Are you ready to go on a meaningful journey?
While it’s easy to think the travel portion of a pilgrimage is the most significant part of a journey, oftentimes it’s the groundwork laid in the preparation phase that makes a journey meaningful. In fact, your pilgrimage actually begins in the preparation phase, from the moment you say “yes” to your inner stirrings. As you move from longing to action, thoughtfully planning for your journey can cultivate intention as you await your departure and allow for more engagement on your travels, clearing the path ahead for transformation. Here are eight things to consider when planning your pilgrimage:
While we might think of a traditional pilgrimage as a long, arduous journey to and from a sacred site, there are many ways to go on pilgrimage, and just as many sites to see. Where do long to go? Do you want to visit a particular destination or many? Will the travel portion of your trip be a significant part of your journey, as with a walking pilgrimage, or will your explorations more fully begin once your destination is reached? What makes your pilgrimage significant is the meaning behind it, and part of that meaning is drawn from the destination.
2. time of year
Now that you have your destination in mind, when do you want to schedule your journey? The timing of your trip will of course be limited to your schedule, but it’s also important to consider the schedule of the place you’ll be visiting. If you’re seeking to be more of a pilgrim and less of a tourist and you have the flexibility, you might want to consider traveling in the shoulder season (typically spring and autumn) or off-season (typically winter), allowing more space for a meaningful experience beyond the crowds. This can also make your trip more affordable. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the places you want to visit will still be open—many have limited hours during the low or off-season. Don’t forget to consider the weather, too—cold, rainy days can add challenges to any pilgrim trail.
Before going on pilgrimage, it’s important to know what’s behind your longing to venture out in the first place. There are many reasons seekers choose to make a pilgrimage—some common, others unique. Are you in a process of discernment and looking for answers? Do you want to mark a season of transition? Are you searching for healing of the body or soul? Or are you simply drawn to a particular destination and long for more meaningful connection? Whatever your motivation might be, knowing the purpose behind your journey—or, as we might say using the language of pilgrimage, “the question that fuels your quest”—can help you better prepare for the journey ahead and can make you more attentive to the movement and invitations of God along the way.
4. travel companions
Pilgrimages can be solo or can occur in a group, whether that group is a gathering of close family or friends or a group of strangers on a guided journey who quickly become close traveling companions. As you consider your journey and its purpose, do you think it would be more meaningful to make this journey on your own or would you benefit from the company of others? Likewise, if you’re open to a group journey, do you want to only journey with those who know you intimately or would you like to meet other like-minded seekers on a pilgrimage led by a seasoned guide?
5. journey companions
A Journey Companion is a particularly special relationship for the pilgrim and a necessity whether traveling alone or with a group. True, your Journey Companion might be your traveling companion, but they also might be a trusted friend, family member, or mentor at home. A Journey Companion is someone with whom you share the significance of your journey and the longings behind your quest. Even when you are far apart, your Journey Companion continues to offer you support along the way, holding you and your intention in prayer. Once you return from your pilgrimage, your Journey Companion is there to help you process your experience as you discern how to apply the wisdom gleaned from your pilgrimage to your everyday life. Who is your Journey Companion? Learn more about Journey Companions here.
Traditionally, pilgrims packed only what they could carry on the long road to their destination. While today we have modern conveniences to assist us on our journeys, including multiple modes of transportation beyond walking and suitcases on wheels to make transporting luggage a breeze, there’s still value in the practice of packing lightly. Considering how and what you pack is a process of discernment during your time of preparation, inviting you to contemplate what is essential for your journey as well as what might best be left behind. This conscious packing can extend beyond physical belongings to the emotional baggage we tend to carry as well.
7. practices and rituals
While on pilgrimage, it’s important to have regular rhythms of spiritual practice to help remind you of your quest and return you to the presence of the Divine. Equally, planned rituals during your pilgrimage, such as circling a sacred site or pausing at thresholds, can bring you into deeper awareness. While there will certainly be practices and rituals that form as your journey unfolds, it can be useful to have some in mind before you leave home that you’ll commit to participating in along the way. Pilgrimage, after all, is an enactment of meaning, and making meaning (or, rather, making space for it to be recognized) requires action.
8. making space
Returning to everyday life after a meaningful pilgrimage experience can be quite jarring, which is why I suggest scheduling a few days after your return to ease into the transition. Use these days to slowly unpack, both literally and metaphorically. During this time, reflect on your journey, share your experience with your Journey Companion, and consider how you might integrate your pilgrim experience into daily life.
Are you ready to plan your pilgrimage? Where will you begin?
Prepare for your pilgrimage of a lifetime with the Journey Guide travel tool and online course. Learn more »