Secret to a Great Trip: Ditch the Devices

Secret to a Great Trip: Ditch the Devices

As the former travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and a past news director at Travel + Leisure, Sara Clemence knew about making the most of her time in the field, cramming in as much as possible while traveling. In 2016, burnout hit and she began thinking about information overload and fractured attention spans, her own included. “Fifteen years ago, travelers would be looking around and reflecting and absorbing,” she said. “Now they’re looking for the best place to take a selfie.”

Her answer to what she identifies as “digital saturation in travel” is slowing down and easing up on electronic use, the topic of her new book “Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel” (Dovetail Press). Full of Zen-channeling ideas for enriching trips, the illustrated book advocates living in the moment and embracing circumstances, including jet lag, a lesson she learned on a trip to China at age 10.

Sleepless before dawn, she heard Shanghai gradually awaken beginning with a distant bicycle bell and growing to a full crescendo of cycling commuters. “I would never have had that memory if I had had some magical remedy to jet lag,” she said. The following are excerpts from a conversation with Ms. Clemence.

What is mindful travel?

Mindful travel is about tuning into your destination. It’s about disconnecting from your devices and connecting to your surroundings, being aware of and attentive to the people and food and culture and scenery around you. It’s something that’s gotten a little lost in this hyper-connected age. Many people are too absorbed by the convenience and distraction of their phones to pay close attention to their surroundings.

In the age of “1,000 Things to Do Before You Die,” what are the benefits of under-scheduling?

If you’re looking for meaningful experiences, chances are you’re not going to get them by hustling around checking things off your list. You need time to discover, to reflect, to have a conversation with a stranger. In my experience, that’s when something really special can happen. Also, under-scheduling gives our minds a break from the regular grind. Slowing down can be really restorative and that’s one of the many reasons that we travel.

Sara Clemence.CreditBritney Young

What are your tips for meeting people while traveling?

Starting a conversation with a total stranger is challenging whether you’re traveling or not. It really helps to ask a question. One of my favorite ways to start an actual conversation with somebody is to ask about food because so many people really like to give their opinions about food. So, ask them where they like to eat. There’s a fine distinction between asking, where should I eat — I being the tourist — and where do you like to eat. Sometimes people will give a tourist-friendly place. But if you ask where they like to eat, it’s more likely to yield a local, interesting restaurant or food stall or market.

You advise leaving the camera at home to focus on the experience. Is there some way to shoot and be mindful?

It can really help to be more thoughtful about how you use your camera. Say you’re only going to take three photos a day or only photograph certain kinds of things. Photographers say everybody needs to be taking fewer better photographs. It has a dual effect. One, it makes you more thoughtful about what photographs you’re taking and it also removes the temptation to photograph everything.

How can families practice mindfulness while traveling?

Letting your kids help plan your travels is a big one, because then it becomes a team effort. They’re invested in what you’re doing. It’s important to set limits on devices just as you set limits on yourself. When your kids start getting bored, it can be really hard not to rush to fill their time with some sort of activity. It’s perfectly healthy for children to be bored. When we were traveling for six months last year, my 5-year-old son started making toys out of whatever materials we had at hand. He would make a house out of tissue box, or he’d make a bottle into an airplane. It made me feel we were accidentally enhancing his resourcefulness.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page TR2 of the New York edition with the headline: SARA CLEMENCE on traveling with fewer distractions.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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