Having long tried to virtually transport listeners to beaches, rain forests and other dreamy respites, meditation apps today are also trying to appeal to people who are actually traveling to such places.
Several apps — including Buddhify, Calm, OMG. I Can Meditate! and Simple Habit — offer specialty meditation sessions for travelers on planes, trains and city streets, making their way across oceans or simply across town, be it “Waiting at the Airport” or “Commuting: A Mindful Journey.”
On my first trips of 2017, I tried several such apps, including some veterans, to see if they could alleviate the stress of long lines, crowded planes and busy streets. Meditation is personal — the teacher’s voice, words and methods, affect each of us in different ways — so I didn’t rank the apps. Instead, I’ve highlighted certain features, and to whom they may or may not appeal.
Research began at Newark Liberty International Airport, where my plane was being de-iced. I put in earbuds and tapped the “Prepare for Travel” session from Simple Habit, an app with meditations for situations as varied as remedying procrastination and easing PMS. Users can choose from sessions that span the vacation process, from “Waiting at the Airport” to “Just Landed” to “Relaxing on Vacation” and “After Vacation.” To gain access to all of Simple Habit’s sessions (including those that don’t pertain to travel), you need a subscription ($3.99 for seven days; $11.99 for one month; $99.99 for a year on iOS). As with other app subscriptions, you can cancel through iTunes (I used an iPhone, but the apps are also available for Android).
From my plane seat I tapped the “Prepare for Travel” session. “Oops, low internet connection,” the app said. “Please check your network.” I kept trying. I opened a couple of other meditation apps; they worked just fine. I gave up and revisited the “Prepare for Travel” session later, days after a trip to Puerto Rico.
“Travel can sometimes be a tumultuous experience,” a male voice said. It instructed me to let the tension in my neck, shoulders and jaw dissolve. A tense traveler might wonder: But how? The voice encouraged me to repeat the words, “Just this breath. Just this moment.”
“You just got your seat on the plane?” the voice said. “Just this breath. Just this moment.”
“It’s a way for you to come back to what’s here, right now,” the voice added. If you want brief, basic lessons about controlling your breathing, you may enjoy these sessions, more minilectures than silky-voiced meditations. (If you don’t find mantras effective, you may like Buddhify, which has a different technique for bringing you back to the present. More on that momentarily.)
Another app, OMG. I Can Meditate! (access to all sessions, $12.99 a month; $89.99 a year on iOS), offers sessions like “Mindful Walking,” “Waiting in Lines,” “Public Places” and “Mindful Eating,” which I selected during breakfast.
“Notice all the different colors, textures, shades, different food types,” a female voice said. The travel-related meditations on this app may appeal if you’re beginning to practice mindfulness and want step-by-step instructions. The eating session, for instance, asks listeners to rate their hunger from 1 to 10 to help them learn when they are full. “A lot of us eat because we’re nervous or bored,” the voice said. Other users, however, may find such sessions too much like pedestrian self-help audiobooks.
One morning, I tried Calm (the company’s website offers lovely, free nature sounds and scenes, perfect for office workers seeking to drown out ambient chatter). The app (access to all sessions, $12.99 a month; $59.99 a year on iOS) has multiday programs such as “Seven Days of Calming Anxiety,” as well as meditations including “Calm Kids,” “Deep Sleep,” “Commuting” and “Emergency Calm.” I tried “Walking Meditation,” during which a female voice asks you to notice how you’re moving and what you’re seeing. The commuting and walking meditations were the only travel meditations in the app. If you’re a beginner and want the blithe cadence of certain yoga teachers, you may enjoy these sessions. If sing-songy voices make you think of the sleep teachings used to brainwash children in “Brave New World,” you may not.
On the plane at Newark I also tested Pause, a simple, low-cost app ($1.99) with a surprising payoff. Unlike other stress-relief apps that try to keep you in the here and now, this one incorporates touch as well as sound. While it isn’t travel-specific, its ease of use makes it a nifty on-the-go solution. You put the tip of your finger on a small blob and slowly move it around the screen of your phone, like pushing a desktop sandbox with a little rake. (The creators of Pause say it uses principles of Tai Chi.) Move your finger and the blob grows while your ears are bathed with birdsong and breaking waves. As passengers jockeyed for overhead bin space, I guided the blob this way and that. Words appeared. “Go anywhere.”
At first, the idea of Pause seemed as silly as a mood ring. But there is something about slowly guiding your hand to the sound of lapping waves that has you radiating calm before you even set foot on a beach. If you want a quick, surreptitious way to refresh your mind without someone instructing you to tune into your breath, this could be the app for you.
Experienced meditators may want to try an oldie but goodie: Buddhify ($4.99 for iOS and $2.99 for Android), which has a rainbow wheel with a question in the center: “What are you doing?” Users can select slices of the wheel with sessions like “Walking in City.” I tapped one that said “Traveling” and up came options like “Connecting with stillness in a busy place” and “A unique meditation for when you’re on a plane.”
The latter is about 10 minutes. A soft male voice asks you to notice the sounds of the plane, and the people within. To help you stay present, the voice suggests that when your thoughts drift to the past, you say to yourself the name of the city from which you’re departing. If your thoughts drag you into the future, you say the city where you’re headed. Simple but effective in gently guiding the mind.
“Did one of the cities feature more often than the other?” the voice asked. “Just that little observation can teach us a lot about where our mind tends to wander, whether to the past or to the future. And the more our mind learns about itself, the stronger it becomes.”