What Exactly Is Mindful Travel?
Undoubtedly one of the wellness world's favourite words, 'mindfulness' on its own is hardly a new concept. Often used in conjunction with 'meditation', mindfulness essentially means 'awareness', referring to the act of being fully present in any given moment, without being reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.
In a slightly more 'woo-woo' definition, if you will, it's about grounding into ourselves, and bringing the given moment right back to the simplicity of our senses (a guided meditation teacher once told me to notice "the 'tickly' feeling of the breath on your top lip as you breathe out through your nose" and it's now etched in my brain as the ultimate sensory, mindfulness cue).
Hence, it's unsurprising that mindful travel driven by holidays centred around deeply sensory experiences—a time that's meant to provide us respite from our increasingly overwhelming 'real world'—is on the rise.
And while vacations in and of themselves are breaks from our usual routine, that doesn't automatically make them mindful.
"Often, when we take a holiday it comes after a hectic work period, so bringing intentional mindfulness to our holiday is a way of helping ourselves settle into the different pace and really absorb the benefits," explained Dr. Elise Bialylew, author of The Happiness Plan and founder of Mindful in May.
"It could be as simple as taking a mindful walk on the beach by actively tuning into all of your senses: feeling your feet on the ground, tuning into sounds and smells, rather than missing the moment by being lost in thoughts about the future or the past. When your mind carries you away from the moment, you consciously bring it back and tune into your senses."
Mindful Travel is On The Rise—Especially The Curated Kind
Thanks to travellers' shifting pre-pandemic desires, travel agencies, hotels and tour operators have been adapting to the rapidly growing market, which we're arguably likely to see become an even bigger space as international travel gradually resumes normalcy. In 2018, The Global Wellness Institute reported that wellness tourism accounted for USD $639 billion of the USD $4.5 trillion wellness industry, ranking third after the beauty and nutrition sectors, respectively.
And while one might imagine that with all the 'DIY' services that are available to us to book flights, find accommodation and build itineraries, people would be turning away from the traditional travel agency, that theory would only be partly correct.
In fact, more and more people are turning back to travel agencies, specifically on the hunt for curated, mindful travel experiences worthy of their Instagram grid—but incredible enough to make them forget about it.
Interestingly, it's a trend that's being driven by millennials, with MMGY Global reporting that 24% of the generation state that they plan to use an agent for at least one vacation over the next two years, compared to 15% of Gen X-ers and 16% of baby boomers.
That said, young travellers are not turning to the travel agencies of yesteryear, where the agent essentially served as a kind of secretary, quickly transcribing a dictated itinerary.
Nowadays, good agents are tailors worthy of Saville Row, carefully designing and measuring every inch of your travel experience for the perfect fit. Considering just how overwhelmed we feel by the tasks of daily life—and with only so much annual leave available to us—it makes sense that people want to hand over control to companies they feel they can trust, especially as the options available to us only continue to grow.
"With the amount and accessibility of travel options on offer, people increasingly want bespoke and tailored experiences to distil all the clutter," explained Cameron Holland, CEO of leading curated travel agency, Luxury Escapes, just before the pandemic.
"Travellers are looking for companies that can understand their individual needs and curate offers tailored specifically for them that include activities while on holiday. It's no longer just about the accessibility of a destination, but what travellers can experience in that location, hotel or tour. More people are travelling than ever before and as we become more well-travelled, we want our travel to reflect our interests, hobbies and values."
It's this very rationale that led Luxury Escapes to create 'The Holiday Lab', an experiential pop-up on Melbourne's Bourke Street that ran in March 2020. The 'lab' enabled wanderlusters to come in and engage in a number of sensory experiments to help them find exactly which vacation would offer them the most mindful experience for them personally.
The lab 'tests', which the company co-designed with Dr. Elise Bialylew and are underscored by mindfulness research, does exactly that, with each station in the store dedicated to awakening a different sense. At the launch, I meandered my way from table to table, tasting different oils to see which one evoked the strongest childhood memories and listening to different sounds to see which one tapped into my calmest self, among other experiments.
