Find out how you can travel consciously
Isn’t it amazing how affordable and accessible travel is these days? Whether you’re going to the country for a weekend or halfway around the world for six months, you can book an entire trip within minutes on your smartphone — or have someone else arrange it for you completely. To add to this, options abound when it comes to accommodation, tours and other experiences — and you’re paying a fraction of the price you would have a few years ago.
All of this frequent exploring and travelling presents us with a unique opportunity that we can harness to see the world in a new way and create a more meaningful impact. This is conscious travel.
The yogic traveller
Conscious travel goes beyond the typical holiday and is about creating a positive impact while you explore the world.With its focus is on adopting a mindful and responsible outlook — it could almost be called “yogic travelling” — this doesn’t necessarily mean your experience needs to involve a wellness or spirituality retreat.
Conscious travel requires us to become more aware in our travel choices and how they might impact the local community, culture and environment, while drinking up and savouring every moment of the experience. Embracing this yogic perspective and even making the smallest conscious travel decisions can make a big impact. From offsetting your carbon emissions to giving your time to volunteer or choosing a local tour guide, there are plenty of ways you can travel consciously on social, environmental and spiritual levels.
Seeing the world in a new way
The concept of karma is helpful to understand why it is important to travel consciously and experience the world in different ways.
Conscious travel goes beyond the typical holiday and is about creating a positive impact while you explore the world. All our actions have a karmic effect and it is the selfish, negative acts that overshadow us and cause suffering. As a way of avoiding creating new karma, karma yoga teaches the practice of positive and selfless actions. The mindset and intention behind this is essential and requires you to act selflessly without first considering, “But what will I get out of it?”
With a refreshed mindset, travel becomes less about self-indulgent, extravagant holidays and more about experiencing the world in a meaningful way.
You can in some small ways practise karma yoga by transforming your intention when it comes to travel. For instance, instead of placing what you hope to get out of your travels as a top priority, rethink your intention. Prioritise, say, helping the local community through sustainable tourism or respecting the environment through adopting a “leave no trace” ethos.
With a refreshed mindset, travel becomes less about self-indulgent, extravagant holidays and more about experiencing the world in a meaningful way, interacting with difference cultures, giving back and doing good. How yogic is that? And the Beauty is that there are so many ways to do this, which suit all kinds of travellers and won’t cost the earth.
On- and off-the-mat travel tips
To experience richer travels, try the following:
- The stress of delayed flights, communication barriers, jet lag and the general unpredictability of travelling can bring out the worst in us. Remember to breathe, practise patience and kindness.
- Practise santosha. Travel is eye-opening and reminding yourself of the principle of santosha, which is all about contentment and gratitude, can help you gain greater perspective of the world and your place in it (see p38 for more on santosha).
- Jot down your thoughts each day in a travel journal and reflect on the experience.
- Learn some phrases of the local language and read about the history, culture and customs beforehand.
- Be present! Make it your aim to immerse yourself, absorb everything and understand what it’s like to be a local.
Travel planning is a key part of being a conscious traveller. Doing your homework before you go ensures you have the knowledge to truly make responsible and ethical choices.
One part of travelling consciously is thinking locally — and you won’t regret it. Generally speaking, local options provide a more genuine, authentic experience and also offer an opportunity for you to make more of a direct impact and boost the local economy.
To ensure your experience does less harm and more good, consider the following during travel planning and when on the ground:
- Rather than travelling with an internationally owned tour operator, look for a local guide who can give you an insider’s perspective.
- Book a homestay or bed and breakfast. Many will give you an authentic insight into daily life, as well as the chance to enjoy a home-cooked meal.
- Look for locally owned restaurants that use local produce.
- Buy souvenirs from local artisan groups who are paid fair living wages for their work.
- When paying for goods and services, or tipping, be fair. In some situations, it’s easy to barter with locals, but don’t make it your aim to get the absolute lowest price. Instead, think about what the product or service is actually worth.
Don’t just see the world — change the world
If you want to go a step further, volunteering trips are a great way to experience a new culture while making a tangible difference. Overseas volunteering takes you off the tourist track and allows you to make connections with a community, so you can understand the challenges they face on a deeper level.
Doing your homework before you go ensures you have the knowledge to truly make responsible and ethical choices.
The growth and popularity of “voluntourism” experiences has sadly resulted in unethical providers cashing in on their popularity. In these cases, money given by visitors often doesn’t funnel to those actually in need, and children can be exploited and placed at risk of abuse.
Having said this, there are plenty of volunteer experiences that work in partnership with communities to achieve long-term, sustainable integrated development. Research organisations thoroughly before you sign up, including their development approach, cost breakdown and allocation, child protection and privacy policies and what support they will provide you on the ground.
Some ethical options include:
- Habitat for Humanity — a global aid and development agency that sends teams of volunteers to work alongside families to help them build safe and decent homes in developing countries.
- GVI Australia — works with NGOs and local partners to deliver overseas volunteering programs across areas including healthcare, education, wildlife conservation and more.
- The Australian Government’s Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) — a volunteer program that offers longer-term opportunities. avi.org.au
Different ways to support a cause
Prefer to get behind a cause while seeing the world? There are other ways than, say, being a doctor who cures cancer. People are increasingly looking for finding impactful ways to incorporate travel and altruism through charity-based challenges and activities. These experiences provide supporters with a platform to take action by, for example, cycling through Vietnam, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or trekking through Tassie in the name of fighting cancer, raising awareness for endangered species or the rights of women and girls around the world.
