How Five Minutes of Meditation Makes Me A Better Traveler

How Five Minutes of Meditation Makes Me A Better Traveler

By |2016-07-01T10:23:59-04:00October 10th, 2014|Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice|41 Comments


Ah, meditation. Legs crossed, hands placed ever so gently on the knees, back straight, baggy cotton clothes flowing perfectly and alas, the look of pure zen on the face.

Well, what if I told you that I meditate sitting down in a chair or lying on my bed, wearing jeans and a t-shirt at times, hands on my stomach or by my side or perhaps behind my head, legs laid out however they end up being laid out.

The look on my face? I can’t exactly see it myself, but I doubt it’s a look of pure zen. I’m sure it’s more like a peaceful, yet disorganized, protest against a never-ending onslaught of absurd thoughts such as ‘when is the last time I’ve had some hot apple cider?’ and ‘what if a q-tip got stuck in my ear while I was eating Oreo cookies?’ and ‘I like the word reciprocate, but not as much as the word yogurt’ that take a long time for me to remove from my mind.

Sure, I’ve attended two 10-day, silent Vipassana meditation retreats over the years, and I took them both very seriously, and they both brought tremendous benefit to my life, but I don’t practice that kind of dedicated meditation too often.

All I know is that I do feel the need to drift away from the noise of life from time to time, to close my eyes for just a few minutes, to try and force all thoughts out of my head and to concentrate only on the light breaths that pass through my nose. You could argue that this is or isn’t meditation but that’s not an argument for me. I could care less what it is. I enjoy doing it and it helps me move through life.

An Impossibly Long 48 Hours

Three days ago, in Bucharest, Romania, I woke up at 7:00am. I showered, ate some fruit, got organized, went for a haircut and then I…

  • drove three and a half hours from Bucharest to the town of Focsani to drop off the car I used for my recent Romania road trip
  • hung out in Focsani for a few hours
  • took a three hour train from Focsani back to Bucharest, arriving at 7:30pm
  • walked straight from the train station to a radio station where I was interviewed for Romanian radio
  • went back to the apartment where I stay, arriving at 10:30pm
  • worked for four hours
  • packed up some of my clothes
  • slept from 4:00am – 5:00am
  • woke up, showered and took a taxi to the airport in Bucharest
  • flew 17 hours to Vancouver, via Amsterdam and Seattle, landing at 2:30pm
  • arrived in Vancouver and went straight to a cafe to wait for my friend
  • met my friend and went to his place at 5:00pm
  • went for a 2-hour wander around Vancouver and ate some dinner

And by 10:30pm, I was finally tired, just like normal, and I went to sleep. I felt great when I did go to bed and I felt great when I woke up the next morning at 7:00am, despite those crazy long couple of days. No jet lag, no exhaustion, no bodily systems out of whack, no nothing.

I was full of positive energy and I was ready to experience Vancouver.

And while I have no actual proof – only previous experience – I tend to believe that it was the ten minutes on the train in Romania, the five minutes in the apartment in Bucharest and the fifteen minutes on two different flights that I spent with my eyes closed, focusing on my breathing and trying to keep my thoughts to a minimum, that made all the difference.

Any time I recognize a need to just slow down or quiet myself down for a moment, this is what I do. When things get hectic or overwhelming, this one simple exercise, even a mere five minutes of it, will eliminate any growing feeling of losing control and not being able to keep up with life in general.

It’s like the travel tip I once wrote about on the blog where I mention the benefits of going to a cafe and having a cup of coffee immediately upon arrival in a new destination. Taking a few minutes to just sit and relax before heading outside the airport and into the unknown allows your body and mind to calm down and ultimately, to make clearer and better decisions, thus reducing the risk of making bad, rushed decisions that you might regret later or that might lead to a variety of issues.

So why not take some time to relax and clear the mind more often, wherever we may be, whenever we are struggling to tackle our busy, up and down, often confusing lives? This applies when we are traveling and when we are not.

A few minutes of concentrated breathing in a quiet place and the decisions you need to make will become easier, your frustrations will become less intense and the obstacles you face less daunting. If you want to take it further and extend the activity for thirty or sixty minutes at a time, go for it. I’m sure it will be even more beneficial. If you don’t want to though, don’t worry at all.

