How to Maintain Your Meditation Practice While Traveling

Airplane Wing

This post was inspired by a friend/client whose name I won’t mention because I suspect it might embarrass her. But she asked a wonderful question so I wanted to be sure to answer completely and openly.

She travels a lot for work — I suspect a couple times a month, for days at a time. And it’s been difficult for her to establish and maintain a regular meditation practice when her schedule changes so dramatically, so often.

You might remember from our 3 Days to Mindfulness email course (if you haven’t signed up, do it here) that one of the keys to creating a new habit is consistency. I recommend that people pick one time of the day for their practice, so they can get used to dedicating that time. We’re creatures of habit. Our brains like to do the same things in the same way, so that they can conserve energy when possible. So training our minds to make mindfulness practice a part of our standard routine is important to sticking with it.

But it’s hard to create consistency when our schedules are erratic — if we’re in a new city every few days, acclimating to a new environment or bed, waking and eating at different times of day, etc. It’s even difficult for me to stick to my routine on the weekends, when I have more freedom to stay up, sleep in, or go about my day without a set schedule. And yet, if we want to make progress, we have to find a way to get through.

But that doesn’t mean you need to find a meditation cushion/chair during your trip. After all, nobody ever said meditation had to be done while sitting, with our eyes closed, or any of that. Remember, our goal is to be present with what’s around/in us. So if you get a little creative with your practice, you’ll discover there are countless opportunities every day, no matter where we are.

Here are three ways I try to maintain a practice when I’m not at home.

1. Set a time of day and stick to it

“But Matt, you already told me that and it didn’t work because my schedule keeps changing…”

Well, I assume that while traveling you still have to wake up every morning and go to bed every night. Each of those presents a great time to sit for a 2-minute meditation. I have created a morning routine that I work hard to maintain no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It involves both a written and spoken gratitude practice, along with a daily reading and daily planning. (Sitting in silence first thing in the morning leads to extra sleep for me.) I use the morning as a time to set my intention for the day and set myself up for success. It clears my mind and helps me focus on what’s important.

And at night, I take just a couple minutes before heading to bed to check in with myself — to ask how I’m feeling or what the day brought me, and to let go of anything that might keep me from sleeping soundly. That last part is critical for me. I don’t always sleep well in beds that aren’t my own, and when I’m traveling it’s usually with a packed schedule. So I need to make sure I’m ready to sleep by the time my head hits the pillow or I can stay up for hours.

However you choose to spend your mornings or nights, find a minute to be wherever you are. Seriously, just one minute. Magic will happen.

2. Practice stealth meditations in non-traditional places

You probably haven’t brought your meditation cushion along with you on your trip. And your hotel bed just doesn’t seem to help you get centered. No problem. Every day offers a ton of opportunities to work on our practice.

If you’re on a trip to meet with a client, set an intention to focus on your breath for just 30 seconds while you’re waiting to meet. You don’t have to close your eyes or even be sitting. Just bring your attention to wherever you are for a brief period of time, find your breath and count 5 breaths in and out. See what thoughts are coming up, how your body is doing. Just tell yourself you’re checking in. No big deal.

If you’re in a new city, take a walk and allow yourself to soak in the sights and sounds of this new place. Let your body and mind take in whatever you encounter around you. Maybe it’s louder and more energetic than where you came from. Maybe the architecture is different. Maybe there is a combination of smells you can’t even begin to describe (looking at you, New Orleans). Whatever you discover, just be with it. Let it soak in.

If you’re traveling with others, see if you can be present with them in a new way. That might mean allowing yourself to fully listen to them discuss a topic you normally tune out. Or maybe it’s just noticing a habit of theirs for the first time. Maybe it’s practicing loving kindness after being on a 6-hour flight of them talking nonstop. That time spent being fully present will have a tremendous impact on your relationship.

3. Write down your goal

This one might sound a bit scary, but it works. Write down a goal for your mindfulness practice — sitting in meditation for 5 minutes every day, doing a 3-minute walking meditation every day, whatever it is. The simple act of writing the goal down will actually make you more likely to achieve it. Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California found that people who wrote down their goals, rather than simply thinking them, were 21% more likely to be successful in achieving them. So get a pen and paper and get to writing.

Oh – And if you want to supercharge your goal setting, share your written goal with a friend or accountability partner. People who write down and share their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them. Here’s to the power of social pressure!