How to Travel Mindfully: A Q&A with Amanda Gilbert

  • 5 min read

To say that travel has been stressful lately is the understatement of the year. After a long pandemic-induced hiatus, we’re all been yearning to travel and it’s caused mayhem — long lines at the airport, countless flight delays and cancellations, pilot shortages, lost bags, and overbooked planes.

In these stressful times, we thought it would be helpful to explore how to travel mindfully. Mindful travel may not solve all your travel woes, but it can give your mind a rest and help you approach your trip with more clarity, purpose, and appreciation.

According to Amanda Gilbert, mindfulness means living moment-to moment and being able to accept what is in a kindhearted way. She should know — Amanda is a professor of mindfulness at the University of Southern California, a meditation teacher, and author of the book Kindness Now: A 28-Day Guide to Living with Authenticity, Intention and Compassion. She has also led meditation for companies and startups like NBC, Paramount Pictures, The W Hotels, Merrill Lynch, Macy’s and YouTube. We caught up with Amanda to get some pointers on staying present in the midst of stress, as well as how to bring a bit of mindfulness to our travels.

Amanda Gilbert packing.Amanda Gilbert, professor of mindfulness at the University of Southern California, a meditation teacher, and author of the book Kindness Now.

What prompted you to pursue a career studying mindfulness?

Amanda: I first meditated during my senior year of high school and immediately felt an undeniable sense of inner peace and centeredness. After my first meditation practice, I never forgot that feeling of being calm and connected with myself. I continued to meditate through university as more of an “as needed” or “crisis” meditator when I felt stressed or overwhelmed. A pivotal moment in my early twenties caused me to become a serious meditator. Meditation was the one resource and modality that I intrinsically knew would help me heal. After several years of daily meditation practice, my friends and co-workers began to ask me to share meditation with them because they noticed how at ease and happy I often was. Deciding to pursue a career studying and teaching mindfulness came organically as more and more people asked me to share my own meditation practice. That’s when I knew it was the work I was meant to do in the world.

Many travelers experience anxiety before a trip. Figuring out what to pack can be a big contributor to this stress, in addition to worrying about canceled flights, missed connections, etc. Do you have any tips to help reduce pre-travel jitters?

Amanda: Definitely. My top tip for managing pre-travel anxiety is to carve out time to be intentional about your pre-trip planning and packing. All you need is a few minutes to calmly visualize the steps you need to take to get ready for your trip. Then see if you can give yourself time to pack and prepare in a non-rushed and mindful way. Of course, many elements of travel are out of our control, so choosing a mindset of flexibility, adaptability, and compassion helps reduce pre-travel jitters. This also helps us connect to our resilience and acceptance of what may happen during travel.

Conceptually, what does it mean to “mindfully pack?”

Amanda: Mindful packing means bringing your full attention to the process of preparing and packing for your upcoming trip, inclusive of what you pack and how you pack it.

How can travelers actually go about packing in a mindful way?

Amanda: First, focus on what you are packing. This involves a particular level of trip preparation. Think of what you’ll be doing, what the climate is like where you’re going, and what would both deeply support you and bring you joy when you are there. Second, think about how you’re going to pack what you have decided to bring with you. This is where the art of mindful packing comes into play. Try to stay calm, centered, and discerning as you pack, and do so in a way that supports your inner tranquility and happiness. I like to organize and “Marie Kondo” my Arlo Skye suitcase by grouping the items I am packing by functional category, color, and ease of use during my trip. I also only pack what truly brings me joy in the moment and what I know will bring me joy when I get to my destination.

Amanda Gilbert packing her Arlo Skye Carry-On Max

Where do you stand on the fold vs. roll your clothes debate?

Amanda: This is such a good question! So far, after much trial and deliberation I am on team fold! It just goes better with my mindful packing practice.

How can we continue to incorporate mindfulness while traveling, especially on trips that require a lot of moving around?

Amanda: Utilizing mindfulness on the go when traveling is essential. It’s the perfect mobile stress-reduction tool because mindfulness can be practiced any time, any place, no matter how fast or slow you are moving. One of my go-to mindful traveling practices is to incorporate as many deep breaths as I can even while I’m on the move. If I am standing in the airport security line, getting ready to board a flight, or waiting for an Uber, I am literally connecting to my breath and taking deep breaths whenever I can to remain centered and in a parasympathetic nervous-system state (the body's calm state).

Do you travel with any special accessories or items that remind you to stay present while on the go?

Amanda: Yes. Whenever I can, I take my travel meditation cushion with me and an essential oil with a familiar scent to roll on wherever I go. I’m really big on continuity, which helps me maintain both my meditation routine while traveling and a connection to my inner-balance and groundedness. I’ve also been known to bring my own matcha and favorite snack items while on the move so I don’t have a total shift in my daily nourishment and mindful eating habits.

Any tips for overcoming the post-vacation slump after returning from a trip?

Amanda: Spend time when you get home to really appreciate all of the joys, lessons learned, and highlights from your trip. Clinical research on gratitude shows that the more we pause to appreciate the good in our lives the happier and more content we are. Feeling grateful for the experiences you had smooths out any post-trip let-down and can show us that we can still feel the light-heartedness and joy we felt on the trip back in our daily routines and at home.

Sustainable travel is a big topic right now. Can packing mindfully fit into that goal? If so, how?

Amanda: I think it can if we take on the mindset that our mindful packing is like our own personal carbon footprint that we are leaving in our own space and the spaces we travel too. Along with subscribing to Marie Kondo-style packing and practicing mindfulness as you pack, I also approach my trips with a minimalist mindset: the less I bring, the more spacious and free I feel — and the less impact I have on the environments around me.

Amanda Gilbert with the Arlo Skye Carry-On Max and Weekender in Black.

You’re heading to Italy next week. What’s on your travel reading list and playlist?

Amanda: Currently in my Arlo Skye carry-on and weekender travel bag I have a number of books on meditation for my personal practice during the month-long Italy venture! As mentioned, I am pretty consistent. For music, I have some ethereal beats on deck for driving through the Italian countryside, and of course, jazz to feel “at home” and extra relaxed as I meander through Italian summer nights finding just the right dinner bites.

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