Meditation, or whatever you want to call it, is personal. It’s like travel in the sense that there is no ‘right’ way to do it. Find out what works for you and that’s your ‘right’ way, even if it is just five minutes of eyes-closed breathing here and there, perhaps with a teddy bear on your lap and a party hat on your head.

What matters is that you take some time to focus on yourself and to stay on top of the challenges that life throws at you. It’s more important than you might think, especially if you want to venture out into the far corners of the world and put yourself way out of your comfort zone.

Traveling can be a scary and bumpy ride at times and meditation could very well prove to be your best friend.

Do you meditate in any form? Does it help you deal with challenges in life or while traveling?

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And as an added bonus, you’ll have a chance to win a fabulous trip to beautiful Vienna!

Location: NYC, Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall®
Dates: October 14, 12:00pm – 7:00pm / October 15, 7:00am – 7:00pm

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  1. […] losing things. Of course, there are options for how to handle this better. Here’s how one super experienced traveler handles travel […]

  2. Jeremy November 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    As an increasingly busy digital nomad, my life has been getting more hectic – I’ll have to try this out, or I’ll keel over by the time I’m 35 from the stress…!

  3. Alana October 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Meditation is a practice that spans many religions–Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam–and now, even the non-religious. The human mind thinks up to 60,000 thoughts a day, so it’s important to take some time out to clear the mind. It’s very refreshing physically and spiritually.

    Also, deep breathing, which is a part of meditation, is very important. Breathing is the immediate method of detoxing the body, but beyond that, it’s powerful. In high pressure moments, if you can control your breathing, you can control your mind, which controls your actions. Even in an intensely emotional situation, you can control your response by concentrating on regulating your breathing. Hunters (and military snipers) know the power of controlling their breathing and it allows them to get those accurate shots, despite micro-tremors, crazy emotions, and intense pressure.

    Meditation can be difficult at first, but the more you do it, the better you’ll feel and the better at it you will get. Personally, I’m a Christian, so I combine meditation with the Bible, but meditation is beneficial for everyone, regardless of faith or the lack thereof. Stress can literally kill people, so it’s very important to take time out for the mind and body.

  4. Rebekah Voss October 27, 2014 at 8:48 am - Reply

    You know, I honestly never really knew about all the benefits of meditation before I started traveling. Now I know better! If only I’d had this post before I started…great stuff as usual Earl.

  5. Travel Receipe October 26, 2014 at 8:00 am - Reply

    Meditation ( without spiritual links ) is actually a very healthy procedure, as its proven to detox your internal organs, the health benefits are equal to the metal benefits…. I would definitely advise any stressed out persona to try it out.

  6. Tino October 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    I do actually meditate while sitting on a long flight or early in the morning in my hotel room, while the rest of the family is sleeping. You really dont need a lot of time, as you explained. Just a few minutes. Meditation brings the mind to a more pristine state and there is no better to tackle a trip (or life, for that matter) than a a clear mind.

  7. Geeky Explorer October 23, 2014 at 4:57 am - Reply

    Great insight. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your head clear to make the best decisions possible while abroad and I never thought of meditation! Gotta try it!

  8. Tate Nanje October 21, 2014 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    I never realized the power of meditation without assuming the position until I was on a night train from Gardu Nore to Gottingen. I was just looking out of the window and suddenly I got into this mind state awareness and I could feel and heard nothing but the sound of my own breathing. Everything and everyone was totally blocked out. When I left that train, even though I had been tired, I felt super sharp and alert; like a new person.

  9. De'Jav October 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Firstly, this is a great post. I don’t practice meditation everyday however try to when get the opportunity. It is a good way to make us present, clear our minds, and stress reliever. Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. Nikki October 19, 2014 at 8:35 am - Reply

    I have found this to be true as well! Although I cannot sit in meditation for longer than 15 minutes (max), without my mind wandering to thoughts of food, cats and back pain, a short few minutes in meditation helps you to touch base with yourself. For travellers, I think this is a vital part of each day. Would definitely recommend it to anyone!

