7 Tips for Smoother, Smarter, more Soulful Travel

you can lose yourself, even when you know where you are
This past summer, for me, was four months of constantly moving around. Bay of Quinte. Toronto. Tampa. Toronto. San Francisco. Toronto. Montreal. Toronto. San Francisco. Toronto. San Francisco. Toronto. Bay of Quinte. Toronto. Beijing. Xi'an. Shanghai. Hong Kong. San Francisco and back to Toronto. I'm now grounded for the rest of the year.

I help professionals, entrepreneurs and busy parents manage their health, stress and energy through mindfulness, meditation, and self-healing; but you can imagine how so much moving around affects my own energy... and how that affects my work.

Travelling is a fun and mind-broadening activity but the joy of it quickly fades when you find yourself constantly packing and unpacking, going through endless security checks, living out of a bag while spending a great deal of time in airports, lounges, cabs and hotel rooms. It is also easy to forget your daily meditation or mindfulness practice and even easier to experience illness when you're constantly on the go.

Over the years I've come to understand seven simple ways to save time, keep my energy and spirits up, protect myself against burn-out and make the most of my travels. Here they are;

travel light - suitcases should be smaller than you

1. Pack what you know. 

Packing has always been my least favourite activity. While running the communications department for an African organization a few years ago, I created a time-saving standard packing list. I still use this today, allowing for minor adjustments depending on destination. I used to roll everything but now I use the KonMari method. It's much neater than a big mass of rolled up clothes and everything goes directly from drawer to bag. My advice: take your favourite clothes with you. If you have something sitting in the closet that you never wear, keep it there or better yet, give it away. Making sure you are comfortable is the priority. When you're comfortable, people feel comfortable around you. Pretty simple right?

2. Coordinate and consolidate. 

I like to travel for work but always find time for pleasure when I'm away. I recently spent two weeks hopping around China with family and proceeded directly to a workshop in California, carrying only a small roll-on and purse. So, I needed everything to do double or triple-duty. That meant packing wrinkle-resistant, colour-coordinated items that were easy to hand-wash, dried fast and could be layered. Must-take item: A couple of nice, big scarves to wrap around me on chilly flights, fold and use as neck or lower back supports, wear as beach cover ups or sarongs, and yes as a scarf or accessory.

keep these things safe!

3. Tech up and back up. 

Remember Murphy's Law? Make sure you have back-up plans. Remember your power converters; take that extra cable, and the spare drive with a copy of your files. The last thing you want to do is arrive to a work destination and be unprepared. Keep a backup of your ID by scanning and emailing yourself a copy of your passport, visa, driver's licence, health insurance, other important documents, bank account numbers and corresponding emergency telephone numbers. While you're at it, backup your phone. Last time I travelled, my iPhone plummeted to the bottom of an elevator shaft the day before I was coming home. It's a hassle replacing these things when you're away, and once you’ve done this, you won’t need to again for a while.

4. Spread those wings before you fly. 

don't try this in the airport - they may give away your ticket

Airports and planes are designed to get the most people to a destination using the least amount of space, resources and tools. Some airports have begun to make a shift, though. San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room in the domestic departures lounge. It's small but does the trick - get a few stretches in if you can, especially if you're waiting for a long-haul flight. Some airports have quiet rooms or meditation rooms too. Even without these, you can usually find space for stretching, taking some revitalizing deep breaths or closing and sunning your eyes and face by those big windows at your gate. Instead of shopping, tweeting or firing up your tablet, waiting in the lounge or at your gate is a great time to meditate or practice mindfulness before take-off. There's enough noise and movement to observe your body and mind, and the stiff benches at gates are perfect for sitting up a little straighter, just uncomfortable enough to help ward off sleepiness.

wouldn't this be so nice?

5. Make space in the sky. 

Your movements are limited on the flight, so take care of yourself in the air. There's usually space near the kitchen or washrooms to go for a stretch. I've found that rather than getting stares from people, they were more likely to come by for a stretch too. Flying with recycled air is drying, so bring an empty travel bottle, fill it with hot or cold drinking water and a lemon wedge from a restaurant at your gate to keep hydrated throughout the flight.

In your purse or travel bag, keep a set of ear buds, clean underwear and a t-shirt, a small notebook and pen, healthy snacks like carrots and fruit, and at least a one night’s stay worth of currency for each country you're travelling to. Who knows, you might be struck by a brilliant idea to jot down, run into delays, be stuck somewhere for hours or perhaps even overnight. If the in-flight movie selection disappoints, you will thank yourself if you took the time to prepare a playlist of your favourite relaxing music, guided meditations or audiobooks to listen to, or brought along a timeless, inspirational read.

I've even noticed the flight goes by faster when I practice mindfulness or close my eyes and meditate while in the plane. If I end up talking to the person sitting next to me, my interactions are so much more pleasant and sweet. Which brings me to...

6. Talk to people. 

Just a friendly hello to the person sitting next to you at the gate, on your flight or on the train can enrich your travel experience. I can't say how many times a stranger has made my day or given me amazing insights into life.

Once on a Chennai-Mumbai flight I teared up with an excruciating earache while flying with a cold. The guy sitting next to me somehow fashioned a finger puppet out of his croissant in efforts to cheer me up. On a rather uncomfortable Paris-New York flight, the guy sitting next to me and I snuck away from our noisy section to the back of the plane and played charades and laughed for hours.

On my way home from Amsterdam once, I sat next to a woman who was leaving her whole world behind to make a fresh start in Toronto. Additionally, she had a fear of flying and was clenching the armrest in panic. I read her A Meditation for the Jet-Set during our take off. We still keep in touch today.

no lie. i sat next to her on a red eye home.
she slept faceplant style on her seat the entire flight

7. Sleep. 

If you are crossing time zones and need to sleep in order to stay fresh and alert on landing, do what you need to do. I set my internal clock to destination time when I board a plane. You can also bring a good bedtime tea with you. I love Clipper's organic Sleep Easy tea. You can check your local health food store for one containing valerian root.

For mid-afternoon jet lag after arriving at your destination, I set an alarm for a 12-minute nap or practice intense deep breathing for 30 seconds, enough to freshen up for a few hours. Other things you can use are eye masks, smartphone "white noise" apps (crashing waves work wonders for me), earplugs and travel pillows.

Practice the "shutdown" meditation: move your awareness from your feet up to your head, relaxing and releasing each part of the body as you go.

Take it easy...

view from my virgin atlantic flight
to delhi.  relax and take it all in

The last thing I can say is this: pace yourself. Don't travel to twelve places in four months and try and keep your regular workload. It's just too much to keep anyone healthy, grounded and mindful. This summer was an experiment on myself I won't need to repeat. By the end of it, I was exhausted, had a bad cold and came home needing a cocoon and silence, when I usually feel brighter, recharged and revitalized.

As Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes.” So make your journey comfortable with less of the stress. No matter where you find yourself, if your body, mind and spirit are comfortable, you will soak up more richness from your travel experiences than you had imagined.