If you’re anything like me, you might have difficulty being present. For me, this used to be (and indeed sometimes still is) a problem that came up in my day-to-day life, but was magnified when travelling, as many things are. I would end up thinking always about “what’s next?” and failing to appreciate the place or situation I’m currently in.
It’s easy to do this when things are not great on your travels, but it’s surprisingly easy to do it even when things are amazing. The grass is always greener, right?
In my every day life, this problem has manifested itself in perhaps subtler ways, but can often still be present. For example, I’m aware that I can come across as distant, cold or standoffish sometimes, and this is largely due to the fact that my mind is frequently elsewhere, looking forward to some promised future gratification, rather than paying my present situation and interlocutors my full attention.
While I clearly haven’t found the perfect solution for this occasional lack of presence in my day-to-day life, I have developed some tricks which I find especially useful to apply when travelling for living in the moment and being present. They may, of course, also be helpful at other times.
Work with your strengths
Identifying the ways in which you are or are not able to be present given different circumstances is a good start. A very basic version of this is to ask, are you a morning person or an evening person? Knowing that you are going to be more receptive to external stimuli at a certain time of day (or even time of month, or season of the year) and working with that is going to help you. Trying to force yourself to go against your nature by, for example, trying to take in and appreciate a sunrise when you are the grumpiest, most unresponsive person you know before 9am is probably not going to work. Go for the sunset instead.
It’s a very human thing to want to seek instant gratification, so always keeping yourself in motion, moving towards the next event, must-see or potentially life changing experience is an easy routine to get stuck in. To be present, though, it takes stillness. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must actually stop moving; walking through a beautiful landscape and letting the sensory input come to you is a good way to do this. On the other hand, if just stopping in your tracks and taking time to just sit and contemplate your environment without actively doing anything seems a bit too scary at first, one great thing to do is to draw what you see, even if you’re no good at it. The act of drawing what you see requires you to pay much closer attention to it than otherwise, and forces you to be present.
Focus on a sense
I sometimes find that focusing on a particular sense (in my case, often smell) when I travel helps me to be in the moment and fully immerse myself in the place surrounding me. Consider what your strongest sense is, and start with that. If it’s sight, try to see details that would otherwise pass you by; if it’s hearing, try listening out for and distinguishing different bird songs. Then try honing your weakest one and putting it to use in your new environment.
Put down your device
It’s tempting to reach for technology while travelling, especially to document and share things that are happening around you. Doing this, however, likely has the effect of creating distance between you and the experience you’re having, rather than bringing it closer or allowing you to immerse yourself in it.
All too easy to forget though it is, our breathing has a lot of influence on our state of mind. If you suddenly feel that everything is moving too fast, and you’re not fully present in your travels at any time, just stop and take a deep breath. Then another one. Feel the difference from before, and acknowledge that you weren’t as present as you were; don’t beat yourself up about it! Keep breathing and letting experiences in.
How do you manage to live in the moment and be present when travelling?