Globe Trotting

How to Be Present When Traveling

Chelsea Gilson in Marrakech with Willow & Blair

I just returned from the most inspiring trip to Marrakech and the Sahara with a group of women through Willow & Blair.  The tour, while luxurious, was an authentic immersion into Moroccan culture.  I was, in a sense, the leader of the tour.  I acted as the liaison between our group and the locals who showed us their home.  I also was responsible for taking us on an authentic culinary experience and ensuring we maintained a perfect balance between structure and reflection.  And lastly, I was there to facilitate a spiritual journey through moments of yoga, meditation and pranayama.

On the first evening, we all met in the library room of our Riad before venturing into the bustling Medina for dinner.  The library room is tucked in the back of an intricately detailed courtyard with enormous palms reaching up through the center.  Behind large colorful drapes, we sat on Moroccan poufs, drank traditional mint tea, and got to know one another.  The excitement for our week ahead was tangible, and the energy palpable, as we candidly shared our expectations.

Expectations are customary to human nature, there is no denying it. But if we aren’t cognitive of their influence over us, they have the power to keep us from staying present.  Which is, in my opinion, the gravest mistake one can when traveling (or living for that matter). Bearing this in mind, I asked the group to close their eyes and take a few full deep breaths with me as I set a group intention. And maybe I’m just an optimist, but I truly believe these few beautiful moments together set the tone for the entirety of our trip.

I’m sharing a paraphrased version below with you.  Not because I said anything revolutionary, but because we can all benefit from a reminder to be present, but especially when we find ourselves in a foreign place.  I know I will revisit this post often, especially on the days leading up to my next adventure with Willow & Blair.  For being here, in the here and now, is the very best gift we can ever give ourselves.


I would like to take these next few moments to take collective breaths.  Let yourself settle into your seat, your sitbones sinking down, as the crown of your head reaches towards the sky. Bring your shoulders up to your ears, back, and down.  And as they release down let your eyes flutter closed.

We will take a few deep 3 part yogi breaths together, with the intention of utilizing the full capacity of our breath with equal inhales and equal exhales.  So exhale all of your air out, and then we’ll inhale together.  Filling up your belly, your ribs and your chest.  Exhaling out your chest, your ribs, and your belly.  Filling up your belly, your ribs and your chest.  Exhaling out your chest, your ribs, and your belly.

Now continue on your own to take these deep satisfying inhales and exhales, and as you do, I ask you to breath into all your expectations. Your expectations for the group, for Marrakech, for the hotel, for the food, for me, for yourself.  

So often, we try to relate, or draw on past experiences or influences.  It is simply human nature, and something ingrained deep within us.  Wandering through a new place, I often find myself muttering aloud that it reminds me of another place I’ve visited. And while there is something beautiful about the similarities and patterns we find throughout all corners of the world, these comparisons to the past keep us from being fully present.  To be truly present while you travel is to experience things exactly as they are.  To have all five of your senses awakened and fully utilized. And only then can you immerse completely in your surroundings.

Tomorrow we will be winding through the hectic heart of the Medina.  This city can be an overwhelming culture shock and you may find yourself struggling to capture every inch with your camera.  But tomorrow, I ask you to use one of these deep yogi breaths to take a mental image before you pull out your camera. To really see the people you encounter instead of viewing them as characters of Marrakech.  Try to be cognitive as your ego creeps in, writing stories for these people and casting any judgements.  Take note instead of their body language, the ease of their breathing, the softness or hardness of their eyes.  How they are, exactly in the moment you both find yourself in.  The only moment just like this that has ever existed before, or will ever exist again.

And when you lose your presence, as we all will from time to time, just breath.  A deep yogi breath, filling your belly, then your ribs, then your chest.  Exhaling out your chest, your ribs, and your belly. And perhaps in this moment of presenting, your eyes will flutter closed for a brief second.  And you will really feel the air touching your skin, the clothes on your back, the shoes on your feet.  Your nose will come alive to distinguish the myriad of foreign smells.  Your ears filling with the sounds in your proximity, but also picking up on the faint ones floating through the maze of the Medina.  Enjoy every note of flavor.  And with your senses fully onboarded, then open your eyes, and really see.  Take in the whole entire picture, but also the minute details that make the world we’ve found ourselves in so very vibrant.

In closing, I never want you to feel ashamed to pass judgement.  It is human nature to want to relate, to give people and places a story.  And at the end of our days, or when you return home, I invite you to entertain these expectations.  Question how they were formulated, investigate their influence over your disposition.  But for the incredible journey we find ourselves on, I invite you to strive for presence, for there is no more rewarding way to experience travel than being completely, and fully, present.


If you’re interested in joining me on my next Willow & Blair trip, please visit their website here.  I have Sedona, Peru, Morocco & India coming up for 2018, and the invitation is always open for your beautiful soul to join us.



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