of responsibility and respect for people and the planet.
LEARN ALL THAT YOU CAN
We place education first, because it is essential that before traveling to a new place, we should cultivate the curiosity to know something about the history, the people and the geography of our destination. A trip to London, for example would be far less rewarding without some knowledge of the War of the Roses or the country’s role in the World Wars. A visit to the Galapagos can only be appreciated with an understanding of Darwin’s writings on evolution and Cuba can touch your heart in a new way after reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. When you take the time to learn about a place before experiencing it, it’s much easier to have respect for it and much more meaningful to feel a part of it.
BE AWARE OF MORE THAN YOUR WALLET
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the number of travelers around the globe has increased from 25 million in 1950 to more than 1.2 BILLION in 2016. As travel has become more accessible to people, the importance of heightened awareness becomes even greater. Awareness can mean watching out for your possessions while surrounded by crowds or in an unfamiliar subway, but it goes far beyond that. Conscious awareness calls for an immersion in the sensory offerings of any new place. It begins from the moment you begin the journey. Be cognizant of your own “presence“ and the messages that you might communicate to fellow travelers. Are you kind or crabby along the route? Do you treat your seatmates, your airport personnel, flight attendants, taxi drivers with the delight that you hope to receive in return?
Greet each new destination like the gift it is – anticipate the surprise, touch it for its texture and temperature, delight in all of its levels as you unwrap the experience. Notice the light at different times and seasons and compare it to home – appreciate the vividness of the sunrises and sunsets at different latitudes. Be sensitive to the energy you feel, measure differences in your mind and your body between mountain and seascapes. Smell the air, the ground, the trees, the perfumes of your hosts.
There are many ways to intensify your awareness. Rather than relying solely on snapping photographs to post on Instagram and Facebook, spend time with your journal and try to describe the smallest details about your travel experience. Whether you are an artist or not, try to sketch the face of a local resident or your first impression of an elephant or a bison up close and personal. Paint a landscape if you can, or just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of a city the first day that you arrive.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR A FRAGILE PLANET
To be a conscious traveler, we must take responsibility for any actions that can affect the health and sustainability of our destination and its residents. Being responsible can encompass everything from declining to use plastic water bottles to buying only locally sourced food, to helping preserve coral reefs by refraining from diving in ecologically strained oceans. We’ll try to make our community more aware of the resources they can tap to be more educated and aware of our responsibilities as travelers. Here are just some things to consider when you pledge to be a more conscious and responsible traveler:
• What are the sensitivities of the local ecosystem – water shortages, drought, shoreline erosion, air pollution, etc.? What can you do to ensure you leave the lightest footprint behind?
• What are the issues affecting the local and indigenous popluations such as unemployment, refugees, poverty, exploitation. How does your visit hurt or help?
• Is the destination that you hope to visit suffering from overtourism? If so, try another place where your presence is an advantage to the local economy and wellbeing
• How can your visit improve the social and economic wellbeing of the community you are visiting?
To begin, when you choose a destination, visit some sites such as the Center for Responsible Travel (Responsibletravel.org) or the Rainforest Alliance (Rainforest-alliance.org) to begin to understand just what our planet and its people need before you go there.
TRAVEL WITH RESPECT
We are all ambassadors when we travel, whether we want to be or not – for ourselves, our family, our country, our race, our gender. When we respect ourselves and our own values and customs, it’s natural to want to share them with others, and learn theirs in return. To be a conscious traveler, make a commitment to respect the local culture as well as your fellow tourists and travelers. For example, ask a person’s name and learn something about them before snapping a photo. Be aware of people around you before elbowing your way to the front of the museum exhibit. Rather than stare at an unusual manner of dress or way of eating, educate yourself about the origins or respectfully ask a local to tell you about their culture. Learn a few words of the local language so you can greet people kindly. Don’t be afraid to treat people lovingly – that is the essence of the conscious traveler.