“To walk the spiritual path is to continually step out into the unknown.” – Wallace Huey
Since ancient times, people have considered travel as a passage to divine inspiration. Sacred journeys, known as pilgrimages, are taken to shrines and places of significance. A few examples include sites like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and the Western Wall in Israel.
The reason why these locations are considered sacred to devotees is due to their spiritual importance. They are places where a deity is believed to reside, that resonates with other-worldly powers, where miracles have been witnessed, or where a founder or saint was born, passed away, or had their spiritual awakening. Pilgrims embark on these holy journeys to be healed, have questions answered, or to receive blessings.
Whether we choose to visit sacred sites or not, I believe that we can gain spiritual enlightenment with every trip that we take. Travel is instrumental in not only seeking the divine, but also to find the divine within us. As we break free from the ruts of routine and the shackles of identity labels, we can access these portals which often lead to profound self-knowledge and wisdom.
When people are questioned about their reasons for travel, most of those reasons are superficial. They may include getting away from work and recharging batteries, spending quality time with family, friends, or a significant other, visiting a certain landmark, getting a nice tan, going shopping, and partying like a rock star. But no matter what propels us to get away from it all, we will always return home a different person than when we left, whether we realize it or not.
That’s what happens when you shake up your routine and immerse yourself in different environments and energetic spaces. Your perspective shifts as you encounter new places, people, foods, and customs. Imagine how much more we could squeeze out of our travels if we are more present in our experiences and intentionally process everything that happens around us?
As an avid traveler, I know that this can be a challenge. Once the original novelty and excitement ebbs away, you might get tired of being in a foreign place where things feel out of your control. You’ll begin to miss the comforts of home. No matter how stimulating and fun a place is, your mind is preoccupied with inconveniences, safety concerns, finding your way around, pacing yourself, and meeting your basic needs on the road.
It was only when I returned home and re-established my routine that I could calmly process all that I had experienced and appreciate the totality of my time travelling. I was frustrated that I was unable to fully savor everything in the present moment. Intuitively, I knew that I was missing an opportunity to both luxuriate my senses and enhance my understanding of deeper truths.
It was on a long-haul flight from Los Angeles to Dubai that I was able to gain clarity on this predicament. I was bundled up in a warm blanket on a reclining chair, staring up at the ceiling of the A340, adorned with twinkling lights that emitted a soft glow in the dimly lit cabin. The murmur of the engine and the warm chamomile tea that I sipped intermittently, lulled me into a quasi-sleep state between my attempts to make notes about these breakthroughs.
It was in this space of calm and stillness that I could finally understand the missing pieces that would make traveling a transformative spiritual experience. These five tips that I share with you are not what you would find in your typical travel guide. But its unconventionality is exactly why it delivers what you need to have deeper travel experiences that will get under your skin:
1. Maintain a travel journal: While we travel, we may receive insights as we go through our experiences and observations along the way. It’s easy to forget these little details unless we capture them in some form. Keeping a written record of your travels in a journal will ensure that you keep track of all your momentary musings. I like to take ‘writing breaks’ by sitting on a park bench or in a roadside cafe while doing some people watching. I jot down my stream of thoughts. If you’re someone who loves to take photographs, you can also capture the essence of your trips with images that speak to you.
2. Go off the beaten track and explore: If you’ve ever visited a major tourist destination during peak season, then you probably know what it’s like to contend with crowds, long lines, and the chaos that the busy travel season brings. If you’re an empath like me, you most likely get overwhelmed with all the stimulation and disarray, and it prevents you from enjoying all that the destination has to offer. For this reason, I prefer visiting major destinations during off-peak seasons and also exploring the less touristy areas such as a quaint bohemian district, a nearby village, or a local cafe or bar where I can mingle with locals.
3. Have alone time to digest your experiences: If you have travel companions such as family members, friends, or a significant other, I recommend scheduling some alone time so that you can digest your experiences. I have found that when I travel with other people, I tend to get distracted by the conversations around me and I’m affected by the general mood and group dynamics. As a result, I miss out things around me, and I feel incapable of picking up on the vibe of the place I’m visiting. Take some breathing space from not just your travel companions, but also from communication devices. Avoid checking emails and social media when you’re on the go.
4. Balance routine with spontaneity in your plans: It’s always a good idea to have a well laid out plan for your travels and establish a routine as soon as you reach your destination. I have found that if I’m in one city long enough, having some kind of routine and frequenting a few familiar places, grounds me and makes it easier for me to deal with the new environment that I’m in. Establishing a routine and a plan for each day comforts me and enables me to make room for spontaneity. For example, while visiting a major site, you might see a street filled with cute shops that sell local handicrafts and take a detour there to check it out. Occasionally stepping out like this, makes you comfortable with venturing into the unknown, which is really what the spiritual journey is all about – learning how to trust what can’t be seen.
5. Slow down and take in everything with all your senses: Most of us don’t get nearly enough vacation time. Hence, we often find ourselves having to rush through the trips that we take. Those tours with fixed schedules tend to hurry you up at each stop. Consequently, you find yourself plagued by worries about losing your tour guide and missing your ride back home. One of the keys to getting the most out of our travel experience and making it a spiritual experience is slowing down, so you can assimilate all that surrounds you – the sights, sounds, smells, etc. In doing so, you’ll realize that it’s the journey that matters the most, and not the destination. The subtle, living beauty in all things can only make itself known to us when we are still.
Our travels are the perfect metaphor for the journey of life. Our time on Earth is fleeting when seen from the perspective of cosmic time. In learning how to travel consciously, observing everything through the lens of our deeper selves, we inadvertently train ourselves to be good travelers on our spiritual journey, savoring every moment that we have, and appreciating all the lessons, wisdom, and insight that we gain from each step on our path.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: Have you had any deeply spiritual travel experiences? What did you learn during your trip and how did it change you?