What is Zen Travel and how you can do it while traveling abroad?
Written by Shriradha Mukherjee
Photos by Tessa Juliette
Zen is a complete state of awareness, where you are aware of your surroundings, of who you are, your purpose in life. It is not just a way of being but also a state of mind, body, and soul. And going by the popular beliefs of legions of intrepid travelers from all around the globe, the true meaning of Travel is found somewhat to be synonymous with the meaning of Zen. That state of mind when you achieve something unthinkable, when you witness something unimaginable or when you experience something out of this world while traveling are the perfect moments of Zen Traveling. It’s easy to overlook and miss out on the smaller things while traveling, but it is the peace find in these completely ordinary experiences that make up for extraordinary travel moments.
While many resorts to the means of meditation and Yoga for achieving it, most are still unaware of the true meaning of Zen Traveling! Just as no two other traveler is the same in their travel choices, the means of achieving Zen while traveling also varies from one person to the other. So, all you wanderlusters looking for means of achieving a zen state of mind while traveling these are a few simple steps which can help you find that inner zen on the outbound, in the outer reaches.
Live in an ashram In India
Life in an ashram is a journey unto oneself. The stress-free environment and the simpler means of living are meant to sever all ties with your daily chaotic life for a few days and to experience the convergence of mind, body, and soul in its purest form. Forget all about your uncertain routines back at home, these ashrams function like clockworks when it comes to food and sleep routines of the disciples. Which means early wake-up calls and early lights off. A typical day in these ashrams is all about getting in touch with one’s spiritual self. But don’t confuse spirituality with Religion in these ashrams, cause they are preachers of inner peace, the stability of mind and soul and open-mindedness which has no bearing on any religion.
The meditating sessions with the yogis in such ashrams are said to be so powerful that people have been heard to have experienced a surge of energy passing through them, taking them further away from the burdens of their urban lives. Living in ashrams are all about humble living, be it walking barefoot in the premises, having your meals sitting on the floor or eating with your hands, or performing ‘Karma Yoga’ or ‘Selfless Service’. It is not only a chance to connect anew with your own self while traveling but also a chance to witness and participate in spiritual ceremonies that are distinctive to the local culture, which put together gives a perfect definition of Zen Traveling.
Take a solo trek amidst nature in Nepal
Home to the 8 of the highest summits in the world, Nepal has remained a one-stop adventure destination for adventure seekers from the world over for ages now. And Nepal certainly takes the cake with the motherlode of all mountain expeditions that the Mount Everest is! These mountain trails are filled with their fair share of chills and thrills which ought to keep you cautiously captivated with one eye on the amazing views around and the other on your footing on the trail!
It might not be trekking down an uncharted path all on your own, but trekking solo in the Himalayas amidst the gushing cold air, bountiful nature, white-capped colossal peaks and the quaint experiences of mountain villages could be the perfect setting to achieve your travel Zen. If understanding the Zen of Travel is your Everest then what place better to go for it than the basecamp of Everest itself, right! From Everest Base Camp to big shot names like Annapurna Circuit Trek, Upper Mustang Trek- these mountain trails could be perfect for you to test your agility, strength, and character.
There’s an unspoken spirituality in these Himalayan ranges, a vibe that’ll push you further to go beyond your limits and that could be a definitive moment of Zen Travel! And if the true meaning of Zen Travel has eluded you forever, you ought to find your answers somewhere along these hill tracks!
Feel the zen of ‘giving back’ while traveling in Thailand
A true gem of Southeast Asia and also the first leg of the famous Southeast Asian backpacking trail, Thailand has remained a wanderlist topper for backpackers and gappers like us for decades now. The enchanting offshore islands, the buzzing streets of the Bangkok, drool-dripping food, fantastic culture, the unique floating markets and the alluring beaches factor in hugely when you think about the travel wows of Thailand. But once you go down and the off the beaten path you’d sure find some hidden gems in the countryside like I did when I visited the Elephant villages up in Surin.
And being the ardent animal lover I am, I couldn’t think of any better way of giving back to Thailand than working in the elephant farms and becoming nonetheless, a trainee mahout on my Thai escape. My daily duties along with some fellow do-gooders was complete care of the elephants, from cleaning, washing to feeding- and the joy that I felt with these gentle creatures and the local people all the while experiencing life at a different pace in the Thai countryside changed my perspective on Zen Travel. It need not be spiritual always for you to achieve Zen!
Experience humble living in a remote place or village in Kenya
It is said local homestays while traveling is the purest form of cultural immersion that there is, especially when it’s an experience like living with the Maasais in a remote village in Kenya, overlooking the Famous Mara Conservancy. A local homestay with a Maasai tribe is not only a chance to experience the traditions and culture of one of the most famous of African Tribespeople but also experience the true meaning of humble living, or merely basic survival while out there in the wilderness. Forget about Kenya on the tourist brochures and think about Kenya through the eyes of its people who settled there first.
