Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude for Better Travel

One of the most powerful things we can do to enjoy better trips is to cultivate a heart of gratitude long before we walk out the door. Both our own personal experiences and numerous scientific studies show that gratitude enhances our lives and our travels.

Many people spend thousands of dollars to travel to some of the most captivating places on the planet, yet they are unable to experience deep joy or growth through the trip. Why is that? Often it is because they have not learned to cultivate a mindset of gratitude and mindfulness.

Through the Trip Scholars blog, classes, and coaching I focus on supporting travelers in learning more about the world and themselves through travel. A key to this is building our ability to practice gratitude. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of gratitude and practical tips to weave it into your life and your travels.

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Benefits of Gratitude

Cape Roca, Portugal | Photo by Trip Scholars

Gratitude is much more than just being polite and saying thank you. It is a powerful and often intentional state that can positively impact our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. When we approach life with a heart filled with gratitude, we open ourselves up to a myriad of benefits including the following:

  • Reduced Stress
  • Increased Happiness
  • Enhanced Overall Well-being
  • Improved Relationships
  • Better Sleep
  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Greater Resilience
  • More optimism
  • Greater Life Satisfaction 

Benefits of Gratitude for Travel

Photo by Trip Scholars

Setting out on a trip with a mind focused on gratitude can remarkably enhance every facet of your travel experience. It has the power to shape your perspective, enrich your interactions, and elevate almost all aspects of travel.

1. Enhanced Mindset

  • Gratitude fosters a positive mindset, allowing you to approach challenges with resilience and an open heart.
  • By focusing on the positive aspects of your travel experiences, you create a mental framework that amplifies joy and minimizes stress.

2. Deeper Connections

  • Expressing gratitude cultivates a spirit of appreciation for the people you encounter during your travels.
  • Whether it’s family and friends, locals, or service providers, acknowledging and thanking them fosters meaningful connections and cultural exchange.

3. Heightened Awareness

  • Gratitude encourages mindfulness and can help create transcendent experiences.
  • Being grateful for the landscapes, sounds, and flavors you experience keeps you present and makes your memories last longer.

4. Increased Resilience

  • Gratitude acts as a buffer against the inevitable challenges of travel.
  • Instead of viewing setbacks as obstacles, a grateful mindset enables you to see some of them as opportunities for personal growth and learning.

5.Transformative Learning

  • Gratitude encourages a mindset of continuous learning and personal growth.
  • Viewing each encounter and experience as an opportunity for learning adds depth and meaning to your travel, turning it into a transformative educational journey.

Tending Our Thoughts to Create a Heart of Gratitude

Photo by Trip Scholars

It helps to think of our mind as a fertile field. Whatever thoughts we plant will grow and likely thrive. This is challenging because the human mind has evolved to be alert to danger and threats, we fixate on the negative and mistakes. This well documented pattern is an example of the negativity bias. We exist today because these thought patterns were well honed in our ancestors keeping them safe and alive.  But it also means that the seeds that are naturally planted in our own minds are often negative and filled with worry. 

Most people bypass what is good and refreshing in their lives, and habitually focus on the unpleasant, bad elements.


When we think of our minds as fields and thoughts as seeds, it is easy to see that left untended, our thought patterns can grow into a thorny and dangerous place where the world looks frightening and other people are adversaries filled with faults. 

Cultivating gratitude is a way to tend the garden of our own mind. Countless thoughts land as seeds but we can pull the weeds and nurture those that we want to thrive. Mindfulness with an intentional focus on gratitude allows us to tend these thoughts. 

Learning to do this over many moments, days, and years, we can grow our thoughts to focus on gratitude and growth instead of judgment and fear. When we bring this mindset of thankfulness to travel we dramatically enhance our experiences.

Growing a Heart of Gratitude as a Conscious Choice

Isaac Hale Beach, Hawaii | Photo by Trip Scholars

Cultivating a heart of gratitude is often misconstrued as wishful thinking or adopting a Pollyannaish view of the world. However, at its core, practicing gratitude is about operating at a higher level of awareness—one that empowers you to choose your response to the many situations you encounter during your life and your travels.

Choosing gratitude is not about ignoring the challenges or complexities that life may present. It’s about acknowledging them with a discerning eye and choosing how you want to perceive and react to them. You will not always choose to be thankful. 

