As I left the settled way of living behind and started a new life, living out of a backpack, always on the go, I realized there are certain things I miss on my travels from home. It became such a necessity for me that I create a sacred space wherever I am. Travel is my passion but I feel most at peace when I’m at home—and I can make myself feel at home anywhere because I am able to create that same peaceful environment almost anywhere (a space with good vibes is a basic necessity.)
Travel altars are great for more than just travel. They are compact, portable, and easily put away, so they are also great for magical practitioners who need privacy or just doesn’t have a lot of space.
Usually when we’re traveling or visiting family, our energy can get scattered just simply by the logistics of airplanes, cars, and trains. So each time I travel, (even if just a short weekend trip) my spiritually and personally significant items can help center and ground me. Though I can live without these objects, just as I can meditate without my crystals and as I can do yoga without a yoga mat, somehow they still make everything much better.
What is an Altar?
The Latin root of altar, altārium, means “high.” It refers to altars traditionally being a raised area of worship where people can honor their deities with offerings. For example, a Buddhist altar or shrine may be an elevated shelf in the house where you may find a statue of Buddha or one of the bodhisattvas, along with candles and offerings such as flowers, purified water, food, and incense.
Altars for an everyday spiritual practice doesn’t need to be too elaborate or ceremonial. It can be metaphysically and emotionally ‘raised’ by being a focal point of your energy and a source of connection with the Divine, whatever that word may mean to you.
No matter your spiritual beliefs or lack of it, an altar can be a source of comfort and calm. You may already have an altar that you built intuitively without even realizing it. Maybe there’s a mantlepiece in your home, a corner of your work desk, a windowsill, or a shelf where some favored trinkets have found a home.
The fundamental purpose of the altar is to enrich your spiritual and self-care practice. That means it must work for your unique needs.
My portable mini altar
I created myself a mini altar out of a small box to keep all my spiritual essentials that I would keep at my tiny altar by my bed so I can center myself and ground my energy. I also drew some protective sigils on the inside so I stay safe wherever I go.
Here’s what I keep with me for your sacred space on the go:
- Recycled Jewelry Box
- Crystals (of your choice)
- Small Sage Bundle
- Palo Santo
- Small Lighter
- Tealight Candle
- Incense Holder
- Tarot Cards
- Lucky Penny
I also keep my jewelry in this box when I’m not wearing them because they all serve spiritual purposes for me. I wear a lapis lazuli mala to balance out my pitta dosha and a silver ring with amethyst stone and some bracelets given by friends. The incense holder is something I recently added to the box. I didn’t have it before, whenever I burned incense I simply used an apple and poked it in the side so the ash can fall off on a paper.
My mini altar is small, compact & doesn’t take up a lot of room in my backpack (I swapped the 30L backpack I used in Spain to a 90L one for winter travels in Scotland). When I get to my destination, I find an ideal table, dresser top or even window sill that I can use to set up my sacred space on the go. Essentially, you just need a flat surface that can serve as your altar. You can line up your spiritual tools on your table top and use that as the focal point for your sacred space. I also like to decorate this area with flowers from nearby trees or sea shells I find at the local beach.
Lighting the sage or palo santo is something I really like to do when I arrive in an accommodation to cleanse the space from any negative energies and it’s also an incredible way to center myself, gather my energy and settle into a meditative space. Not every place is smoke/smudge-friendly, so lighting your tealight candle is a great alternative to help aid you in slowing down your energy. Just make sure you blow out your candle before you head out of your room.
It’s a such a great feeling to walk back into your hotel room, AirBnB or family’s spare bedroom and see your altar waiting there for you. Just because your environment changes, doesn’t mean that your energy has to.
I also love to pack up my portable sacred space when out on a hike. I just put my little altar in my day pack and take some time to connect with the area and practice some meditation, it is awesome!
How to create your own travel Altar?
- Pick a fun container
It can be whatever you want or is more comfortable for you. I have a friend who uses her altar cloth to keep her altar objects safe. I like to use the jewelry box because it gives me the feeling that my crystals are safe. I like to check in my big backpack instead of having it as a carry-on on the planes, and I do not trust that won’t get hurt while they are throwing my bag around.
- Pack basics
There are some things you can pack as they are basic essential to any spiritual practice such as tea lights, matches or lighter or incenses and essential oils. Though if I’m out of space I like to leave these out as you can get them basically anywhere.
- Pick your own essentials
When it comes to your own essentials, it can be whatever that makes you feel good. I always pack my big amethyst crystal which I love to use while meditating and to keep besides my bed to help me sleep. I also have other crystals I use when meditating or because they are from someone special and I love to keep them around. For me, palo santo is also a personal essential to cleanse the space, while sage is not always there. I prefer to make my own from locally foraged ingredients. A tarot deck is also not important to have unless you practice. My mom uses angel cards, but I prefer tarot, some don’t use them all. You know what work for you best.
- Represent your deity
If you work with any deities you can put something in your mini altar box that represents them. It can be a mini statue or a picture or a feather even. I do not have any at the moment, but if I extend my travel altar I plan to add a tiny Goddess and a Buddha figure.
Give yourself what you need.
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Photo: Imola Toth