What draws us to travel is the novelty and stimulation: suddenly we’re awash in a sea of new sights and sounds and smells, waking us up and making us feel alive and alert like we somehow never seem to at home. But the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side–you’re just paying more attention to it.
Travel is a way of breaking from routine, giving your mind a rest, and engaging the senses with a fresh set of stimuli. A small dose of adventure packs all the regenerative power of an extended meditation session, and most of us are already overdue.
Even though you could afford to, you don’t need to hop on a plane or a train to escape your stress. Sometimes, all you need is a little dose of mindfulness to transform the same old city block you ignore on your way out of the subway into a restorative staycation. Just turn on your senses, turn off your phone, and take a little walk outside.
Unplug and Tune In
Mindfulness is about engaging actively with the present moment. That means that, before you can get started with your mindful staycation, you’ll need to get rid of all the things you use to distract yourself from the tediousness of everyday life
Take out your headphones: swap your morning commute podcast for soaking up the sounds of the neighborhood, the individual residents’ voices, their old cars puttering down the street or the constant beeping of busy crosswalks.
Rather than staring mindlessly at the sidewalk and contemplating your to-do list, let your eyes dart from sight to sight, building to building, face to face or store to store. Ride the public transit without a destination, alternating between scenery-watching and people-watching.
Don’t read a book or text or tweet.
As you take off on your mindful staycation, please keep all electronic devices (and other distractions) switched off and stowed away at home or under the seat in front of you.
Start with New Surroundings
A change of pace and scenery will help you jump-start the process: head to a different neighborhood with a different vibe than the one where you park your car or the one where you meet your colleagues for drinks every Friday. If you normally drive, take public transit. If you normally bike, walk. Wear comfortable clothes, and if you want, bring a camera.
Head for the cool bohemian zone or the culturally diverse immigrant neighborhood of your city. Pick somewhere that excites the senses: a creative and quirky Airbnb or a boutique hostel with its own personality is the perfect place to wake up your inner explorer and meet people you otherwise wouldn’t, just like on vacation.
Escape Your Bubble: Meet New People, Do New Things
It’s one of the best parts of a vacation for many. In our typical nine-to-five lives we get stuck in a social bubble made up of all the people we work with, live around, and otherwise have ideas and perspectives in common with. We fall into social bubbles in which we’re cut off from any ideas that don’t already sound like ours.
On your mindful staycation, rebel against your bubble: if you live in a trendy young professional neighborhood, spend some time in a more family-oriented area or head over to where the students live. If you’re surrounded by highly-educated knowledge workers, pass a few days in humbler working class surroundings.
You can use social networks like Meetup.com to find events organized by locals in your city, with themes ranging from shared professional skills to the most obscure of hobbies. Go to a meetup and learn a language or pick up running, even if just for one weekend of a different look at your city.
Take a Page Out of the Guidebooks
Travelers all want to do what you’re doing and experience your town ‘like a local’, but when you’re due for a staycation, you can take a page or two out of their book instead.
Check sites like Wikitravel or Lonely Planet to see what’s drawing visitors to your city from afar. Check local events on travel social networks like Couchsurfing, and search for local expat groups on Facebook. These guys are the ones enjoying your city like there’s no tomorrow (because most of them are leaving tomorrow), so let their enthusiasm inspire you and don’t be ashamed to look like a big stupid tourist in the same zip code where you pay rent and punch a time clock.
Setting out with no more intention than to experience the moment fully doesn’t just allow you to enjoy your urban home in a new way. It leads you to discovering the coolest neighborhoods, trying things you’d never do between 9 on Monday and 5 on Friday, and building mindful new habits that contribute to your overall sense of balance.
And once you learn to appreciate the novel in the everyday, suddenly everywhere you have a hotel reservation or pay an electricity bill will become a travel destination.