  11. Joe October 17, 2014 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    A technique that I have found very useful,especially when I am upset about something (like when you are doing low flying to an appointment,come around the bend and the traffic is at a dead stand still and you know for a fact that you are going to be very late ) is the following: close your eyes and “look” at the picture in your mind’s eye of some one that makes you go “aah” (so cute). It can be a picture of a baby,puppy ,your dog etc.Something that you have only positive thoughts about. Within 15 seconds will you sit there with this goofy smile on your face while your brain is being flooded with feel good hormones. It is almost instant.

    This technique was invented by the Heart Math Institute mainly aimed at stock brokers who work in a high intensity environment.

  12. Miriam of Adventurous Miriam October 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    Earl, this is such a great read – thank you! Mediation is an excellent mental tool for improving focus, inner calm and preventing stress. I do Mindfulness every day which has a great effect in every aspect of my life. Like you said, a few minutes a day is all it takes.

  13. George October 16, 2014 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,
    Ultimate post .Meditation is the one and only medicine which keeps our mind relaxation. Myself been to the meditation classes daily 1 hour which we just take a break for our health. Meditation is really a powerful thought that each and every one has already started to maintain their healthy life style

  14. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling October 15, 2014 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Hi Earl – such a timely post! You put this up a few days ago but I didn’t see it til now, and I think the Universe lined that up rather nice because it seems like everybody is posting about facing your fears right now.

    I’ve had a fair bit of anxiety over the past month or two and every time I sat down to meditate, my mind just ran over my worries over and over again until I almost had panic attacks and gave up.

    What I’ve found, though, is that the longer I tried to do it for, the more I would clear away the crap and find a bit of peace. It’s almost like weeding a garden – you have to do a little bit every day, otherwise it turns into a jungle and it’ll take you a few solid weekends with a weed whacker to clear it out again.

    My old psychologist used to get me to meditate imagining myself sitting by a stream with a tree dropping leaves into the water. Every time a thought came along I would put it on one of the leaves and the river would float it downstream and away from me. Once I’d finished meditating I could pick up the thought again and worry about it, but just for now, just during my meditation time, the river would hang onto the thought for me. I found this practice so helpful, but just like the mind jungle getting overgrown after a while, if I’m not disciplined enough with meditation there are eventually more thoughts than there are leaves and it takes a while to clear them all out.

    Anyhoo, I guess the moral of the story is, taking a little bit of time each day is the best way to avoid all your crap building up and overtaking you. 🙂

  15. Shaun's Cracked Compass October 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    I freakin LOVE oreos dude.

    I’m not sure I can meditate… when I have tried my brain just goes… uh, what are you doing? and then laughs at me. I have found my mind more at peace when my body is on auto pilot, like riding my motorcycle. I’m very, in the moment, while doing that.

  16. Katie @ The World on my Necklace October 14, 2014 at 12:11 am - Reply

    The only time I meditate is the 5 minute shivasna at the end of my yoga classes. I find the most peace when I am out hiking/walking but will definitely start to do more focused meditation as it definitely sounds like it is worthwhile

  17. Pettie October 12, 2014 at 11:08 am - Reply

    I will surely give meditation a try. I need all the relaxation and focus I can get since I am currently completing a TEFL course in Thailand and this is only my second time travelling overseas and everything seems overwhelming.

  18. Pet October 12, 2014 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,

    Great post. Im busy with a TEFL course in Thailand and this is only my second time overseas so I am quite stressed out and not sure what awaits me. Will surely use your meditation advice.

  19. Cata October 12, 2014 at 6:24 am - Reply

    You make a good point here, Earl, meditation (under any form) is a personal matter. Since it’s an inwardly-focused activity, it should be shaped according to our own preferences. There is no standard recipe.

    There is no right or wrong way to do it, and forcing yourself into it will only leave you frustrated. I, for one, have found that just taking a few minutes and focusing on being more mindful of my surroundings and of myself will make a big difference. It won’t do wonders and I don’t get transported into other planes of being, but it helps a lot to just let go of negative thoughts.

  20. Ryan Biddulph October 12, 2014 at 2:10 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,

    I meditate for 20 minutes after waking every day. Without fail. Best thing I’ve ever done in my life. The music we need, the feelings we need, the thoughts we need, or the food we need, all of these attachments, well, they come and go when you learn to go into the no thought space of meditate. Sure we need food to survive, but it’s the attachment and abuse of stuff outside of us, which creates so much suffering, and so many problems in our lives.