Being grateful doesn’t mean that you ignore the horrific atrocities and great suffering in the world. But it can give you strength and motivation to try to solve these challenges and it offers a proven way to create respite and calm in your mind.

The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

― Brother David Steindl-Rast

Why Grow a Heart of Gratitude Now?

Rock climbing in Norway | Photo by Trip Scholars

Shifting our thought patterns takes time and effort. It is much easier to do when life is easy, but will prove to be invaluable when life is difficult. I’ve been tending my thoughts to cultivate gratitude since I was first introduced to the idea as a teenager. I’m 54 years old now and continue to learn and grow in my practice. I’m very far from perfect, but my efforts have profoundly enhanced my life.  

Recently,  my younger sister and both of my parents died. At the same time one of our children also endured a very painful medical condition that had them bed-bound for years.  If I hadn’t done the internal mindset work during the good times, I would have been rudderless under the weight of these tragedies. It certainly did not make it easy and there were plenty of experiences where I was not focused on gratitude. But it was one of the powerful tools to help me get through the most difficult time in my life.

On a more manageable scale, all seasoned travelers know that there are aspects to travel that are uncomfortable, frightening, and difficult. After our child’s recovery we recently were finally able to take a long awaited international family trip. They were healthy enough to realize their dream of rock climbing in Norway. Unfortunately, we all got our first cases of Covid while we were traveling! 

Thanks to plenty of gratitude work, we were still able to appreciate our trip and be grateful for much of what we were experiencing. Building this strength while home and in the comfort of what is known and easy, makes it easier to adopt this mindset while in the midst of travel stresses.

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Bee in the yard of the author | Photo by Trip Scholars

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as if everything is a miracle.

– Albert Einstein

There are many things we can do to cultivate a heart of gratitude while we are still home so that we are able to continue it while traveling. Here are some ideas to try now.

1. Practice Mindful Appreciation

  • Engage your senses and be fully present in each moment of your routine.
  • Take time to appreciate the sights, sounds, and scents unique to your home environment.
  • Mindful appreciation enhances your awareness and allows you to find gratitude in the simple yet profound aspects of your daily life.

2. Express Thanks

  • Vocalize your appreciation to those you interact with in your everyday life.
  • When saying thank you, pause and think about what it is exactly you are thankful for. Dig deeper and consider sharing those reasons with the recipient of your gratitude.

3. Volunteer or Give Back

  • Engage in acts of kindness and service at home and during your travels.
  • Volunteer for local initiatives, support community projects, or simply lend a helping hand to those in need.
  • The act of giving back not only cultivates gratitude within you but also contributes positively to the destinations you visit.

4. Keep a Gratitude Journal

  • Dedicate 5-10 minutes each day to reflect on the positive aspects of your life and your travels.
  • Document specific moments, people, or experiences that you are thankful for in a travel journal.
  • This written record serves as a tangible reminder of the richness and abundance present in your journey.

5. A to Z Gratitude List

  • Create an A to Z gratitude list specific to your life or your travels.
  • From the awe-inspiring architecture of a new city (A) to ziplining with your family (Z), this exercise encourages you to find gratitude in the details of your journey. 
  • By focusing on the unique aspects of each destination, you foster a deeper appreciation for the diversity the world has to offer.

Grateful Travel Quotes

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, United States | Photo by Trip Scholars

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.

– William Arthur Ward

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness, doubled by wonder.

– G.K. Chesterton

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.

– Brene Brown

Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time. Thus is your time on earth will be filled with glory.

– Betty Smith

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.

— Ralph H. Blum

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.

– Larissa Gomez

Reasons to be Thankful for Travel

Author in Pompeii Archeological Park, Italy | Photo by Trip Scholars

There are many reasons to be thankful for traveling. Next week’s post is one of my favorites. I’ve asked other travel writers why they travel and they have shared fantastic stories of what they are thankful for. Stay tuned for this article!

Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude for Travel

View from the houseboat where we recovered from Covid | Photo by Trip Scholars

I hope this article has helped you find inspiration and ideas for cultivating more gratitude in your life and your travels. I join you in this life-long pursuit and hope that it motivates us all to be kinder, more engaged in seeking justice and equity, and more able to deeply enjoy and profoundly appreciate our lives and our travels.

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