Are you embarking on a pilgrimage soon? Don’t let yourself treat this spiritual journey like a vacation; having the right mindset while traveling is key to getting the most out of your journey! Help yourself prepare by taking into account these 10 Life Hacks from a former pilgrim:
- Take a prayer list.
When on pilgrimage you are subject to a lot of traveling, church-going, and even some times of discomfort. Make the most out of all these things by offering them up for a loved one or a certain intention. Before leaving home, reach out to your family and friends and ask them how you can pray for them. Throughout your pilgrimage, be intentional about offering up prayers, Masses, and hardships for specific people and their needs. There is definite power in active prayer!
- Offer it up.
When I pilgrimaged to Calcutta, India, there were times when I was serving in harsh over-100 degree weather. After the first day, I returned back to my place of stay and complained with my roommates about how awful everything was. Once the outpouring of negativities was finished, the priest who accompanied us encouraged us to offer it up and to think of the people we were serving before ourselves. The next few days of service did not go to waste, and I found them to be much more spiritually fruitful. Don’t pass up the small opportunities that God presents to sanctify you. (That includes missing or delayed flights!)
- Make sure to journal.
Your pilgrimage is going to be an exciting journey that is jam-packed with all kinds of great things. A lot happens in one day and it can be difficult to process it all in the moment. Every night, jot down the things that you saw, the messages you received in prayer, and the conversations that you had with your fellow pilgrims. When you return home, re-read everything you wrote and try to better comprehend everything that God was trying to reveal to you. Sometimes it can be months after your pilgrimage before you fully realize everything that He was trying to show you.
- Write to your loved ones.
Instead of bringing home just a typical and generic souvenir, bring your loved ones back something that truly means something. When you visit a church and have a moment to pray, write your prayer down in a note to give your loved one. Tell them how much you love them, that you’re thinking of them and praying for them, and where you prayed for their intention. Upon returning home, you can give them your letter and be sure that they’ll appreciate the time you spent abroad thinking of them. When I pilgrimaged to Rome, I missed Mother’s Day, but I made sure to use that day as a prayer for my mom and let her know of my intentions when I presented her with my note when I returned home.
- Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
Before leaving, make sure that you realize you are about to enter into an entirely different culture. Foods, accommodations, customs, and cultural norms will not be at all what you are used to in the United States. It can be difficult to adjust to these things when you are in a foreign place, but just try to go with the flow as much as you can, be charitable and understanding always, and don’t forget to offer it up!
- Always keep modesty in mind.
The American culture is not exactly known for adhering to a modest dress code. When packing for your pilgrimage, make sure you keep modesty at the front of your mind. Many European churches won’t even allow you to enter if your knees and shoulders aren’t appropriately covered. Stay on the safe side and take things that you know will always be acceptable, like pants, longer dresses, and shirts that have some sort of sleeve. Make yourself modest before the Lord and you will open yourself up to an outpouring of abundant graces.
- Talk to your fellow pilgrims.
Don’t bottle up all your experiences during your pilgrimage. Make sure you talk about the things that you encounter each day. When I was in Calcutta, I was telling my travelling group about a particular experience I had had with a local that day and my priest was able to offer extraordinary insight into the event that I hadn’t even realized before. Sharing is a great way to build upon your everyday events and to grow closer spiritually with those around you.
- Use your eyes before you use your lens.
Yes, you are visiting some of the holiest places in the world, filled with some of the holiest people. Don’t forget to take it all in. It can be a habit to document everything with your camera, but first make sure you actually experience it. If you’re visiting the Holy Sepulchre, prepare yourself for prayer before you prepare yourself for a selfie. If you’re entering St. Peter’s Basilica, admire the wondrous beauty before you post it to Instagram. Trust me, when the Pope drives by in the Popemobile, you’ll be grateful that you saw it firsthand instead of through your iPhone screen.
- Sleep is for the strong.
It’s important that you make the most out of your journey, but don’t forget to listen to what your body is telling you and get the amount of rest that it needs. Your pilgrimage will run much more smoothly and be much more effective and meaningful if your mind and body can operate refreshed each day.
- Good humor is crucial.
Travelling abroad can be stressful. Travelling abroad with 30 other people can really be stressful. Things won’t go 100% as planned. Things will fall through, things will miraculously show up, and things can be just plain chaotic and confusing. It will be ok. Take what God is giving you and turn it into an opportunity to bond with those around you, dive deeper into prayer, or just have a good laugh. We’re all in this human journey together; you might as well make the most of it. Looking back at my time in India, there were a lot of events that took place that just seemed so wildly bizarre and against God’s plan. But now that we reminisce on it all, we can’t help but wipe tears of laughter off of our faces. God has a great sense of humor.