    Love your approach. I find myself gaining more energy each day by going into that meditative state, where your mind is watched, and where you let thoughts go, and focus back on your breathing. Reading through the comments I see many folks use different approaches to de stress, but honestly, once you really meditate, properly, and you deal with your attachments head on, sure you’ll still be attached, but you’ll learn how to manage attachments, how to boost your energy, and how to lessen your suffering.

    Brilliant post Earl, because we travelers can benefit so much from time spent in quiet, doing nothing, thinking no-thing, and observing. Be a watcher of it all and you’ll never be the same. Honest to goodness. Meditate is a wonderful vehicle for dealing and letting go mental stuff which weighs down so many folks.

    Tweeting soon, and signing off from Fiji.


  21. Jazza - NOMADasaurus October 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Great post Earl! My girlfriend, Alesha, meditates in a traditional sense, but I’ve got my own methods. I used to slackline a lot, and travelled with one and that used to be my form of meditation. Now that I don’t have one in my backpack I find riding my motorbike around whatever country we are in can be quite therapeutic. A bit different, however, as I can’t get so relaxed that I get sleepy on a back road in Laos!

  22. Darren October 11, 2014 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Great post Earl but I am sceptical about the affects of meditation. Maybe I should try it sometime, rather than being skeptical.

  23. Margaret @ the chameleon traveller October 11, 2014 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Yes, indeed, another great post and some sound advice. Better to take the time to relax a little through all the hectic motions that travel & life can bring. I like that tip of some chill time in a new destination. I’m always to eager to get out and explore. But your right! A few calm moments at the start can make for better times I the future. Nice one.

  24. Emily October 11, 2014 at 6:10 am - Reply

    Great post! We just finished up our first stay at an ashram and I am already a big lover of taking some time to meditate (or whatever you want to call it) to just help to re-centre and calm myself.

  25. Christie October 11, 2014 at 2:36 am - Reply

    This post is very timely for me as I have been thinking a lot about meditation recently. I don’t currently meditate, and I’m not sure how good at it I would be as I am useless at closing off my thoughts and calming my mind – its like a million miles an hour in that little brain of mine! I always have to be doing something and I’m useless at sitting still, so I want to be able to slow down my mind and feel more in control and I think meditation could help me with that. Maybe I will give it a shot sometime soon!

  26. Graeme Voigt October 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post Earl! Very nice to read… I try to do the same method as you as much as possible, I know you only need to allow a few minutes a day but at first it’s hard to commit to (for me anyway). The way I look at it is, for people who have never meditated, their minds have not slowed down a single rev since the day they were born – that can’t be too healthy! Take it easy man!

  27. Denise October 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    I don’t meditate, but what works for me is this. At the end of the day, I leave work (which is often stressful) and I walk (instead of tram) all the way to the station (about 10 minutes). I put my headphones on and listen to some energetic music, and I walk briskly and breathe deeply, listening to both the happy beat of the music and my breathing through it.

    When I finally get to the station and sit down on the train, as my blood is flowing from the brisk walking, my body relaxes and I continue focusing on the music, and empty my brain. By the time I get home I feel great.

  28. Bren October 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl, awesome post, I’ve also just started meditating and can’t believe how hard it is. I focus on my breathing, but I can barely last 60 seconds without my mind getting distracted. I’m getting better though and it certainly helps. I try to do it every day, before I sleep and when I wake up. I guess as we get older we start to have too much crap running through our minds, which is probably why we seek things like meditation to stop us from going crazy.

  29. Susun October 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Yes, I have tried many times over the years to meditate, but I have trouble shutting my mind off… Which is the whole point of meditation… Ugh. Then I start having thoughts about why I’m having thoughts. I say to myself ‘no stop that’ but that is a thought!

    I will try again today and try to focus only on my breathing 🙂 thanks for the post!