These activities and adventures have a donation component, which participants fundraise among their networks before leaving on the trip in support of the cause. Such fundraising and awareness-raising activities engage and mobilise supporters who might not have the ability to participate themselves, and allow them to be part of your journey and make a difference without leaving Home.
Do you want to support a cause and challenge yourself while experiencing new places and cultures? Try:
- Inspired Adventures — an agency that partners with not-for-profits to provide meaningful ways for ordinary people to do something extraordinary for a cause they are passionate about.
- Project Futures — a charity offering transformative experiences that raise funds, educate and empower our generation to end human trafficking and exploitation.
Meditation and yoga retreats
For those who cannot go without their asana practice and want a truly conscious and spiritual experience, you can’t look beyond a meditation or yoga retreat.
However, remember that a conscious and spiritually rewarding trip doesn’t mean you have to stay in an ashram the whole time. You can also look for experiences that allow you to explore the local environment and take part in cultural activities, such as an eco-friendly retreat.
Many eco-retreats offer a wonderful blend of yoga and other natural therapies and activities, which immerse you in the natural environment and culture and don’t leave behind a nasty carbon footprint. To ensure your retreat is entirely eco-friendly, research the facility and how its operators actually contribute to or conserve the local environment or community.
In Australia, we have some stunning eco-retreats at our front door, as well as other great options further afield.
- Krishna Village. An eco-yoga community set on an organic farm in northern New South Wales, it offers yoga and meditation and volunteering options.
- Billabong Retreat. An eco-yoga retreat just outside Sydney with a stunning backdrop, organic wholefood cuisine and yoga, mindfulness and meditation retreats.
- Sanctuary Retreat. An eco-lodge at Queensland’s Mission Beach, which shares the rainforest with its guests while offering yoga retreats and classes for all levels.
- Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. This Ecotourism-certified retreat offers wellness retreats featuring yoga, meditation, massage, delicious organic meals and more.
- ecoYoga at Inverliever Lodge, Scotland. One for the bucket list. After you’ve enjoyed a long yoga class or meditation session, relax in a bath by a wild river, an underground sauna or a solar-powered hot tub.
- Arō Ha, New Zealand. Built to environmental and sustainable standards, Arō Ha boasts stunning views of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu along with yoga, hiking and cooking classes.
- Floating Leaf, Bali. Join an upcoming yoga or meditation retreat or organise your own at this eco-retreat with a strong commitment to sustainable living and preserving the local landscape.
How to reduce your carbon footprint
Most modes of travel have an impact on the environment, but you can take steps to reduce your footprint by becoming aware of your impact and options.
- Forget hiring a car — walking is one of the best ways to explore a new place. Look into bicycle hire or public transport when you need to travel further afield.
- Cruising is one of the least environmentally friendly means of transport. Some ocean liners are making improvements, however, and there are smaller eco-friendly options available. Do your research before booking.
- Limit your air travel as much as possible and look into other ways to get around. Also consider buying carbon offsets or looking at other ways to offset your emissions.
A staycation with a difference
If your bank balance is looking a bit low, a staycation is a great option for the conscious and budget-conscious traveller. Here’s how —and why — you should experience your city in a new way:
- Be a tourist in your own city. In our hometowns, many of us have a radius that we will and won’t travel beyond. Use your staycation as a chance to expand your horizons and experience new places close to home.
- Help the environment. If you use public transport and walk and cycle where possible, your environmental footprint will be almost negligible compared to international travellers.
- Have a change of scenery. Stay at your own home or find new digs for a few nights. Consider a local or green hotel or bed and breakfast.
- Make a difference. Use your staycation as an opportunity to volunteer locally, meet new people and give back.
- Practise santosha. Santosha (contentment) is a perfect mindset for any staycation as it gives you an appreciation for what you have and where you are in this very moment. Practise santosha for having a warm place to sleep at night, for living in a lucky country or for having friends and family around you.
Festivals that give back
Find inspiration, discover new ideas and see the world in a new way by tagging a mindful festival onto your next trip! Here are our top finds:
- The perfect festival to add onto your travels. Wanderlust festivals run throughout the year in Australia, Europe and the US and offer a completely conscious experience with yoga, meditation, music and mindful-living workshops.
- Envision, Costa Rica. A four-day conscious and progressive festival all about music, yoga, art, spirituality and a fundamental connection with nature. Envision prides itself on a strict “leave no trace” policy. The next festival is in February 2018.
- BaliSpirit, Indonesia. Based on the Balinese Hindu tradition of living in harmony with the spiritual, social and natural environment, this festival offers yoga, dance, healing workshops and world music while experiencing the local culture. Join the next festival in April 2018.
- Luminate, New Zealand. Running over a week, Luminate is an earth-friendly festival of music, art, culture, intentional community, sustainability, celebration and inspiration. The 2018 date is yet to be confirmed.
- Local yoga festivals. Regular yoga festivals are popping up across Australia, which boast a range of local and international teachers, musicians and speakers. A great addition to any staycation!
A conscious experience
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world,” and, through travelling, you really can. By repositioning your mindset from being all about yourself and the break you so badly deserve to how you can impact others and become more mindful, it’s possible to transform travel into a more conscious experience on social, ethical, environmental and spiritual levels. Go forth and shake!
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