Away from the hullabaloo of urban life and the rush of cities, and deep into the heart of African wild, a homestay with the Maasai is something right out of the Zen Traveler's handbook. From taking part in daily chores like milking cows, lighting fire-(without matches mind it) to preparing traditional Maasai meals like Ugali over open-fire, there couldn’t be a better way of experiencing bush life in Africa than this. And the peace that you’ll find from the smaller things during your stay here is the ultimate Zen of traveling!
Explore a quaint corner of a town on foot, in Peru
Machu Picchu has remained a star-spangled bucket list topper or many intrepid travelers and backpackers and can very well be called one of the most popular travel spots on Earth! Whenever you think of Peru, I bet an image of Machu Picchu readily pops up in your head. And thanks to the many travel feeds and bloggers out there, your brain is overloaded with information about the Ausangate Rainbow Mountains, The Nazca Lines, and even the Inca Trail. But what’s so zen about doing these done to death things? No, I am not asking you to strike these off your wanderlist just like that. I am asking you to broaden your horizon and see beyond these widely promoted attractions for Peru is brimming with an old world charm and beauty in every corner.
In the rush to head out to Cusco many people overlook the amazing city of Lima that has its fair share of Latin treasures. It’s not just Ceviche and Pisco Sour that you’ll find to be quintessentially Peruvian but the old time-worn yet magnificent streets of Lima in the quaint corners of this bustling city that’ll make you that’ll strike a chord in your heart. Filled with fantastic remnants of the colonial past, every corner of Lima has a surprise of its own. And a solo walking expedition through one of these faded lanes in a quaint corner of the city might lead to you discovering something new in these not so new streets of Lima, Peru. More than peace of mind and tranquility, this Travel Zen is more about the rush of the unknown, the fear of getting lost and somehow found yourself in that process. It is truly a Travel Zen like no other!
Witness a sunrise or sunset in Costa Rica away from the hullabaloo of the city
A Central American country particularly popular amongst gappers or travelers looking to find themselves or lose themselves- Costa Rica is all about blood pumping adventures and heart-melting beauty! Given the fact that Costa Rica hosts a major portion of the Amazon Rainforest, it is no surprise at all that travel in Costa Rica comes with a package of fantastic thrills like canopy zip lining, waterfall rappelling, rainforest walks etc. The narrow stretch of land that separates the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is dotted with amazing beaches, and beach time in Costa Rica is a must for every kind of traveler.
It is true that the mounting swells of Costa Rica have a reputation that precedes it in the surfer’s circle, but have you heard about the dramatic sunsets of Costa Rica? If you haven’t then you ought to find out about it cause it is truly a feast for the eyes! It is one of those little things that we travelers miss out on while we are abuzz with travel high, but it just takes a moment’s pause to savor these out of the world moments. The sun going down over and beyond the idyllic coastline with the sky changing moods with colors, it is at that moment you find yourself completely detached from the rest of the world with your eyes stuck on this singular beauty, and understand the depth of Zen Travel!
Follow in the footsteps of Cambodian monks for a few days
This might not sound like anything you have imagined about your Cambodian getaway, but this experience could give you your ultimate Zen moment while on the outbound! You have read up much about the horrific history of Cambodia and your itinerary must be filled with day trips to the Killing fields, the Tuol Sleng Museum and the killing caves in Battambang, and these are truly essential experiences as well to understand the morbid past of this nation. But if it is travel Zen that you’re seeking in Cambodia, then you’d have to wrap up your history visits and make your way to one of the many spectacular monasteries.
If a walk on the spiritual side is what you need to get in touch with your Zen, then the company of Cambodian Monks could mean achieving travel zen for you. Men in saffron robes, bare feet and alms bowl in hand, I am certain you have seen travel pages filled with such similar pictures, but there’s more to a Monk’s life than being a model for your travel feed! You can attempt to follow in the footsteps of Cambodian Monks with transcendental retreats (worry not, just for 12 days) and experience humble living with amazing life teachings. Or you can also plan to visit a Monk in one of the monasteries and get their blessings along with some deep talks about human life and spirituality. Monks are the friendliest people and their enlightening can sure lead to achieving your travel Zen!
As said earlier, the meaning of Zen travel might vary from one traveler to the other. Likewise, the means of seeking Zen on your travels can also vary from mine, cause no two traveler is the same! But by now, you must have gotten a crystal idea about Zen Traveling and these few ideas could be the perfect starter for you!