Zen Out and About: How to Create a Meditation Space on the Road

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wasted hours away gawking #vanlife snaps and come oh-so-close to ditching home for an existence on the road countless times. Until the day comes that I finally take the leap to live a ramblin’ reality, I feed my gypsy soul with weekends, weeks, and if I’m lucky, months entering into new panoramas and exploring seemingly untouched corners of the Earth. Raise your hand if you can relate.

Raise your other hand if you know all too well that the less glamorous side of that lifestyle looks like close quarters and long distances with a travel chum, which can lead to screaming, “Serenity now!” unless you’ve got a strategy for keeping things cool. Backpackers and glampers alike, I know you feel me! If you’re already out in nature, you’re off to a good start—now just add some visual aids and spiritual encouragement to lower your heart rate a little by packing a meditation case that’ll help you get to your happy place. (Psst—these also make great gifts for fellow travel buffs.)

The Car Camper: Meditation Essentials

If you’ve got a roomy back seat and are lookin’ to fill it, find yourself a spiffy suitcase and stuff it with these things:

1. A scarflecloth

The name says it all! Snag a scarf that you can use as a mood-setting tablecloth atop your suitcase. Can you achieve total tranquility without it? Certainly. But it’s beautiful visuals like these that set the tone so you can easily slip into the calm you’re seeking.

The scarf I chose to tote along was my Croatian great-great-grandmother’s babushka. I love getting lost in imagining what life must’ve been like under this scarf, just like I did throughout my early childhood as I rode in the baby seat of grocery shopping carts wearing it tied under my chin how baka would. That lineage and era exploration alone brings peace into my mind.

2. Airplants

Plants let us literally breathe in goodness. That’s why you’re on this great escape in the first place! But, having your very own organism to fill up with intention will allow you to exchange vibes with this beautiful living thing on an ongoing basis. When you’re feeling strong, you fill it up with positivity; when your cup is empty, you let it fill you again. Visualize each breath you exchange in its presence as the most revitalizing one you’ve ever taken, and you’ll see how seeking that rejuvenation may be all it takes to have your hopes for a reset realized.

3. An epically soothing scent

Can we all agree that lighting candles (read: having open flames on the open road) can get kinda sketchy? So, leave the candles and home, the fires for the pit, and let the soothing aromas come from a classic stick of incense. I find that incense also doubles as a great timer: try to stay in that meditative state for as long as it burns so as not to sell yourself short on ‘you’ time.

4. Parchment and quill

Excuse yourself from thinking of this as a diary. There are no secrets in here, no complaints, no groundbreaking realizations—just meditations. Often times I’ll write in a journal, close it, and never read back through my old entries again. The point isn’t to document your experience; it’s to release your inner tensions and move your awareness along. If I do peek back through what I’ve written, it’s usually purely just to observe. Notice the script of my handwriting purely as shapes and lines rather than words, notice the spacing I used that day, or the color of ink. Notice a standout word here or there and reflect on that one single word for a bit.

Need a metaphor to kickstart your first journal entry? Well, embracing the road ahead of you will do just fine, won’t it? And don’t even think of penciling your thoughts into that notebook! Own your outpouring of ideas and jot ‘em in pen without any erasing so you can focus your flowing energy on the positive path that awaits you.

5. A meaningful crystal or stone

The most significant mineral I own is a piece of quartz I found on the ground after the most challenging uphill hike I’d ever completed. It’s not shiny, nor does it form a particularly cool shape—it’s really just a dirty rock, but it brings me such a sense of empowerment when I hold it in my hand. I also love to bring some lava rocks I found on my trip to Iceland along, to remind me of the amazing terrain already traveled. If shiny crystals repping every chakra is your thing, bring ‘em. If a sweet skipping stone you found yesterday is what makes you feel good, toss that bad boy in the case. The point is to welcome a naturally forming wonder into your territory so its inherent vitality can fill your personal space.

6. Mala beads

While I myself don’t have a set of prayer beads (they’re on my wishlist!), they’re a wonderfully spiritual addition to any meditation. And by spiritual, I don’t necessarily mean religious—they’re often worn by those who seek a quieter mind, a calmer body, and a more tranquil spirit. And they even make for beautiful jewelry. If you’re looking to nab some for yourself, Sage Meditation has lovely rosewood options.

The Backpacker: Mediation Essentials

If you’re trailblazing in a more compact manner, you’ll want to keep things condensed. Scale things back with a mint tin and fit the following items inside:

1. A hanky

Sorry, I meant “hanklecloth.” Same function as the scarflecloth, but smaller! The one I use is another family hand-me-down from my great-grandmother, though many vintage shops sell similar ones. Before I got my hands on this hanky, I tore off a corner of a classic red bandana. It truly doesn’t have to be a particularly stunning textile, but the soft wrinkles in a piece of fabric help welcome a smooth energy flow into your veins.

2. A dried flower or leaf of significance

In my kit, I have a eucalyptus leaf that came from my wedding bouquet. Of course, the leaf floods me with thoughts of a wonderfully happy day in my life—especially important to recall when my husband is the travel buddy who’s got me going crazy!—easing me into a joyful way of thinking. But also, eucalyptus symbolizes balance, which ushers a poignant quiet into my being.

One of my friends once chuckled at the fact that I carry a leaf in my backpacking kit when we were surrounded by all sorts of foliage. It’s hard to put my finger on what, exactly, but there’s something interesting and almost moving about toting a leaf around that you’d never find growing where you’re wandering. Along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail—very near to Kentuck Campground, and also not far from where I live in Pennsylvania—oaks and hemlocks rule everything around me. My eucalyptus leaf is like an exotic creature out there!

3. Another epically soothing scent

We all know sticks of incense don’t stand a chance of staying intact during a backpacking trip, so, let a simple wrist-dab of essential oils put you in the right zone. Lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to leave glass bottles at home when I set off for a trek and have instead been bringing along my fave Juniper Ridge resin cologne, Siskiyou Trail, along. A quick swipe of this awesomeness sets the tone for some deep and cleansing thinking.

4. Pre-written quote that inspires you

The backpackers in my life are completely at odds over whether there’s room for a notebook in their load. I personally bring one everywhere I go, but if you’re on the other side of that debate, simply scribe a quote on a slip of paper before you peace out into nature, and meditate on it when you need to. Here are some of my favorites:

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.” ~John Muir

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carson

“Our plans never turn out as tasty as reality.” ~Ram Dass

5. A bracelet version of mala beads

I’m not typically one to wear jewelry while journeying far on foot, but if it’s meaningful and I feel it will bring me added strength and peace, an exception is definitely made. I mentioned Sage Meditation’s prayer beads above—they offer a bracelet version that should stay out of your way, only entering your thoughts to bring you harmony, as you trek.

Words by Christen Russo, Photos by Jesse Clifton

Christen is a smile collector, outdoors enthusiast, and appreciator of soggy French fries based in Pittsburgh, PA. She finds inspiration in the veins of leaves, the subtle squeaks of guitar strings against their player’s fingertips, the train-whistle soundtrack of city life, and the sweet quiet that can be found at farmers’ markets. See what she’s seeing.

Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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