Its custom-developed algorithm then helped to build my personalised travel persona and profile, crafting a tailored trip specifically for me. Suffice to say, the end results were quite accurate, with the completion of my test revealing that a trip to the Maldives would be right up my very mindful alley (you'll hear no complaints from me).
Mindful Travel Goes Well Beyond Meditation Retreats
While wellness retreats in the traditional sense aren't going anywhere, it's important to note that mindful travel doesn't necessarily equate to meditation or any holiday focused around traditional notions of wellness.
Rather, it sits at the intersection of wellness as a 'desired state of being', and travel as the 'means to achieving it'. For example, mindful travel can just easily centre around experiences dedicated to the sense that most appeals to you—like 'taste'.
"Food was the number one 'reason to travel' for Australians when we surveyed them on the next decade of travel, in late 2019," Holland revealed.
"And we've seen an explosion of culinary tourism over the past few years, from street food tasting tours in places like Sri Lanka and Vietnam, to companies that offer high-end immersive food experiences with esteemed chefs, and even vegan-only retreats and holidays.
"We're also seeing an increase in adventure touring, or visits to more challenging or emerging destinations off the beaten track. Travellers are looking for authentic cultural and local experiences to feel like they are not just tourists, but actually experiencing what it's like to be a local."
And it's an area that's only set to grow, with 'deep personalisation' repeatedly ranking amongst Australian luxury travellers' number one priorities.
"Personalised service is only going to increase, supported by technology to help travel operators find out what each guest wants and then going above and beyond to deliver that experience—it could be their favourite beverage as a welcome drink, restaurant recommendations based on dietary requirements or a tailored city walking map based on their health data," said Holland.
"We can expect to see operators go out of their way to offer more experiences in-destination or connect to their trip, particularly more locally-driven activities that are unique to that place. We will also no doubt see more technology driven solutions on how travellers can either augment their experience while on holiday or help in the dreaming and planning phase to find that perfect next holiday we always dreamt of!"
Social Media's Role In Mindful Travel
While mindful travel is about being immersed in an experience, rather than constantly viewing it through a filtered lens, that's not to say that Instagram and influencers don't have a part to play in the rise of the trend.
"Social media plays a considerable role," leading travel influencer Danielle Greentree, better known by her Instagram handle @travel_a_little_luxe, told marie claire.
"Mindful travel is not a passing trend. It is here to stay and on the upward trajectory. I believe it's because of social media and an influencer's ability to put a new or unique destination or hotel on the map. As a luxury travel influencer and with lots of travel experience, I tend to gravitate toward this style of travel."
Having stayed at and written about some of the world's best hotels, Greentree has seen firsthand how the luxury travel space has evolved to cater to the mindful traveller over the last few decades.
"Ten years ago, you just had to look a little harder and further to find it. Twenty years ago, you would have to create your own mindful travel experiences. Now they are being offered. Hotels are listening to what travellers not just want, but rather, expect," she said.
"There are so many new boutique and eco-friendly hotels that are available to the mainstream traveller, and hotels are now offering more immersive experiences that give back to communities, so guests feel that they are directly contributing or helping, and not just 'visiting' a local village, for example.
"Hotels are also starting to include more personalised day trips, as opposed to only offering services and experiences within their five-star walls."
The Future Of Mindful Travel
In the same way that mindful travel intersects with wellness travel, its future is also tied with conscious consumption. After all, sensory experiences, like meditative diving in the Maldives, can only exist if we continue to have a planet that provides them, a thought echoed by Greentree.
"Personally, I think mindful travel is on the rise because of climate change, and social media is the most powerful vehicle of communicating that, because of the instant global exposure it generates and the message that social media influencers choose to put out there," she said.
"It connects the dots between a global issue and the individual consumer and provides practical ways on how we can all do a little a bit for the planet and the struggling communities in it. It might be a simple as choosing a hotel that has a strong 'giving back to the community' program."