  30. Lien October 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Thanks Earl for sharing your meditation experience. I also practice vipassana meditation and i find extremely helpful in dealing with my busy schedule. When i sit down, concentrating on the breath, watching thoughts come and go without reacting, i feel very calm and restored. I meditate twice a days, i the morning when i wake up and before going to bed. During the day i deal with stressful situation by find a quiet place, sit and breath. This help me looks at the situation in a different light and i could find my way of of it. I also notice that meditation helps me learn to let go, surrendering to whatever is happening without trying to control the situation and this seems to work out great 🙂

  31. Jaskaram Khalsa October 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    I think it’s brilliant. That is all meditation is. Taking a moment or more to bring yourself to space of neutrality no matter what is floating in your head, no matter where you are, no matter what your face looks like, no matter what you are wearing, that is meditation. Good post. On another note: Gosh,you are a busy guy! I would have slept for a week after those two days!

  32. kalle October 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I travel 2 month every year to photograph traditional people and have been reading your blog for many years. I find a lot of your writing validating my experiences. I also practice various styles of meditation daily for over 30 years and could not imagine being in a foreign culture, with limited language skills, negotiating all my needs and desires without being able to shut down my inner monolog of anxieties without meditation… and yes, there a many ways to meditate, just like there are many ways to travel, to live or to practice ones OWN spirituality. Peace, Kalle

  33. 1/2d October 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Every day, before I leave my office, or before going to sleep, I close my eyes for five minutes and think of the people I love. And I wish them good fortune. That’s my meditation. It’s calming and refreshing.

    Choosing the right soundtrack for bus, train, and subway rides while traveling can also have powerful effects.

  34. Mark October 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    I agree. I don’t “meditate” but I like to take time without the TV or any noise, close my eyes and let my mind drift. It is amazing the things that I remember that need done, or the solutions to a problem that pop in to my head. Thanks for reminding how important ‘down’ time is.

  35. Ilinca October 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl! What was the radio station you interviewed for? Do you know when it will air? Thanks!

    • Wandering Earl October 26, 2014 at 8:40 am - Reply

      Hey Ilinca – It was for Radio Romania International and it was aired just a couple of days after it was recorded. It was just a short 5 minute segment and I’m not sure exactly the time it aired in the end. I hope to do another one soon!

  36. ellen October 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Great post! I agree one must stop and breath. Prayer, yoga ..A cup of coffee doesn’t hurt either to focus yourself and stay calm. As I get ready to jump out on my own great adventure I appreciate your reminders. Thanks!

  37. Julie Appleby October 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    This is the best way to indure a long flight…close your eyes and ears and just relax. Even if you don’t sleep, your body and mind are resting. Don’t read, don’t watch the movie. Give yourself the time to just BE. And, I never suffer from jet lag either.

  38. Nat October 10, 2014 at 11:34 am - Reply

    I do my unconventional meditation too.
    I`m super energetic, so sometimes I need to slow down, breathe and allow my mind get clear. When and where does it happen?
    Most of the time in the bathroom… Sometimes on the shower, But I really like to do it after brushing my teeth, I just sit there and relax for few minutes… Perfect for good night of sleep or to start a fresh new day 😉

  39. Matthew Cheyne October 10, 2014 at 11:12 am - Reply

    I meditate but not as often as I know I should. I know that it’s good for me and that numerous studies including neuroscience scans of meditators brains show that it’s highly beneficial to the human brain if done consistently but it’s the consistency that I have trouble with. Even 5 minutes a day seems to be too hard to fit into my schedule, as I always find excuses to make to push it down the list of priorities that I have for the day. That said, I just did a 20 min guided meditation on the Insight Timer app that I highly recommend to anyone interested in meditation and I came out of that session wondering to myself, why didn’t I meditate sooner? Go figure.

    I too have done a ten day Vipassana meditation course here in Australia and it was a great introduction to meditation but to meditate for an hour twice a day every day seems to be highly impractical to me. But like I said earlier, the benefits are there for you though if you meditate day in day out.

  40. Katie October 10, 2014 at 10:47 am - Reply

    I have tried (unsuccessfully) to meditate several times. I either a) fall asleep or b) think about alarmingly similar things to you (the other day I thought about how I like to say the word goblet). Oh, and when I’ve tried it’s never been sitting looking zen either! I’m trying to slowly get more into it… 🙂

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