Travel is beautiful to me. It’s an accumulation of extraordinary experiences that bring out the best in us, and there’s nothing else like it.
Because of its unpredictable nature you’re forced to adapt, and in doing so remain present. In the midst of travel, there is no dwelling on the past or future – there is only the now. Mindfulness, or having your entire being focused on a task at hand, is a state of mind that people from all over the world and across time have practiced, and it’s no surprise why. It feels good – really good.
And while I love travel, and recommend it to anyone and everyone, not all have such a wonderful experience. Your mentality plays a big role in how you perceive your experiences, and certain ways of thinking can make or break your journeys. My goal in writing this article is to help you make the most of your trips and show you how certain ways of assessing and navigating the world can heighten your travel experience.
Every human on Earth is made up of thousands of personality traits, behaviors, and qualities. Each play a profound role in how we process our emotions and experiences, and in how our brain constructs our reality. Really, we’re all just a unique jumbled up mess of quirks and habits, the combination of which determines how we perceive the world.
Because I value your time and my own, I’m not going to touch on all of them. There are only three topics I want to talk about today – the big three – flexibility, perspective, and expectation.
1. Mental Flexibility
We all have someone in our life that is lacking in this valuable trait, and I guarantee you, traveling with that person is going to be difficult.
I see it all the time. They’re the heavy planners, the ones who prefer scheduling the entire trip down to the minute. They’re also the ones who become frustrated and dissatisfied when said plans fall through.
Don’t get me wrong, planning is in no shape, way, or form, bad. I also prefer to heavily plan my trips and feel a great deal more confident when I can easily picture what my trip is supposed to look like. But that’s the thing – nothing ever turns out how it’s supposed to. Things are constantly changing in our world, especially in the world of a traveler, and you’ve got to be able to adapt to it.
Those who suffer from cognitive rigidity have trouble changing mental sets. This means that they have difficulty switching from thinking about things one way to thinking about them a different way, and thus have difficulty adapting to new demands, information, and situations.
Being unable to adapt to new situations is crippling. Not only will it make traveling hellish, it will taint all of your experiences in your mind. You’ll never be fully satisfied, because nothing will ever go exactly as you want. Because of this, you’ll be stuck with the lingering feeling that your travels were never as good as they could have been, which is a terribly sad thought.
So what I recommend you do is become comfortable with the inconsistencies of the world. Understand that no matter how much time and effort you spend, your trips will never go exactly as planned. Welcome this, and try to enjoy the spontaneity and unpredictability of travel – it’s where the most memorable and poignant memories often lie.
You cannot have a positive life with a negative mind. It’s as simple as that. You will go through tough times in life. There’s no avoiding it – that’s life. But you’ve got to be able to see the positive in negative events, otherwise, you will be miserable.
A negative person is someone who always expects the worst – someone who seeks to find negatives in even the most positive situations. You get free tickets to see an opera? That’s great, but it’s not really the show I wanted to see. A friend of yours stops to give a homeless individual some spare change? That’s great, but they were probably faking it to get money anyway.
Nothing is ever enough to make them happy. They could win the lottery and still find something to be unhappy about within the situation. I consider positivity to be the single biggest key to happiness, and negativity to be the single biggest contributor to unhappiness. As such, during every waking moment of every single day, I’m making a conscious effort to think positively.
I lose my jacket on the subway? Maybe someone who needs it more than me will get some use out of it. I get into a car accident, am hospitalized for three weeks, and have maxed out my six thousand dollar deductible? At least I’m alive and on my way to recovery and am fortunate enough to have had health insurance and access to a first world healthcare system.
There is good in every single situation, you’ve just got to be looking for it. If you travel with a negative mindset, you will be just as unhappy as you are at home. It’s not too late though – negativity isn’t a trait – it’s a choice. If you were to take one thing from this article, I’d prefer it be this. Just as you choose to think negatively, you can choose to think positively. You’ve just got to spend the time and effort needed to rewire your mind.
Expectations are a complicated phenomenon that have a profound effect on our reality. Good or bad, they shape the world around us and alter how we see things. There are definite positives and negatives to holding expectations, and for the sake of understanding, before we get into why having expectations might not be the best thing for a traveler, we’ll discuss the positives.
Having expectations can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. This is when someone expects something, and this expectation comes true simply because one believes it will, and their resulting behaviors align to fulfill those beliefs.
Keep in mind that this is a good and bad thing. If you tell yourself you’re bad at something, you’ll likely be bad at that something. If you tell yourself you’re good at something, you’ll likely be good at that something. It’s paradoxical.
If you don’t have expectations, you’ll never be let down. This a common phrase, and although it sounds extreme, it has merit.
When you hold expectations – whether they’re about an upcoming event, your partner, your job, or yourself – you believe something or someone will act or turn out a certain way. The large majority of the time, because of our limitless imaginations and the confounds of our world, these expectations are never met. When reality fails to meet expectations, a rush of negative emotions ensue. You feel sad, angry, frustrated, and disappointed.
This is especially true for travelers.
When you plan a trip, you spend time choosing the best country, the best city, the best accommodation, the best attractions, and the best activities. In doing so, you build up each of your choices, and form expectations for your trip based on them. By the time you’re done planning, you’ve built this perfect trip in your head, and have made it impossible for reality to meet your expectations.
Another bad thing about holding expectations is that you’re less grateful when good things happen. If you hold expectations and they managed to come true, because you expected those things to happen, you’re not as grateful as you’d be had it happened randomly.
Instead, turn expectations into appreciation. As Stephen Hawking once said, “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was twenty-one. Everything since then has been a bonus.”
Take everything I’ve written in this article with a grain of salt and don’t feel bad if you see a little of yourself in what’s written. There are always exceptions to the rule, and just because you might be mentally inflexible, have a negative mindset, or hold expectations doesn’t mean you’re necessarily unhappy. Also, none of the personality traits and behaviors in this article are permanent, so if you feel compelled to change, go for it!
I wrote this article to share with you my thoughts and observations relating to mentality and travel experience, and I hope it will help you make the most of your trips.
Good luck, and happy travels!
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.