Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Mindful Vacationing - and the Joys of Traveling Alone

What an enchanting evening! 

Her name is Kimberly, too!
Instead of going directly home after the career conference that I was at this past two days, I decided to stay in San Antonio and enjoy an afternoon and evening in the city.  While I have had many solo adventures in San Francisco the past few months and have tackled many airports and train stations by myself, this was the first time I can recall being a “solo vacationer,” particularly on a Saturday, prime weekend day and night - "date night" as it was once referred to in Sex and the City by Charlotte.  (Note - picture of Kimberly from the following link)

While traveling by yourself can at times make you feel isolated and somewhat sad, there are some remarkable things about it.  I’ve found this weekend that I have been so much more observant and aware of everything around me – and less concerned about the details of traveling.  It is fun to watch all of the people around me – families with their children, young adults out on dates, the staff diligently serving patrons, and groups of partiers living it up – it is neat to observe see the dynamics of their interactions unfold. 

Even better, I’m finding that if you can resist the temptation to bury yourself in a book or distract yourself with your smart phone (a hard thing to do), there are so many rich and delicious things to be mindful of while you are traveling.   This evening, I went down to the concierge station and bravely asked for a restaurant recommendation (something I ordinarily do not think to do) – and I ended up with the most delicious find – a delightful Tuscan Italian restaurant called Tre Trattoria overlooking a park and horse drawn carriage rides and beautiful rustic style buildings. 

Courtesy of Trip Advisor
As each course of my meal came, I made a real point to savor each and every bite – to smell each sip of the wine and let it ease down my throat, let the marinated Portobello mushrooms and gnocchi move around my mouth before swallowing, and enjoy every rich bit of the decadent nutella / molten chocolate cake that I had for dessert.  I interacted with the staff and the manager, listened to the soft classical and jazz music in the background, and watched the sun set slowly outside the window of the restaurant. 

Instead of being consumed by my conversation (or argument) with my dinner partner, I was instead consumed by the very experience of eating and enjoying delicate cuisine – it reminded me of the “Eat” part of Eat, Pray Love – and my own days studying abroad in Florence the summer after my freshman year in college and enjoying the rich wine and cuisine of Tuscany in abundance.  While I am very much in favor of meditation and a focus on the basics, I can definitely see how cultivating a genuine love and appreciation for the joy of eating can make one’s life more joyful.  One final plus of dining alone – I was able to double-dip my bread into the olive oil and no one cared!

Fiesta Noche del Rio
After dinner, I made my way down to the Riverwalk, and managed to stumble into Spanish singing / dancing Mariachi Band concert (Fiesta Noche del Rio) – in an outdoor amphitheater along the river –for $5 – donated to a children’s charity.  What an awesome find!  Rather than being consumed by pre-set expectations for the night, I bought my ticket and just went with it – the music was great, the performers were vibrant and colorful, and the environment was magical – it had a real historical, uniquely San Antonio feel.  (Note - picture from the following link)

Courtesy of Arellis49 on Flikr
Altogether, the evening was magical – it was such a treat to stroll along the Riverwalk in a skirt and tank top completely comfortable with a pleasant breeze coming off the water – the breeze felt truly enchanting.  Again, I probably would have noticed the breeze if I was traveling with a group, but not the degree that I was able to all on my own – I could feel it on my body, breathe it in my lungs, smell it in my nose – the degree to which I perceived the sensory details of the experience was notably more intense than it has been at other times in my life.

Of course, perhaps part of the reason I enjoyed the experience so much had less to do with the fact that I was by myself and more to do with the fact that I am becoming more mindful and making a point to “let go” and enjoy the experience of letting life unfold more – I am fully willing to admit that.  I’ve also noticed positive effects of my being more assertive these days in my hotel stay – I just called the front desk to ask when the omelette station opens up at the brunch (because it wasn’t available this morning) and without blinking an eye, they compensated me for $25 of my dining charges – basically about as much as my breakfast was this morning – amazing! 

Who knew all of these wonderful things could result from simply speaking up and honoring my experience – I didn’t get mean or make a big deal – I just asked some questions and stayed true to my desire to (ideally) have an omelet in the morning if I’m paying a significant amount for breakfast.

Anyway, whether or not the positive experiences I have had on this trip have been due to my traveling alone or whether they’ve been the result of my personal growth (or a combination of the two), I highly encourage each of you to travel by yourself at least once in your life if you haven’t yet had the opportunity – and I encourage you to practice mindful eating and mindful sightseeing the next time you are out and about in a city that it is not your own.

I’m curious, those of you reading this blog who feel inclined to comment – have any of you ever taken a vacation trip on your own?  Or made a point to be particularly mindful on a trip?  How did it go?  What did you learn from the experience? 

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