The Why of Travel: Staying in the Present Moment

July 8, 2013

The Why of Travel: Staying in the Present Moment - Sweet and Savoring

My, do I love those perfect travel moments (be it a few minutes, hours, or a whole day) when everything is perfectly aligned. Those moments when everything feel right and I want to change nothing about my surroundings or company, or the weather.

Remember my airport anxiety? This was the opposite of that (and miraculously, it took place earlier the same day!). The Sutro Bath ruins is a spot in San Francisco that I’ve visited before, and it was one of the few repeat things I wanted to do in the city during my June trip.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

Come with me as I explore the gloriously sunlit coastal trail!

I might have even discovered the ruins by accident– all I know is that it’s a special spot for me: a combination of abandonment, history, beauty, and beach-y location. You know when you get all that plus the ocean, I won’t be able to stay away.

You start at the northernmost tip of Ocean Beach, where the historic Cliff House restaurant sits overlooking the water, follow the sidewalk up a bit, and then turn left into the ruins. It’s important to stay on the marked trails, as all the signs implore, since some of the lower spots can be dangerous when the tide comes in.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

I love how this photo could have been taken today, or fifty years ago.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

View of the Cliff House from within the ruins

The other big reason Sutro Baths is so wonderful is that it completely envelops me while I visit. I took these photos on my last morning in San Francisco, and as we all know, transit days can be the most stressful part of traveling. But here, I wasn’t thinking about anything at all except how happy I was. I was thinking how absolutely beautiful the morning was, with just the right amount of sparkly sunlight in places, and a crisp blue sky.

It’s the ideal spot to go for serious contemplation. I imagine if I lived in San Francisco, I would ride my bike or take the bus here often for the sense of peace I inevitably feel. The crashing waves and sea gulls are the only sounds you’ll hear.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

It’s truly breathtaking what Nature can do to do a man-made structure if only given enough time.

It's the ideal spot to go for serious contemplation. I imagine if I lived in San Francisco, I would ride my bike or take the bus here fairly often for the sense of peace I inevitably feel here. The crashing waves and sea gulls are the only sounds you'll hear.

Seagull conference on the sand!

I loved the time I spent at the Sutro Baths mostly because of how in the moment I was: I was exactly where I wanted to be, and there were no worries or other thoughts that didn’t belong in my head.

This is why I travel: I am able to rediscover what it’s like to live purely in the present moment. When I travel, it’ so easy to practice the art of mindfulness, something I learned when I was 20 but never really appreciated until years later. It sounds so fundamental, but it’s true: keeping your awareness in the present moment works to relax your mind and body and experience happiness.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

Even better, I’m pretty sure Ellen had never been here (Right…?)

Sure, I love travel because it exposes me to new things, is a change of scenery, there are so many new foods to eat and people to bond with. But as I wandered around the Sutro Baths, or walked through the city streets of San Francisco snapping photo after photo, I realized how much my surroundings were claiming me. I’m here, both physically and mentally. There is no where else I want to be. 

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

This sign was in front of a path that led down to a flood-prone area of the ruins.

Have you ever practiced mindfulness as a tool to combat depression and anxiety? Try this: wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, just pay special attention to everything you can see in your immediate vicinity. Then put your hands on the surfaces around you, noticing textures and how or cold things are. Next, pay attention to what you can hear: background noises, loud noises, any music, birdsong, or maybe there’s some water nearby. One of my favorite senses is smell: what can you smell around you? Put your nose to work and see how many odors, pleasant or otherwise, you detect in your home, office, or yard.

Mindfulness is all about being exactly where you are and staying in the moment. Taking stock with your senses helps to push away any negative thoughts or moods, because when you practice being here now, there’s simply no room for the ugly stuff to dominate your consciousness.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

Photography is an excellent way to practice mindfulness

Interested in reading more about living in the present moment? Be Here Now, by Ram Dass is a great place to start, as well as Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I hope you all have wonderful days, with even the tiniest moments of joy, or laughter, or contentment with whatever you may be doing.

The Why of Travel - Sweet and Savoring

You have my heart, Sutro Baths



The present moment is the substance with which the future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. What else can you do?   –Thich Nhat Hanh

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  • Kerry July 8, 2013 at 5:03 am

    I’ve started playing with mindfulness in the past few months – even though I don’t do it ‘regularly’ it’s still always lovely and refreshing. And those photos are gorgeous – I feel a little more peaceful just looking at them.

    (Last week I was eating lunch in the park by my work, closed my eyes for a little mindfulness before going back to the office and fell asleep for a few minutes! Whoops…)
    Kerry recently posted…I got an unexpected gift in the mail this Fourth of July!My Profile

    • Christy July 8, 2013 at 9:36 am

      I admit, it’s not easy to remember to practice mindfulness regularly, but when I remember, it’s so very nice. And sometimes those hypnotic summer afternoons can be a bit too much, haha- guess you were just nice and relaxed 😉
      Thanks for the photo compliments!

  • Katherine July 8, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Sometimes during trips I worry way too much about photographing where I am instead of really looking at it with my own eyes! Staying in the moment is so important. I leave on vacation tomorrow, so this was REALLY needed right now. I needed the reminder to live in the moment!

    • Christy July 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      I know what you mean- sometimes I actually refrain from photographing because I want to just put the camera down and *not* focus so much on getting the best shot. Have a fantastic vacation!

  • Shana Norris July 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve only been to San Francisco once, but it is hands-down the most wonderful, magical place I’ve visited to-date.

    Your pictures are gorgeous.

    Thanks for sharing the mindfulness tip. It’s something I’ll be trying very soon.

    • Christy July 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      Isn’t it?? I just love San Francisco.
      And thanks for the compliment on my pictures! 🙂

  • Olivia @ Liv Lives Life July 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    You take the most gorgeous pictures! They’re so calming.
    So much of the traveling that I do is very go-go-go, so it’s hard to practice mindfulness. I find that the times I do are when I’m in one spot for a while…so, when I was in England for an extended period of time, I specifically took care to be mindful of my surroundings. It really is such a peaceful practice.

    • Christy July 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

      Thank you so much for your compliments about my pictures! I did have the privilege of borrowing my friend Ellen’s camera while I was in SF, so I can’t take all the credit.
      I know what you mean about go-go-go traveling, though- some would say that’s all the more reason to practice mindfulness, but I certainly know that it’s easier said than done!

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  • Marci April 2, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Beautiful pictures and I love your message and being mindful of your present surroundings. On vacation especially it is wonderful to do. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to let go of real life while away but once I do, it feels so good!

    • Christy April 15, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Thank you, Marci! I hear you, that’s why when I go away for just a night or two I feel so much more pressure to immediately jump right in and do as much as possible, haha 🙂

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