When vacation season approaches, there’s a palpable sense of excitement all around—but very often expectations rise high, too. Expectations to live up to your idea of the perfect vacation and document it for the world to admire on social media; expectations to be looking your very best; and expectations to tick every box of must-see landmarks, must-try fancy restaurants, or must-experience adventures.
But who is setting the rules and all these ‘musts’ anyway?
Sometimes we can get carried away by what we’ve been told our vacations should look like and try to emulate what we see our friends (both real and virtual) doing. But do you really need to be taking an expensive long haul flight on the other side of the world, if taking a train to the countryside and spending quiet family time is enough for you this summer? Or should you be visiting trendy seaside locations and spending hours to secure a reservation at the best spot in town, if your idea of fun is more about remote beaches and homemade food?
In reality, the ideas of what constitutes a good or enviable vacation are nothing but made-up standards, mere illusions that exist in our heads. Perhaps it’s time to start shifting the focus on our individual tastes and needs—and to invite mindfulness, rather than ego, into our holidays.
What even a mindful vacation is?
It simply means being present and aware of your surroundings and becoming a little more open to unexpected encounters and experiences rather than trying to control the whole narrative.
“Mindfulness is paying attention to our present-moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It’s the capacity of our mind to not be lost in the past or future, but to be more present and less reactive.” – Diana Winston, director of mindful education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Let It Go
You’ve heard about the benefits of doing copious research ahead of a vacation and creating detailed itineraries to pack as much into your holiday as possible. While there are plenty of benefits to doing some research, planning in advance, and asking friends-in-the-know for their recommendations, going the extra mile and trying to control the experience with a strict schedule misses the point.
Look at your itinerary as nothing but a draft, accept that not everything will go according to your plan, and let go of control. Unexpected and unforeseen circumstances may arise when travelling: a flight might be delayed causing you to miss your tour, the restaurant you wanted to visit might be fully booked, or your hotel might not look as picturesque in reality. But when you let go of your expectations, focus on maintaining inner peace, and stay mindful in the present moment, you might discover and appreciate situations and people that you couldn’t even imagine when planning your trip.
Actively Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is like a muscle that needs to be constantly trained—and you can simply do this through breathwork, meditation, or journaling. When we’re on vacation, we tend to easily forget those healthy and positive habits, but being consistent with your routine and making the commitment to stick to it might end up transforming your overall experience.
That doesn’t mean doing hour-long solitary meditations or waking up at 6am to do a full morning routine if your priority is to spend your days resting carelessly and pursuing adventures. But you could always dedicate a few minutes at the start and end of your day to meditate or simply check in with yourself. Alternatively, you could do some deep breathing while relaxing on your sun lounger, take a moment to be quiet and sit still, and keep up with your gratitude practice. If you decide to use the Five Minute Journal (physical journal or app), a mere two minutes to reflect back on your day and feel grateful for the experiences you’re having will increase your sense of appreciation and joy for the trip by tenfold.
We usually equate vacations with maximum indulgence: eating the food we usually avoid, allowing ourselves to drink extra glasses of wine and prosecco, or staying up late. There’s nothing wrong with indulgence per se, as long as it’s moderated. Think about how you want to feel after your vacation: recharged or in desperate need of a detox?
If recharged is the answer, try to be more mindful of the small choices you make every day. Perhaps you could walk instead of taking a taxi, stay active with morning swims, go for wine by the glass instead of a bottle, and order a fresh tomato pasta or substantial salad instead of steak for dinner. Physical vitality will in turn increase your capacity for staying grounded and appreciating each moment as it comes.
Opt for Hands-On Experiences
Taking a break from our professional lives presents an opportunity to take a break from our laptops and screens, too. Embrace it and pursue new activities that require your presence and your full attention. Depending on your personal tastes, this can mean anything from a game of backgammon to a trip to a local market, a hike, or sky diving for the adrenaline junkies. The only requirement is to keep a distance from the digital realm and take in the present moment.
Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Being mindful and expanding our consciousness often requires doing things we don’t usually do, like making eye contact and talking to strangers, trying out new cuisines, communicating in a foreign language we can barely speak, or getting over our fear of the water and swimming just a little bit deeper into the ocean.
A vacation, which takes us away from our routines and the versions of ourselves we’re most used to, is the perfect time to experiment and push our boundaries. Try something you’ve always been drawn to but scared of (it can be as small as jumping into the pool or dancing like no one’s watching), and you’ll instantly start feeling the joy of the present moment more intensely.
Make Time for Self-Reflection
The additional downtime of a vacation also happens to be a great time to reflect on life back at home. Distance will give you the perspective you might have been missing to think about how happy you are with your day-to-day life, what you’d like to change, and how to work towards those changes. Naturally, by making healthy choices and practicing mindfulness during your vacation, the insights you will get will be that much more powerful.
Inversely, if you’re finding it hard to disconnect during your vacation and you’re tempted to over-indulge, it might be time to reflect on what you’re trying to escape from back home and what’s the route for these blocks.