Reprinted: healthnews, 5-10-2023
Journeys to new places have the potential to awaken our minds, ultimately leading to enlightenment. In addition, an excursion, whether nearby or abroad, may be life-changing if it prompts one to reflect on one’s identity and life goals.
What is transformative travel?
People travel for numerous reasons. They travel to escape their mundane day-to-day routine, for vacation from work or family responsibilities, to experience new adventures, or explore different cultures and cuisines. Others venture out to experience nature’s tranquility. For example, some travelers want to challenge themselves by climbing Denali — North America’s highest peak. Others seek tranquility by sitting on a beach watching the ocean, while other people go on a yoga or spa retreat in search of inner peace. Furthermore, travel can help people find religious or spiritual serenity, bring happiness by visiting family or friends, or set them on a quest for the meaning of life or the fountain of youth.
Regardless of one’s reason for leaving the comfort and safety of home, globalization, tourism, and personal pursuits boost economies and build memories for travelers while providing spiritual awakening, helping those without a life focus find meaning, or even offering an opportunity for more affordable healthcare. This type of travel has been termed transformative travel.
Benefits of transformative travel
The Transformational Travel Council’s mission helps to empower people to make positive changes in their lives. Their mission states that transformational travel is “travel that raises the collective consciousness of humankind to regenerate and thrive.” They suggest that travel can be a way to improve ourselves, the climate, and one’s longevity. They propose that transformative travel is more than passively traveling from place to place. It requires connecting with others, being pro-environmental, improving conservation efforts, and providing time for self-reflection and inner meaning. Travel can be engaging and provide pleasure but also be outcome-based. Still, they caution people from setting unattainable expectations.
Each person’s transformation will be unique. People may:
- Increase awareness of the interconnection of land, animals, and people
- Gain insight into one’s uniqueness
- Improve attitudes, values, behaviors, and character
- Find a new career
- Discover a purpose in life
- Heal from mental illness
- Practice present-moment awareness
- Improve conversational content
- Increase graciousness
- Find inner peace
The term transformative travel includes an incredibly vast number of experiences — the opportunities are endless.
4 types of transformative travel
Transformative travel provides a journey that may result in finding freedom, fulfillment, knowledge, collective awareness, or spiritual realization. Some people may seek this spiritual awakening, while others may find it naturally. For instance, some individuals may find solace, peace, or a new reason for living while on a family vacation.
If one embarks on transformative travel expecting an earth-shattering life-changing event, they may be sadly disappointed. However, the journey may be transformative if one plans to improve and gain knowledge without extraordinary expectations. A great number of transformative travel opportunities exist, though a pilgrim looking for a unique experience can always invent their own path.
Travel opportunities come in various flavors, from sustainable travel to learning about diversity with cultural tours to health and self-care tourism and activities. When thinking about transformative travel, we can narrow our focus to four different categories. These may include self-guided vacations, tour groups, workshops, volunteerism, or retreats. Examples include the following:
- Connectivity in cultural contexts
- Environmental connectivity through nature
- Self-reflection, learning, knowledge, and creativity
- Tourist engagement
Connectivity in cultural contexts
Experiencing and immersing oneself in diversity helps broaden one’s understanding of how others see the world. It permits us to see that there are different ways to do things and that while we are all different, we are very much the same. This could include touristic activities encouraging participation with locals, engrossing oneself in music, dance, crafts, or the area’s art. In addition, cultural-specific workshops and tours permit people to engage with the local community.
Environmental connectivity through nature
Connecting with nature means something different to everyone. One doesn’t have to climb Mount Everest to have a fulfilling adventure. Instead, one can immerse oneself in nature and simply enjoy its natural beauty. For some, fresh air, clear star-lit skies, and wildlife provide relaxation and peace. These can be sacred locations, a local state park, or a wildlife safari in Africa.
Most people think of outdoor adventures, beautiful vistas, or visiting a glacier, for example, as environmental connectivity. However, cities can also afford natural wonders and experiences. Cities like Paris, New York, or Rome, for example, offer a plethora of smells, tastes, and sounds, including local colors and wonders of a city.
Tours connect people with nature, e.g., rock climbing adventures, zip lining, wilderness retreats, or off-the-beaten-path adventures in one’s favorite big city. The natural environment has much to offer and a lot to teach us.
Self-reflection, learning, and creativity
These types of trips aim to improve health and self-care. This may consist of guided meditation retreats, seminars, journaling, workshops, or other means of self-discovery. Many life-changing experiences may include activities such as creative exploration, art classes, or pottery, but there’s no limit to the possibilities.
Self-reflective practices may aid in attaining new mindfulness or awareness. For some, this could be a spiritual reflection, visiting locations sacred to various religions or peoples. For others, this experience can provide solace and peace of a more natural, holistic nature.
Tourist engagement with the destination
Tourist engagement can look different for everyone but may include building a home for someone, supporting local off-the-beaten-path restaurants, and learning the culture or language. The goal is to step away from our welfare and consider global well-being while being eco-conscious. Sometimes these opportunities come in the form of volunteerism. These foster generosity and give the traveler a means to help others, possibly achieving more inner meaning and purpose. Opportunities could also include helping at a local school or simply engaging community members and showing an interest in their cultures, customs, and language.
The word “sustainability” is commonly thrown about to describe traveling and tourism. Unfortunately, all too often, travel involves the consumption of natural resources. Therefore, much of transformational tourism seeks to lessen the negative impacts and improve the benefits people provide while traveling to local communities. This doesn’t have to be solely through tourist engagement.
Traveling sustainably can mean minimizing the negative impact on a community by reducing one’s carbon footprint. For example, instead of taking something away, provide for the area. Additionally, taking public transport, eating locally grown foods, respecting the culture and the social norms, and supporting local entities can positively impact an area.
Medical tourism could be an article unto itself. However, it bears mentioning in an article about transformative travels. Traveling to far-off lands, for some, can be a cultural adventure. Still, for others, it may be to receive needed medical care that they cannot obtain at home due to lack of expertise, availability, or overwhelming costs.
Since establishing our new normal, post-COVID restrictions, travelers have sought new experiences, enlightenment, and medical care. Therefore, medical tourism is here to stay. People travel to receive treatments like dental care, cancer therapies, cosmetic surgery, or fertility procedures.
Some travel destinations advertise gorgeous beaches, beautiful accommodations, and all-inclusive explorations. In contrast, other destinations actively seek out medical tourists, most notably Singapore, Malaysia, and Dubai.
North Americans most frequently travel to Central and South America or the Caribbean for more affordable healthcare. Surveys suggest that upwards of 320,000 Americans may travel abroad specifically for medical treatments. For example, because of insufficient insurance coverage, Americans flock elsewhere to receive much more affordable treatment. While on the other hand, visa restrictions prevent many foreigners from obtaining care in the U.S.
Since transformative travel seeks to improve one’s status, internal self-awareness, or improve well-being, medical tourism must be considered as a subset, as people attempt to better their overall health in ways not attainable at home. Though not necessarily a spiritual experience, it helps provide physical and fundamental well-being, which may not be achievable at home.
Travel helps improve health and well-being
Different people have different ideas about what it means to have a life-changing getaway. It can be a philosophical adventure or a spiritual journey. It can bring one person closer to nature, while another can find cultural awareness. Regardless, it often comprises experiences that involve self-discovery and self-reflection. What one identifies on a transformative trip can be incorporated into daily life and used to improve one’s overall quality of life, health, and well-being.
Author: Erica Tramuta-Drobnis, VMD, MPH, CPH