Have you ever thought, man, I need a vacation from my vacation!? Do you come home from a trip away exhausted and depleted, or renewed and refreshed? If the former is true, and you’d rather the latter, it’s time to get mindful about HOW you’re vacationing. Many of us get caught up in doing the same stress-inducing things on vacation that we do at home; chasing happiness in the form of pleasure versus contentment. Or worse, we use vacation as an excuse to behave even more hurriedly, as if the same mindless pursuits that never worked for us at home would magically work for us at an exotic resort hotel. The truth is, all those things “outside” of us; over-priced hotel rooms, business-class flights, umbrella drinks and pricey souvenirs, can be temporarily fun but do not offer lasting contentment. When the shine fades, we’re back to feeling hungover, exhausted, and poor.
What if your vacation never wore off? What if you could use the tools that mindfulness provides to return to the at-home routine with a tan, a lasting smile, and an outlook on life that contributes to your contentment? What if you could find the same peace of mind sitting in rush-hour traffic, as you did watching the sunset over the ocean? OK, admittedly, that will take lots of practice. But on your vacation is the best place to begin. While on vacation, we can take our same distracting habits to a new locale, or we can use the change in place and routine as an opportunity to practice an awakening. How about option two?
Try incorporating the following mindfulness tools into your next vacation, use the time away from your at-home routine to practice new habits, then integrate those new habits when you return home.
You’ve already set an “out of office” auto reply on your emails, so don’t ask for the WiFi code. You’ll be ok without it. Rather than purchasing that expensive travel plan for cellular coverage, set your phone to airplane mode, and keep it there the whole trip. You can still use your camera for photos. Notice your surroundings, experience the newness with clarity, this is the perfect time to begin to step away from your little companion screen.
Same goes for the bigger screens. Book a room with no TV, or hide away the remote, unplug it. You’re not missing anything. (And if I’m wrong, your favorite shows will be there for you when you return home.) Be hyper aware of using your time on vacation to get outdoors more, catch up on your favorite book, talk to real people face to face, or practice being with silence.
Many of us are generally sleep deprived in our at-home lives. While not all sleep debt can be repaid, the good news is, recent studies have found it does make a positive difference when we sleep extra on those nights we’re able to. What better time to catch up on a little sleep than on vacation? Make good use of those hotel black-out curtains. Pull them shut at night, wake up without an alarm in the morning. Take naps. There’s nothing better than a vacation nap in an outdoor hammock, a pool-side lounge chair or your AirBnB patio. Enjoy.
Live Like a Healthy Local
Things are new and different when we’re on vacation. Take advantage of this by practicing an entirely new routine. Meditate every morning. Seek out a local yoga or fitness class. Find the healthy restaurants and sit down to a long, slow meal. Book a place on HomeAway where you can cook your own meals. Shop at the local farmer’s markets.
Touring around? Could you walk instead of grabbing an Uber? There’s lots more to see that way. Book an active adventure. Learn a new sport, or take a long hike. Get outside as often as possible, and open your windows and doors.
Vacation can be an excuse to eat all the bad food, drink all the calories, and skip all your workouts, or you can dive into the culture you’re visiting by exploring and emulating a local’s best, healthy, life.
If You Couldn’t Instagram It, Would You Do It?
A big part of landing on true contentment, is noticing the difference between temporal and permanent happiness. Normally, temporal or pseudo-happiness is ego-driven. This is akin to the pleasure we receive when we get what we want, when we hit the jackpot, receive the upgrade, or bite into the chocolate cake. None of these things are bad. What ends up being “bad” is that we mistakenly believe these things can and will create lasting contentment. Eventually, the first class flight lands, and the chocolate cake is gone. Then what? We continually need more, we are never well-fed.
What’s lasting? What’s true contentment? That sunrise over the ocean. That morning stroll with a loved one. That conversation with a friendly local when we both learned new things. How can we remember the difference? When booking experiences and sites ask yourself this simple question: Would I spend the money or time to do this if nobody other than me could ever know? Example: Should I upgrade to a Ferrari? Would you still do it if you could never Instagram it, ever? If yes, go. Otherwise, this is a great way to check in with what’s driving your choices. Is it ego? Or is there an opportunity here for pure, un-tainted, lasting bliss?
We’re in a new place! Let’s do all the things! We stay up too late, we get up too early, we bust through this museum in one hour so we can get to that restaurant then head to this bar, then catch that show, then do it again. Woah there. Let’s drop that game of checking off all the “top things to do in such-and-such city.” This game can’t be won, and it never ends. Instead, settle on one or two meaningful experiences, allow them to take a full day. Linger at that one restaurant. Stay at the beach for too long (remember sunscreen!). Walk don’t drive. Remember your naps? In as many ways as possible, slow down. This is what vacation is all about! Choose quality over quantity, and if needed, stay longer, or visit again.
Checking In vs Checking Out
It might take a few days for the vacation pace of life and your new routine to sink in, to be felt in the body and mind. You may feel resistance at first. An unease, a restlessness. This is your body and mind, still clinging to distraction and high speeds. That which is familiar. Give space to the discomfort and allow yourself to settle in. We’re trying to learn new things. Towards the end of week one, or if you’re lucky, week two, notice how you feel. Better? Wonder why. Get very curious about why. Is it in the water? Your surroundings? Or are YOU behaving differently? Ask yourself which habits you could take home with you, and integrate into your at-home life. Sure, you have to go back to checking your emails, but could you set boundaries on when, and how often?
We over book our days, we busy ourselves by asking for the WiFi code, we use “vacation” as an excuse to eat the things we wouldn’t eat at home, drink too much, spend money we don’t have, and stay up too late. Being mindful on vacation doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t enjoy things. Rather, we seek to enjoy things understanding they have no self-existent power to make us happier. We fall into this trap easily enough at home, and normally, it takes a forced change for us to realize our mistake. Often, a painful one. (That thing that made me happy doesn’t make me happy any more! I need more, I need a newer one…)
Vacation can be a great opportunity to leverage the confusion of the mind (in a different, strange space) to insert new ideas, new routines, and new practices. Staying mindful of creating new, healthier habits while on vacation can leave you returning refreshed and rested. Integrating these practices when you get home might just leave you feeling more content between vacations too.
Sara-Mai Conway is a mindful world traveler who splits her time between Austin, Texas and San Juanico, Mexico. She seeks to use both her vacation life, and her at-home life to deepen her practice, slow down even more, and reach permanent contentment. All photos by her, from travels to Oaxaca, Mexico.