These days, simply going somewhere isn’t enough. People want to customize their experience. Travelers might take a series of creative selfies with iconic landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower, everywhere they go. They could get personalized rings to commemorate a special trip or get a tattoo from an exotic island.
We do all sorts of things before, during, and after our travels. But which of these are really capable of enriching the whole experience? The answer may be found in travel rituals. What’s an effective ritual, and how can you harness its potential?
The need for ritual
Rituals are a vital part of life. But they have slowly been fading away with the onset of modern living. Many factors are contributing to this effect. Some of them are rooted in history, such as religious reformation or the widespread movement towards greater individual freedom in the 1960s.
Increasingly, however, people have moved away from the ritual as part of their individual lifestyle choices. We no longer seem to have time for affiliation in groups, no matter how innocuous (think sports clubs or hobbyist organizations), that have some form of ritual participation. In-person social circles have come to be replaced by the tenuous connections of social media.
Above all, though, we have come to conflate and replace ritual with habits. The distinction between the two might seem minor, but it makes a world of difference.
Habits are small, repeated actions that are purely functional in nature and value. Rituals are actions that may not be repeated as frequently as habits, nor hold any functional value, but trigger thoughts and feelings of a higher order.
The utility of habits
On the surface, travel and ritual don’t seem to have a lot in common. People turn to rituals for a sense of belonging and familiarity. They travel to get away from those things and seek out new, stimulating experiences.
Talk to anyone about a ‘travel ritual.’If they have any personal rituals to share, they are likely habits as actual rituals. Prayer or meditation before a flight, or even holding onto a good-luck charm, are rituals. But going over your belongings and documents, making sure devices are fully charged, and putting on a relaxing playlist? These are habits.
Habits are useful. In fact, that utility is what defines them. You certainly don’t want to forget packing anything or feeling stressed while waiting in the boarding area. But what further value do habits contribute to the travel experience? Arguably, little or none at all.
Seeking quality over quantity
A real travel ritual goes beyond the mere actions you perform. Holding onto a religious object or lucky charm, uttering a personal mantra, or reflecting in your journal, are all actions that can open your mind to multiple layers of meaning.
This is particularly valuable because travel is, at heart, a transformative experience. We venture out of our comfort zone not just to experience something different but to undergo a narrative journey.
Do you only go to a destination to check items off your bucket list? Do you visit the must-see attractions, take pictures of the most photogenic spots, eat and shop at famous local establishments, then call wraps on the trip?
The value you get out of those sorts of travel experiences is limited. It’s also heavily associated with the ‘fear of missing out.’ You feel pressure to do things and go to places others have deemed ‘can’t miss.’ You rush through a city, a country, and then onto the next, seeking to ‘win’ in terms of volume but losing when it comes to deep and meaningful experiences.
A travel ritual helps you to slow down and appreciate the transformative power of your journey. It can be something you do before, during, or after a trip.
For example, saying goodbye to your home might seem irrational when you’re coming back in a couple of weeks or months. But it is a ritual way to acknowledge that you’re leaving behind an ordinary way of living, even for a while and becoming a different person.
During a trip, you can take the time to write about the day’s events in a blog or journal at the end of each day. You could start each morning with the same yoga sequence to develop empathy and presence.
And when you return home, you can meditate to process your thoughts and emotions. It’s a form of unpacking mental baggage, and it can help you transition smoothly back into your daily life while acknowledging that you’ve changed and grown as a person.