Sometimes being in nature isn’t enough to disconnect from the busyness of regular life. Here are a few tricks to help make sure your time in nature is quality.
You know what? I’m done with society’s glorification of being ‘busy’. It’s as if when someone asks what you’ve been up to, if you don’t respond with some version of, ‘Mate, super busy hey!’ then they give you a weird look. Like you’re some kind of slacker.
So here’s my challenge to you: next time you get out into nature – whether it’s a short hike or a multi-day adventure – actually leave the busy behind and connect fully with nature.
I’ve been lucky to have some pretty special moments and wildlife encounters out there. I’ve even managed to capture some of them, but many more live on in my memory, and they’re all the more special for that. These are a few tricks to try to help you really connect with nature when you’re out exploring.
1. Be in The Moment
How many times have you rocked up to an amazingly stunning location – I’m talking heaven-on-earth kind of material – only to instantly whip out your phone? Within 30 seconds you’ve snapped any number of shots and selfies for Insta, and are already mentally composing captions and hashtags as you move on, looking for the next best thing.
Challenge: Next time you’re out exploring, if you see something extra special, resist the urge to pull out your phone or camera the moment you arrive. Stop, absorb and appreciate what you’re experiencing for a while, and be content to sit in a place and let the experience come to you. Bonus points if you can walk away without taking a single Insta shot.
Believe me, patience can be hard, but if your hand’s twitching towards your phone and you can’t restrain it, try closing your eyes, and take five big, slow breaths. You’ll be rewarded with calmness and clarity, and have a better experience for it.
2. Leave The ‘Stuff’ Behind
How often do you see people going on holiday with their entire life strapped onto the fourby and trailer? I’m talking bikes, surfboards and canoes, and you can bet that the kids in the back have at least three devices apiece.
I wonder – how can you leave your busy life behind when you bring it with you? How can you appreciate your surroundings if you’re surrounded by stuff? Can you truly connect with nature if all this stuff just serves to disconnect you?
A lot of this stuff can actually enable and motivate us to get out into places we’ve never been before but the trick, like with everything in life, is moderation.
Being a photographer it can be difficult to rip the camera out of my hands. But not impossible. I once went on a road trip around Tassie for 2 weeks, and consciously decided not to take any camera gear with me. Believe me, that was a tough decision!
Sometimes, it’s nice to permit yourself to just experience it, and keep that memory for yourself. The experience is much richer when you’re not carrying loads of gear, struggling with camera settings and constantly trying to get the shot – you can just be in the moment! And I can honestly say, even as a professional photographer, I don’t regret my decision to leave the camera behind. Not. One. Bit.
Challenge: Go naked! I dare you to try adventuring without the stuff! No camera, perhaps no phone (as long as it’s safe to do so). If the thought of being outdoors without these security blankets gets you clammy in all the wrong places, then start small. Go for a short walk somewhere without carrying ANYTHING with you. It’s super liberating, and I reckon once you get a taste you’ll be begging for more.
3. Avoid Multitasking
Although it may seem efficient, multitasking has been flagged as a bit of a no-no in productivity circles. Constantly switching your attention around results in a lack of focus. And exactly the same theory applies to getting outdoors.
If your intention is to go hiking, then let that be your sole purpose. If you go for a hike but also intend to punch it so you’ll get a solid workout too (bonus, right?) then you’ll end up less focused on the hiking experience.
It might feel efficient to you to smash out a hike in half its estimated time (I know I’m guilty of this), but while you’ve got your head down powering along, you’re missing half the experience. The faster you walk, the more you have to keep your eyes on the trail to watch your footing.
Plus, you’re also driving away special moments which come to those who slow down and observe more. One of the reasons you may not see too much wildlife on your power hikes is because you’re smashing along the trail at warp speed, making a bunch of noise and scaring all the wildlife away.
Some other notable forms of multitasking include listening to music or podcasts (ever met someone on the trail with a portable speaker blaring as they walk?) or having an in-depth conversation with buddies while hiking.
Challenge: Next time you go for a hike, consciously slow down. Don’t try and halve the suggested trail duration – in fact, if a trail is listed as three hours, then try and spend three hours out there. Walk slower, maybe stop to appreciate some interesting plant life. With luck, your slower pace won’t scare all the wildlife away, and you’ll get some epic wildlife moments too.
4. Use All Your Senses
Humans have evolved to rely more on our intelligence than our basic senses. The downside to this is that we get caught in our heads too much when we could be immersing ourselves in our surroundings. By opening up our senses we get a much fuller experience.
Touch – try going barefoot to really connect with the place you’re in. Warm stone, soft grass or cool sandy soil – these tactile elements help your mind become grounded and will heighten your connection to nature.
Smell – scent is linked to memories, big time. If you can tune into the ocean breeze, the fresh mountain air or the damp smell of the forest trail, then you’re helping to lock in these memories, allowing for richer recall of these sweet mems later on.
Listen – by listening to your surroundings, you may increase your chances of seeing some wildlife. If you hear a rustle in the bushes nearby, then stop and wait quietly instead of pressing on. With luck, you’ll spot a cute critter going about its business.
Challenge: OK, this will sound contradictory, but next time you’re out somewhere in nature, close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, then let your other senses come alive. Listen, smell, feel, and enjoy the clarity and sense of calm which follows.
5. Take a Leaf Out of The Hunter’s Handbook
No, I don’t mean wielding a rifle on every adventure. It’s more about the way hunters approach animals, and less about what they do to them.
Firstly, get out when animals are most active, typically around dawn and dusk. These times of day are my favourite, and that’s probably because I’ve had so many wicked wildlife moments at these times of day.
Secondly, consider what you’re wearing. Now, I’m not suggesting you hit your local Army Disposals store and go full camo, but at least understand why camo gear works. If you can, avoid bright colours (there’s a reason why red is nature’s warning colour), and if possible avoid clothing with big solid sections unbroken by patterns.
Practise your ninja skills. Most animals have a very keen sense of hearing, and will hear you coming from a mile away unless you move extremely quietly. Watch your footing and move slowly.
Finally, pay attention to the wind direction. Along with their hearing, animals use scent to detect danger. So don’t overdo the deodorant! But more importantly, animals upwind from you are less likely to smell you coming, so keep your eyes peeled in this direction.
Challenge: Practise your stalking skills! If you’re keen to increase your success rate at wildlife spotting, then practise on a mate first. Have them pick a spot and sit quietly with their eyes closed (essentially, they could be doing the ‘Use all your senses’ challenge above). Then try and stalk as close to them as you can without them noticing. And if that doesn’t sound like fun, then go and play paintball instead.