Staying Light & Flexible While Traveling

By Leo Babauta

Earlier this week, Eva and I hopped on a last-minute flight to take care of some family business. We each had our lightweight backpacks and nothing else, so it was a relatively easy trip.

On the flight back, I reflected on how flexible we had to be on this last-minute trip … and I realized that being flexible while traveling, and in life in general, is a capacity we’ve worked on developing.

When many people travel, they plan and prepare. Research, buy stuff, pack everything that could possibly be needed, just in case. Plans each day are drawn out, and tickets and reservations are booked. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this (even if it results in packing a ton of stuff).

But when plans get thrown out the door by unexpected events, it cann bring a lot of frustration and anxiety. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this — it’s normal. A trip can be marred by these unexpected changes and all the frustration that comes with.

What if, instead, we could be flexible and travel through life lightly, flowing with changes?

Here are some things I’ve been working on (still a work in progress!) that have helped:

  1. Make plans lightly. It definitely helps to make plans. But do it with the expectation that any of them could change. Nothing is set in stone. Could you view them as fluid, while trying to stick to them as best you can?
  2. Stay in flow. Think of a river that flows around rocks in its path. No fuss, just flow around them. That’s how we can flow with changes — things are always changing, and we can simply flow with them, not stressing about shifting plans.
  3. Give yourself space. Don’t plan every minute full of activites. Allow for down time, for naps, for hanging out in a park that you happen upon. Allow time to make adjustments if needed, to rest if things are overwhelming or exhausting you. Allow space for serendipity.
  4. See change as an opportunity to practice flexibility. Every change can be a reason to be upset or to stress out … or it can be a wonderful chance to flow. To be at peace with how things are changing. To appreciate the beauty of what is unfolding, even if it’s unplanned. Seeing the opportunity to practice with every change is a way to bring a new view to what normally is viewed as frustrating.
  5. Pack light. If you don’t have a ton of crap to haul around, changing plans is much easier. Simply grab your lightweight pack and go. If you have a lot of luggage, then every change in direction is a slog, and zigging and zagging can be exhausting. It’s a great skill to learn to pack light (read my ebook on it!) — I don’t need more than a 15L backpack for a normal trip. The trick is to learn that you don’t need most things that we normally pack — we are packing our fears, rather than learning to handle any situation without a lot of extra things.
  6. Recognize when you need self-care. When things do get a bit stressful, it’s a good skill to recognize this. Notice that you’re feeling frazzled, and that you could use a breather. Take a walk, take a nap, create some space to take care of yourself. This kind of self-care can make an everchanging trip so much easier, because our physical and emotional batteries are much more charged.
  7. No big deal. Whatever happens, see if you can let go of the “disaster mode” thinking that often happens with changes in plans. It’s No Big Deal. Not meaningful at all, just a change to be dealt with. Breathe, and figure out what needs to be done, rather than making it into an emergency.
  8. Find delight. When things are shifting, we can easily find the downside. And then we wring our hands about it. Or … we can find the delciousness and wonder in this new moment that life has presented to us. Where can we find the joy and delight? How can we make this an adventure?

And by the way, we can practice this in daily life, of course — not just travel. :)